So what can be done to prevent some of this pain?
Well, first of all - and this is the easiest part - make sure your group's cutoff date falls on an appropriate date. I know this seems obvious, but make sure its not on a weekend or a public holiday. Most sales systems will automatically assign a cutoff date for you (usually 30 days prior), but this is not set in stone - change it!!!! I actually know plenty of hotels that make it a rule that cutoff dates are not to be within 24 hours of a holiday or the weekend. This becomes even more important for hotels with front office systems that automatically drop room blocks once the cutoff date is reached. Nothing is more frustrating for a group reservations department than to receive a rooming list at 5pm on a Friday afternoon which is also the cutoff date!
Sales Managers should really also discuss the cutoff date with their clients as part of the contract negotiations. Make sure that the cutoff date that you are giving them is realistic. Ask them about their past groups - do they think that 30 days prior is realistic. If not - negotiate where possible.
And for those of you with sales systems that are interfaced with your front office systems, ABSOLUTELY make sure that your cutoff dates are not too close to end of month/quarter. I know of a Sales Manager who had a huge group drop out of the system on the last day of the quarter. She did not find out until the next day, by which time she had already taken a huge hit on her numbers on the last day of the quarter - she did not make bonus that quarter!
I know of a few hotels that mandate that all cutoff dates fall on Wednesdays. Sounds funny at first, but its pretty logical, as we already have a BEO distribution day, yield meeting day, staff meeting day, resume distribution day - why not 'Cutoff Day'. Its so much easier when all groups cut off on the same day of the week - that way when everyone comes into work that day they will all be thinking of which groups need to get their rooming lists in, individual rooms cut off etc etc. Interesting concept hey?!
Now of course there is the discussion regarding who should be managing the room blocks to make sure that the rooms pickup prior to the cutoff date - but that's a whole other discussion for another day!