Feast without Fear: Navigating HCP Meal Caps with Ease

Planning a pharmaceutical, biotech or healthcare event is no small feat – there are various moving pieces that need to be considered and prioritized. One of these is food and beverage meal caps for healthcare providers (HCPs).

As a meeting planner, you know that change is the only constant in your line of work. One of the most significant changes you’ll encounter is navigating food and beverage meal caps for healthcare providers (HCPs).

Understanding the ins and outs of HCP meal caps is crucial to ensure you comply with the strict regulations and policies set by healthcare organizations while still providing an outstanding dining experience for your attendees. In this article, we’ll highlight some key points about HCP meal caps and show you how to navigate them to get the most value for your budget while satisfying the nutritional needs of your HCP attendees.


What are food and beverage meal caps? 

Healthcare professional (HCP) meal caps refer to the limits or restrictions placed on the value or quantity of food and beverages that pharmaceutical or medical device companies can offer to HCPs as gifts or promotional items.

Food and beverage caps are put in place to ensure that the cost of food at pharmaceutical, biotech, and healthcare events are reasonable and in line with local pricing. These caps can vary between countries, with higher caps in countries like the United States compared to countries like France.


What’s the purpose of meal caps?

Many of the decisions HCPs make are literally life-changing for patients, so everyone needs to be sure that every decision they make is made without bias and isn’t a result of bribery. HCP meal caps prevent conflicts of interest and protect the integrity of medical decision-making. Pharmaceutical and medical device companies may offer HCPs meals, gifts, or other incentives to promote and market their products. However, these gifts could potentially influence HCPs to prescribe or recommend a particular product, even if it’s not the best option for the patient.

Aside from the ethical and legal considerations, HCP meal caps also help to promote transparency and accountability in the healthcare industry. By setting clear standards for gifts and incentives, HCPs can better understand and evaluate the marketing practices of pharmaceutical and medical device companies. In turn, this can help to build trust and improve the overall quality of healthcare.


What is the Sunshine Act?

In 2010, the Sunshine/Open Payments Act came into effect, promising more transparency and visibility of the financial relationships between HCPs and pharmaceutical manufacturers, with spending on food and beverage at life sciences events an important piece of the puzzle. Caps on food and beverage offerings at these events help ensure that HCPs get the most out of the event without running the risk of swaying opinions or decisions with extra fancy gourmet dining options or free-flowing champagne.

Are there meal caps for patients?

Meal caps also apply to patients, who often attend HCP events as patient advocates or to offer feedback. This meal cap will be the same as for HCPs – that way, the heavily regulated life sciences industry can ensure that there is no patient bribery taking place at these events.

Patients may attend the entire event or for a specific section – for instance as part of a patient committee, on a panel, or to offer valuable feedback on everything from drug side effects to the marketing of a new treatment. In terms of the food and beverage budget, patients must be treated the same as HCPs, making it easier for event organizers to standardize the menu across all attendees.


How to manage HCP meal caps for international groups?

If all of your attendees come from a single country, such as the US, it’s relatively simple to understand the per-head cost of your catering provision. The meeting organizer can simply refer to the meal cap for the US and apply this across the board.

However, what if your attendees comprise US and non-US attendees? When this is the case, 52% of meeting organizers choose to apply the most restrictive meal cap to all attendees, ensuring everyone is treated the same and making it easier to provide the same food and beverage to all participants.

An alternative option could be to apply the meal cap of each attendee’s home country to individuals. As an example, US attendees would receive a higher meal cap than French attendees, who may only have a €15 meal cap for breakfast and lunch. However, while HCPs will be very familiar with the concept of meal caps, most organizers prefer to avoid providing two tiers of catering for different attendees – after all, nobody wants to make a portion of their audience feel left out of the best hospitality.


How can I save on costs?

All HCPs will be very aware of the meal cap, so nobody will be expecting a five-course banquet. Consider buffet dining instead of a plated meal as a more economical option. Buffets equalize meal cap discrepancies among attendees, allowing meeting organizers to standardize and even elevate their fare across the board, while keeping costs down.

A set menu can also help the venue (and event organizer) keep costs down, rather than a full à la carte offering. Moreover, many hotel groups will be used to hosting events for HCPs, so they can work with you to create a menu that fits within your meal cap budget.


How can I avoid fines?

Pharmaceutical companies found to be exceeding the meal caps set for their attendees can be subject to fines, which can inflict reputational damage on highly regulated life science companies.

Each pharmaceutical company has its own meal caps, which may be even stricter than those imposed at the country level, so anyone organizing an event for HCPs must check and re-check the documentation given to them by the attending companies. They must ensure that they comply with all the relevant meal caps. Sometimes, it may work out in your favor – for instance, Belgium increased its meal caps on January 1, 2023, giving event organizers more budget to play with.


What’s new in HCP meal caps?

In the aftermath of the pandemic, numerous countries have been experiencing a rise in the cost of living, particularly in the realm of food and drink. The exponential increase in energy and gas expenses has caused prices to surge in areas like farming and food transportation. This hike in food prices has put a strain on event planners, particularly those operating under tight budgets, as they try to organize events for healthcare professionals. This creates additional stress on already constrained food and beverage budgets, with both event organizers and venues feeling the pressure.

Based on our observations, it appears that a number of pharmaceutical companies have raised their HCP meal limits in response to rising food costs in the United States. This adjustment may provide some relief to event planners, as it allows for more flexibility in the selection of food and beverages for HCP events. While it may not be feasible to switch from a buffet to a full banquet, these changes do provide more value for your budget compared to pre-pandemic times.

To make sure you’re up to date with the latest meal caps, please check the attendees every time a new batch of invitations is sent and cross-reference them against your documentation. If there are any changes to the meal caps halfway through the planning phase and you have enough time to adjust to the new cap, you will be expected to do so. So whether you’re a seasoned event planner or new to the industry, mastering the art of navigating these meal caps can be a real game-changer in delivering a successful healthcare meeting that leaves a lasting impression.

Looking for extra support for your next event for HCPs?

Contact us today – we’re experts in organizing life sciences events and meetings, and we’d love to help!

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