If you're thinking about....Food & Beverages at Trade Shows

Posted by Jody Myers on Jun 10, 2016 3:20:24 PM
Jody Myers

*Originally posted at Exhibitus Magicus

Food and drink at trade shows usually happens in one of two ways.

Scenario One:

Lucky Exhibit Coordinator gets team together for pre-show meeting.  At said meeting, it's determined that we should offer food and drink on the opening day of the show this year.  Lucky Exhibit Coordinator replies, "no problem, I'll work with the show caterer... consider it done."

Scenario Two:
"Hey Jody, we want you to coordinate a dealer reception at our biggest trade show, OK?"

OF COURSE!  I'm Exhibitus Magicus, this will be a piece of cake (no pun intended), Mr./Ms. Customer.

In either scenario, there's a lot more to consider!

Seems simple enough.  Contact the show caterer, and they'll take care of everything...right?  Wrong.  Here are some tips I've learned through first hand experience that may make your food & drink adventure smoother.

1.  Spell out everything.  You'd think a cheese and cracker tray is pretty safe and generic.... imagine my surprise when the caterer arrived with HUGE block wedges of cheese.  I'm talking bigger than my hand, people.  In horror, I asked how those were supposed to be served, the answer was, "oh, we have plastic knives and people can just slice off what they want."  Um, no.  This is a trade show.  There isn't space or time (and seriously, slicing cheese with a plastic knife is not a carnival) on the floor to expect people to do this.  As a bonus... many of the wedges were BLUE cheese.  Word to the wise.... blue cheese does not crumbles.  Trust me.  From that day on, I have specified sliced or cubed cheese.  Plus toothpicks or tongs (stabbing cheese with a plastic fork works, but it's not very dignified).  Fruit?  Same thing... I'll specify that the grapes can NOT be in huge clumps still on the vine.  Imagine every scenario, and triple check your order so you know exactly what you'll be getting.

2.  Beer?  Sure!  Keg or bottles?  Depending on the expected audience, a keg can be the best way to go.  Keep in mind that you'll be paying for a bartender (but that will be well worth it).  Here's what you may not know:  A keg requires additional equipment (pumps, hoses, etc.) so you'll need to plan for space for that, and request that the official catering company be sure to drape/cover the "keg box".  Caveat- if there is a problem with any of the pumps, hoses, etc., not only will you not be able to SERVE the beer people are lining up around your booth for, but if the problem is a leak of any kind, you'll quickly discover your plush carpet and padding will hold a tremendous amount of liquid that will now smell like beer.  At some shows, this may be an advantage as beer drinkers will be sniffing around your space like bloodhounds....but for most, this will be highly undesirable.  Oh, and if your carpet isn't dark, it takes a LOT of plants to cover beer keg leak stains.... or so I'm told (cough, cough).  So.... you may want to request some kind of plastic/rubber mat be placed under the keg.  And be sure the caterer has bottles as a back up... just in case.

3.  Coffee?  Why not?  Everyone loves free coffee in the morning at shows.  Here's the wisdom I can share on coffee.  First, if you are brewing on the floor, you need ample power specifically for the brewer (usually 30 amp service).  This amount of power may require a jump/auxiliary box somewhere IN your booth space, so be sure to ask.  You will also need water, so you need to consider plumbing or Culligan Man sized bottles.  The amount will depend on the size of the brewer and how many cups you anticipate.  For larger brewers, they take so many gallons to FILL and then additional to top off as needed.  The power cables and water, etc. will take up a lot of room, so be prepared for that.

4.  Coffee... continued.  Ha, thought that was complicated enough, didn't you?  But wait, there's more!  Are you going to have creamers? Sugar? Sugar substitutes? The last show I participated in with coffee brought- I'm not kidding- EIGHT different creamer flavors.  In three boxes per flavor.  So yes, that's 24 boxes of coffee creamers that you guessed it- you need to store.  Not to mention the real sugar packets and their friends, the sugar substitutes:  yes, the blues, the pinks, and the yellows.  Oh, and powdered creamers.  And canisters of sugar, just in case the packets aren't enough.  And don't forget cups, napkins, and coffee stir sticks.  We were fortunate to have coffee accessory displays, so everything had it's place, but those take up room, too.  One more thing- full coffee brewers are HEAVY, so be sure your table can support them.

5.  Show rules.  If you want to provide your own food/drink, be sure to check the show rules.  The official caterer may have restrictions in terms of sizing, etc. of what you can offer and may charge a "buyout" fee... because if you're giving away free coffee, that keeps people from buying THEIR $3 a cup coffee.

6. Garbage.  If you're offering food/drink in your space, have plenty of garbage cans and bags.  Consider hiring porter service through the show to periodically empty them, or assign a booth staffer the job.

7.  Safety.  Be prepared to have signs stating that coffee or food is hot; if you are offering anything with high allergy triggers, you may want a sign listing ingredients as well.  Or keep a handy supply of epi-pens if you're more adventurous!

A final note- on the chance my clients recognize themselves in this post-I LOVE my clients and am happy to tackle these challenges.  I'm truly grateful for the chance to learn new ways to do my job- which is to make theirs easier on the show floor!

Topics: trade show marketing, Blog, catering, trade show booths, trade show exhibits, tradeshows

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