Avoid Serving These 7 Types of Food at a Trade Show

December 24, 2016

Sofia Troutman

Sofia Troutman is the Senior Digital Marketing and Product Innovation Manager for Skyline Exhibits. Sofia heads up Skyline’s marketing efforts in new product development and management, lead generation, exhibitor education, industry relations and market research.

We are observing an emerging trend with exhibitors.  More and more are moving away from having the generic candy dish to serving “real” food and offering beverages to their visitors at the booth.   From something as simple as offering a branded bottle of water, coffee or tea, higher end chocolate, sandwiches or even a full sit down meal at some shows in Europe. People get tired and hungry walking a show.  Many people travel from distant places to attend, and there are few things that are better when you are jet lagged and tired than free food.

There are some things that while great at a college party, are not a good idea to offer at a business event.

Messy foods. No one wants to get ketchup or ice cream on their business suit or to be seen by a prospective business contact with cilantro on their teeth.   Serving fajitas, hot dogs, and spaghetti are probably not a good fit.   One year we served ice cream in our booth.   While people loved it, there are still stories about how messy it was and the difficult cleanup issues we had.

Smelly Foods. I love garlic and seafood.  Many people love fish sauce and other foods that are fabulous to eat … but may not be so great to smell when you are not eating them.  A big objective at events is to make new connections and have in-depth business conversations.   Questioning your breath, or whether your hands smell like roast beef, are not confidence inspiring when you are trying to decide whether or not to introduce yourself.

Controversial foods or beverages. Yes, it is likely that serving shots or martinis at the show can get you a lot of talk value, and possibly many more leads.   However, you may want to consider how your clients and other industry contacts may interpret that choice.  If your brand image is pretty relaxed, high-end, or you work for a company that produces the product, then it may be the perfect offering.  However, make sure it does not conflict with your messaging at the show or distract from the product or service you are trying to promote.

 Dangerous Foods. It should go without saying that anything that requires you setting the food on fire should probably be out.  Yes, that means no bananas Foster, sorry.  However, you may also want to avoid anything that requires cooking food at high temperatures.   Fire regulations are very strict at Trade Shows (check out this Exhibitor Online article).  There is a good reason for that, you have a very large number of people in an enclosed and somewhat unfamiliar space.   You don’t want anyone to get hurt, or worse yet to cause a fire.

 Highly allergenic. This could easily fall into the dangerous category if you serve peanuts to the wrong person.   Other possible foods to avoid would be shellfish, tree nuts, fish, milk, and eggs. For a more detailed list of food allergens visit the World Allergy Organization. Even if allergies are not an issue, you may want to be mindful of food sensitivities or trends such as gluten or lactose intolerance when planning your menu as well.  In some of our events, we have found we get much better attendance when people know that we will have food options that will be sensitive to their food needs and preferences.

Very expensive. You don’t have to serve caviar for your food expenses to exceed your budget at a trade show.   Note that any food not regularly included in the catering menu provided by the convention center or host hotel is likely to be significantly more expensive than what you would pay outside of the show.  Also, be aware that if you plan to bring your own food to the show you are likely to be charged for corking fees which may make you question  the importance of a particular brand of coffee or water.   Corking fees may include flat service fees per booth, per day as well as corking fees per item.  Candy Adams has a great article on Exhibitor Magazine, “Food on the Floor” that outlines how to minimize expenses.   Be sure to contact the Convention Services vendor for your particular show well in advance to get estimates.

Not brand appropriate. The food does not need to be controversial to fit into the “not brand appropriate” category.   For example, if you are a premium provider of a particular product or service, it may not be brand appropriate for you to offer sub sandwiches at your trade show.   However, if your brand is playful it may be just fine to serve custom cake-pops at your booth.  Here is a great site with some fun bite-sized ideas you may want to consider for your next event.

 Once you have noted these potential pitfalls, have fun planning your menu!   There are few things as effective in forging a relationship as being able to break bread with them.  So go ahead and start planning a menu for your next event and let us know how it goes!

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.