Why a registration fee for Third Tuesday?

Several people in both Toronto and Ottawa emailed me to ask why I’ve introduced a $10 registration fee for Third Tuesday Toronto and Third Tuesday Ottawa.

That’s a fair question. And I thought I’d answer it here for everyone to read instead of responding only to those who asked.

The reason is simple: We’re searching for a way to reduce the number of “no-shows,” people who say they will attend and then don’t show up on the night of the event.

Third TuesdayThe Third Tuesday community has grown substantially since Shel Israel appeared at the first Third Tuesday Toronto and Third Tuesday Ottawa in September 2006. In fact, the Third Tuesday Toronto membership now exceeds 2,000. On any given night between 150 and 250 people will come out to meet and hear the speakers, to talk about social media and to network with others who share their interests.

The problem is that, as the events have grown and become better known, the number of people who actually show up can vary substantially from the number who indicate on the Third Tuesday site that they intend to attend. Our no-show rate has on some nights exceeded 40% of the expected attendees. This makes it extremely hard to plan the events. We have to lock into a larger hall than we may need. The venue will overstaff, driving up their costs and making them more reluctant to have us return again.

No-shows have another even more serious impact. We’ve sold out several of the Third Tuesdays in Toronto and Ottawa this year. And when you have people on a wait list, every no-show deprives someone else of an opportunity to participate. That’s not good. And we have to find a way to reduce the no-shows.

We have experimented with charging for Third Tuesdays in the past when we scheduled them over dinner. In the case where we charged a $20 admission fee, the number of people who reserved a spot but didn’t show up dropped to virtually zero.

The simple fact is: If you charge people a small amount, they’ll place a higher value on their commitment to attend. So, by introducing a modest admission fee, I’m hoping to reduce the number of no-shows and make every seat in the house available to people who actually will come out and participate.

Ultimately, the quality of the event is determined by the participants. One of the ways that we’ve been able to attract such great speakers is that they know that Third Tuesday is a great community of people and they want to plug into that community and talk about their ideas with us.

I want to keep the Third Tuesday community vibrant. I hope that introducing an admission fee will help to do this.

  • Thanks for this update, Joe, though I’d suggest it might be wise to change the sidebar entry thanking CNW for its sponsorship as it still says their support “helps us keep TT a free community event.”

    I’m also left wondering where the money is going; will there be a TTO kitty to cover travel costs for out of town speakers or something?

    Thanks again, Joe. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to charge $10 and I appreciate the information on the rationale.

  • Very interesting that we’ve all come to the same conclusion at the same time; we’re having the very same issue with the Toronto Girl Geek Dinners – when there’s a speaker it tends to be better, but our last meetup was a simple mixer and only about 1/3 of those who registered showed up.

    We’re contemplating exactly the same move – and I think your logic is dead on.

  • I think it’s fair that you charge an admission fee, Joe, especially for some of the top-notch speakers you’ve had recently. (Erm, I’m not including me — I should have paid people to show up for that one!) If it’s a choice between fee-based Third Tuesday and no Third Tuesday, the fee is a small price to pay. The connections I’ve made at the Third Tuesday meetings I’ve attended have proved invaluable, as has what I’ve learned from the community.

  • Like JoeB., I too appreciate the explanation of the rationale.

    I would also like to know where the money is going though. Might I suggest that at least a part of people’s contribution go to a charity? Further emphasizes the ‘community’ aspect and then it looks less like a cash grab.

    I do also expect that with the price tag the calibre of the event will be maintained. You have had some great speakers at the events I’ve attended and I hope that this trend continues.

  • That makes sense – it will help reduce no-shows… but may also scare away some of those who have really appreciated the value you offer as a free event.

    Industry best practice for events is to allow 2.5 times the capacity for guest list. Every event has no shows… so if you only allow capacity to register, you will never fill each venue – even with a fee or a stellar lineup.

    Something to consider as your events evolve.

    BTW – i’ve been to a few of your events and have really valued them both as networking and educational sessions

  • Michael Maidment

    Thanks Joe. A modest fee is a good idea. We’ve struggled with the same issue – no shows at free events. A small fee has helped reduce the number of empty spots.

  • Stephen Clarke

    Hi Joe,
    Good points about charging helping cut down on the no-shows but if that is truly the reason then why not introduce a “No-Show” policy which only charges those people who don’t show. This is a fairly common thing to do when organizing these types of events.



  • Yep, makes perfect sense. I also think it’s none of our business where the money goes.

  • This is a problem that exists across groups in Meetup. I’ve run an urban exploration photography group in Meetup (http://www.torontoexplorationsociety.com) and a 60% turnout per event has mostly been the norm in the past 4 years. The introduction of a fee may sound like a solution, but it creates a host of other issues, some of which Joe Boughner pointed out. So far, we haven’t found a better solution than to just plan for a 60% turnout. Of course, with a more business oriented group like TTT/TTO, a fee based solution may have better success.

  • Good questions about where is the money going. In a nutshell, back into Third Tuesday to improve programming (more on that in my next post.)

  • It makes sense to cut down the no shows which can troublesome for event organizers (been there, done that) and I think $10 is a reasonable fee.

    I would however explain in simple terms where that $10 per person is going and I would set up a paypal account and make it easy for everyone to pay at point of registration.

  • I sympathize with your situation a lot. It’s unfortunate. The problem is that charging for admission just to ensure that people show up punishes your dedicated attendees.

    Is there no other option available?

    How about, you reward people that show up consistently with a free-entry membership card, and if you register and no-show three times, you lose your free-attendance privileges. Sounds complex, but there’s got to be a way to include a Carrot as well as a Stick.

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  • Great post Joseph. I’ve struggled with the EXACT same issue, and we (Refresh Events) are seeing those same numbers. Our problem is compounded by the fact that we are spending someone else’s money on refreshments, and those expenditures are based on registration numbers, which just makes the problem that much worse.

    I’ve posted some additional thoughts to your problem at http://www.refresh-events.ca/blog/2009/06/22/registration-fees-for-refresh-events/. I’m seriously considering the implementation of something similar to cut down on the no-shows.

  • Zunaid Khan

    I think you are right on with this, I would have no problem paying to attend your events.

  • I, personally, have no problem with a $10 fee, considering the cost of other networking events in the area. As long as the qality of the guest speakers remains high, I am willing to pay a fee.

    My question has always been: Why not have a registration desk at the event? Isn’t that a good way to ensure that people don’t just show up without registering? It also ties into Stephen Clarke’s comment about a “no show” policy, which I think is a good idea.

    Gone are the days when a Third Tuesday event would be a small and cozy affair. More attendees lead to changes that may have costs associated with it. Nothing is truly free these days, is it?

    Just a thought.

  • David

    I think (in Ottawa) some of the best conversation are started by students, or “newly employed.” I also think that part of the charm of the night is having a drink. Now our free or one drink night is now $15 to $20, which might not seem like a lot to some, but is a deal breaker to many.

    I guess we have figure out what the goal of TTO is, is it a chance for all levels of people in the social media world to get together and actually meet… with a guest speaker. OR, is it a guest speaker that happens to bring out social media junkies.

    Perhaps this event has grown beyond “free”. In which case I would prefer you say the money is for the speaker etc… I guess it’s a semantic issue? I hope this does not stop people from attending. Or even worse stop people attending every month. (my 2 cents)

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  • Nadia S

    $10 seems reasonable, but as Bonnie Dean mentioned, some of our newer colleagues may find that this raises the price of the evening a little too high. Perhaps the money can go towards off-setting refreshment costs?

  • How do you explain to your sponsor that you need one if you’re collecting $500 off the bat from 50 registered attendees? And why does it need to be $10? Why not $5?

    Charge the fee over the website,
    but refund when they arrive.

    I’d show up for my money back.

  • No-shows are definitely an issue with free events such as this and I think $5 – $10 is a reasonable fee. I echo a previous commenter’s remark that it would be nice to know where the money is going but you did say you will talk about that in a future post.

    I would suggest that you offer the ability for people to pay at the door should space and logistics allow. Just as legitimate things do come up when people don’t show, sometimes those things get canceled and all of a sudden, one can attend.

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  • I know you’ve been thinking about making this move for a while and Leona Hobbs mentioned she and Maggie Fox were discussing a similar one for TGGD as Maggie mentioned above. It takes courage to take a stand when we’re so used to “free” with these types of events.

    The value these “free” events have provided for the community is enormous and worth more than a mere $10. In theory, I support the move. I wonder if it will actually fix the problem. Most people won’t miss $10 if it turns out they can’t make it in the end. Perhaps there’s a way TTT can still provide some free spots (or sponsorship) for students, recent grads and unemployed members of the community.

  • Here’s a thought… charge the $10 pre-registration fee. When the person shows up they are given a drink ticket which entitles them to a beer or alcoholic drink of their choice. Essentially getting their money back.

    It shouldn’t be difficult to coordinate with the staff at the venue.

    Or the ticket could be used as a $10 discount off the bill. This would be a win-win for the restaurant, as I’ve been to many free events where attendees don’t order anything except water.

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  • I want to just let you know that, while I’m not responding to each comment and tweet, I’m definitely listening and thinking about your comments. I’m learning a lot about the Third Tuesday community and what you value.

    I’ll be back with a post reflecting on what you’ve told me. Please don’t stop providing me with your feedback. I very much value it.

  • David

    i would like to add to my reply, (post #TTO) If the decision is to raise the calibre of speaker, then i cannot fault a small cost.

    Having said that, it would be a shame to loose the students. Maybe a free pass with student ID?

  • I think Eden Spodek makes an excellent suggestion re: free spots to students, grads and those who are unemployed. If part of my $10 pays for someone else to attend who may not be able to afford it, I would have no problem with that.

  • Peter Childs

    From a philosophical perspective I wonder whether charging people (which is essentially a test of their reputation to do what they say they will do) is a result of that commercial model being well known and easy to implement, and the lack of an easy to implement alternative.

    An alternative approach would be to charge no-shows and to prevent them from registering at another event until the fee was paid.

    Of course that approach requires more overhead – both at the event and in back end systems – but much of that could be automated through the same web technology we love so well.

    The advantage of this approach is that instead of having to inherently distrust members reputations, tests or sanctions are only applied when the person demonstrates they actions don’t match their words (or clicks).

    This is not to suggest that charging is not a good idea from a commercial or cost recovery perspective – but if the goal is to be revenue neutral (as I understand it is) there may be other ways to make online commitments count in the real world by adopting different models to reinforce or sanction the behaviour.

  • 10$ is reasonable… when it moves into 20$, it starts to ‘feel’ like a different event and may attract a more formal (not necessarily better/worse) crowd.

    perhaps as a ‘reward’ for the shows, and to help negate the fee… a 10$ admission, might include a drink ticket, or appetizers, etc. (depending on the venue).

    I’d also encourage a friendly payment system. I’m happy to pay you 10$, but I loath paying the 2$ convenience fee to the various systems, banks, credit cards, etc.

  • This is an issue that we at Newpath have worked out during our 8+ years as a small networking group for independent consultants. Here’s what we settled on

    1. For purely networking events where there is no outright cost to the organizers we do free. We still do registrations on eventbrite.Von to get details though. Registrants are essentially paying by providing their contact details, a form of capital. We don’t have sponsors and therefore are never out of pocket. This runs lean but I am always surprised by the turn out.

    2. For events with speakers we run at break even. That is we usually charge 20 to 30 to include refreshments, a nice meeting place and one more thing-we pay our speakers 50% of the profits and encourage the speaker to market the event. This usually works out to 100 to 200 dollars depending on attendance. Again eventbrite is a must. Early bird helps here.

    Any community needs to have options and also quality built in. This ensures there is something for everyone.

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