A catering conference is a great opportunity to learn about the latest cookware and other dining innovations. These shows also offer a chance to rub elbows with chefs, caterers, F&B managers and important players in the food industry. Attending can help further your business.
However, success starts with an attractive booth, including the food. Just like at a catered event, the way you present your dishes matters. If you want to leave your next catering conference with pockets stuffed full of business cards, check out these tips from the pros.
Get the Numbers
It would be disastrous if you attracted people to your booth but ran out of food mid-event. To prevent this, make sure you’re aware of how many attendees are coming ahead of time. Closely monitor the website and social media for the event (such as the Winter Fancy Food Show from the Specialty Food Association) and even feel free to reach out to the show organizers to get a head count closer to the event.
Dig Into Demographics Before the Show
While it’s necessary to know how many people are going to be at the food show, go deeper than that, says conference planning company Eventinterface. Learn about guests’ allergies, food preferences and favorite dishes. Through that information, put together a crowd-pleasing menu.
Remember Your Goals When Designing the Booth
What do you want to achieve at this show? Do you want to introduce more people to your food? Find new vendors to partner up with? Sell a product or service? Food consultant Deb Mazzaferro talked to FoodStarter about the significance of having goals and how these relate to presentation.
“Once you are clear on what your intended outcomes are, you can market prior to the show as well as design your booth to accomplish your goal,” Mazzaferro says. “You’ll also have metrics in place to determine success.”
Keep All Servingware Clean
When serving food to hundreds of expo attendees, things can get overwhelming. However, don’t forget basic hygiene. “No matter how delicious a dish may be, if it is served on a dirty plate, you will definitely not be tempted to taste it,” chef Sean Bone says.
If you can’t wash dishes onsite, consider using sturdy paper plates instead, which can be recycled after use.
Use Color to Appeal to Guests
It’s hard to ignore a rainbow of colors, even in a packed venue. Take a hint from a booth BizBash noticed at the Wine Spectator Wine Seminar a few years back, which was filled with lovely, colorful desserts like cake pops and cookies.
Props Are Your Friend
In the abovementioned booth at the Wine Spectator Wine Seminar, the table also featured an inflatable unicorn with a multicolored horn. Carla Turchetti at American Express OPEN also notes the importance of props, writing how these add a dash of creativity to a booth. It doesn’t have to be something huge or expensive. Small things, even inflatables, will do just fine if they play into the theme.
Ask about Equipment Rules Before the Show
You may not be able to lug much of your cooking equipment to your booth, which could prevent you from serving some dishes. Ask the show organizers what kind of equipment is allowed onsite ahead of time so you can rework your menu if need be.
“Adapting to the occasion is one of the first considerations,” says Caiger & Co. Catering. “A caterer will look at the type of event and pick a style that’s suitable.”
Do a Live Cooking Demonstration
If you can bring equipment with you to the show, host a live cooking demonstration, suggests Samantha Kemp at Arizona news source AZ Central. Kemp says to have a brief Q&A during or after the demonstration to give attendees more information about the food and cookware.
Don’t Overload Plates
It can be tempting to give guests a lot of food when they stop by your booth, but refrain. After all, most guests just want a sample; your booth is far from the only one they’ll visit, so don’t overfill them.
“I…do not recommend giving out large samples that are representative of your actual (whole cupcakes, for instance),” says baking blog Wicked Goodies. “This is too costly. A bite-sized portion will do.”
Present Familiar Food in New Ways
Garnishes? Sure, every chef and caterer uses them. What about flavored foams? Catering pro Terry Shields told Special Events Magazine that he employs these when serving at big events because they “can top hors d’oeuvre, plated dishes and desserts, and can be hot or cold, sweet or savory, light or dense.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Leave the Booth
“In most cases, a booth is used as a crutch,” investor and author John Ruhlin writes at Entrepreneur. “You sit there waiting for your dream client to walk by and (hopefully) stop and talk.” Ruhlin advises getting out of this mindset.
Serve some food yourself. Pass out freebies personally. Shake some hands. Give and receive business cards. Do more than just hang behind the booth plating food and you’ll get much more out of the experience.
Go Tall with Your Booth
Trade shows are held in huge venues, and admittedly, all the booths can start to look the same. Guests should be lured to your booth by the irresistible smell of delicious food, and can also be attracted by your tall booth graphics.
“You may need to have three main types of graphics, depending on how far away attendees can stand from your booth: long-range, medium-range, and short-range,” says Monica Orrigo at marketing resource Handshake. “You should place long-range graphics as high as possible within trade show regulation limits. Medium-range graphics go about eye level, around six to eight feet above the floor, while short-range would be five to six feet above the floor.”
Prepare a Promotional Item
Whether you sell cookware or energy drinks, giving away freebies will always entice customers.
“If you do [give away a freebie], then make sure it stands out — that it’s not just another pen or mini candy bar,” Erin Ferree Stratton at branding resource BrandStyle Design says. “Standing out doesn’t mean that an item needs to be expensive.”
Connect Your Booth Design to the Values of Your Product
What is it about your food you want people to know? You can do more than just tell them. Try showing them, too.
“We wanted to convey a natural and healthy product, so we used wood accents and neutral colors throughout the display,” Heather Brensike at Simply 7 Snacks told The Muse about her company’s display at a trade show. Think about what kind of message you want to send with your décor.
Brand Your Packaging If Possible
From cups to bowls to napkins, if your catering company or food brand logo is printed on all these, people may be more likely to take notice, event company Exhibit Systems executive vice president Dave Jentz writes.
“Everything you hand out at your booth is an opportunity to communicate your brand,” he says. “Even quirkier food options can be leveraged as a communications vehicle — entice visitors to your booth with a popcorn machine and label the bags with your customized graphics.”