Last week, news broke out among major news sources about MuffinGate.
If you haven’t heard, the word on the street is that the Justice Department had purchased $16 muffins at meetings during the last two administrations. Immediately after the information went public, the Hilton (accused of selling the $16 muffins) made a statement that the price was actually for a full continental breakfast plus tax. Apparently, in an effort to make the invoice quick and easy, the Hilton had “muffins” as the line item listed instead of “continental breakfast”, and that is what lit the media flame.
Having said all that, two issues come to mind. The first is the accuracy of invoices and the second is the media storm that continues to surround our industry.
I recently closed a meeting and had a lot of trouble working with the accounting department to get the invoice correct. Obviously the content needs to be correct. But beyond just being accurate, how important is it that it be clear to everyone? I have had instances where a hotel will explain something to me about an invoice so that it makes sense, but once I send that invoice through for payment, the explanation doesn’t always travel with it. The information should all be clear and concise on the invoice so that anyone (especially the person paying it!) can pick it up and know what they are paying for. MuffinGate is an example of the trouble it can cause when things are not obvious.
In the last few years, meetings have not been painted in a very positive light in the media, and MuffinGate is right up there as yet another black cloud hanging above our heads. I was flipping through the Huffington Post last Friday and read this article about the issue. As the headline clearly states, there have been almost 180 various articles published about $16 muffins but only 37 articles published that detail what the Hilton’s response was. I haven’t checked their statistics, but as a meeting planner, I’ll be honest, that bummed me out a little. Beyond being my personal living, meetings offer great value and have a lot of importance in business. It is frustrating to me to read yet another scandal about how meeting funds are being spent inappropriately, whether it’s the case or not. I don’t think this is a case of “any press is good press” either. This industry needs some recognition and acknowledgement as a vital part of business.
And if someone really is paying $16 per muffin at a meeting, they should give me a call. I can try and negotiate a better deal than that!