Do’s and Don’ts for Serving Food at Your Booth

There are certain trade shows, and not just The National Restaurant Association Show, that you know you can eat your way through. There’s no denying that free food is one of the things that trade show go-ers look forward to. Mmm…we can already taste the donuts. Serving food at a trade show might sound like a lot of fun, and a great way to generate traffic to your booth, but it can easily turn into a nightmare. Check out our list of do’s and don’ts for great trade show food ideas:

Do’s:

1. Do serve alcohol
Let’s just cut to the chase…lots of people love alcohol. Let’s just say this one is at the top of the list for a reason. Most attendees will do anything for a midday micro-brew, especially the hard-working executives who will be milling around the trade show floor. People go to trade shows to have fun. And yes, they’re there to do business, but they’re also there to socialize, meet new people, let loose and have a good time. What better way to “amp up” the party than to serve your own company-branded drinks at a cocktail bar or beer stall. If you’re going to splurge on a food stand, then you might as well go big and dole out the liquid gold. Keep in mind though, some prospects might think serving alcohol at a trade show is “unprofessional” and may judge your company justly. It might be worth the risk though because free alcohol has proven time and time again to be the most popular “consumable” at trade shows. You can guarantee that people will be visiting your booth more than once.

2. Do consult the trade show organizer before you decide on a food item
Many trade shows that operate out of a convention center will be tied to a contract with a caterer, meaning that any food served on the premises must be provided by said catering company. Knowing this, it’s always a good idea to get the 411 as soon as you can from the catering manager on what the fees are for bringing in your own snacks/water bottles (if they allow that kind of thing) and what the other companies are ordering. Sometimes a catering manager will give you a discount if you order the same specialty food item as another company. You could save a buck or two (or maybe even a hundred) on your stuffed mushroom cups.

3. Do order more than you think you’ll need
Keep in mind that the caterer is going to be incredibly busy that day, so keep any last-minute orders or alterations to a minimum. Always order more than you think you’ll need because if and when you run out, it could be another 2-3 hours until you can get another tray of appetizers delivered. The caterer is busy serving 30+ companies, so your order may not be their top priority. There’s also nothing worse than a prospective client trekking all the way across the trade show floor to get a taste of your food only to find out that you’ve completely run out. Not a great way to start a conversation and definitely not a good first impression. Running out of food early might also make you seem disorganized and unprofessional which could put a damper on your presence at the show. It’s always best to order a surplus, just to be safe. Worst case scenario, you’ve got dinner for the next 2 weeks.

4. Do brand your food item
Whatever you decide to sell…put a logo on it. People are going to be carrying your food item around the show (at least until they eat it) so you might as well take advantage of that prime ad space and slap your company logo somewhere on it. It could be as simple as serving your fresh-baked cookies in paper bags branded with your logo or doling out water bottles with big stickers on them. Get creative with it! You want to make sure people know who’s providing them with these delicious treats!

Don’ts:

1. Don’t serve average food
For most trade show attendees, this is NOT their first rodeo. They’ve seen it all…pizza cones, cotton candy, cronuts. If you’re looking for a way to stand out at this year’s trade show, choose a unique food item to get the patrons talking. It doesn’t have to be something elaborate or expensive, just something “different.” Really take this as an opportunity to attract a crowd. It’s always a good idea to choose something that is worth standing in line for. A hotdog with ketchup and mustard is a standard favorite, but not exactly buzz-worthy. Charcoal ice cream, is. Choose something that people will want to put on their social media pages and resonates with your brand while still making sure it actually tastes good.

2. Don’t serve bad smelling food
Scent is known to be the most memorable of all the human senses. A sniff of fresh-cut grass can take you right back to when you were ten and scored the winning goal in your little league soccer game. The smell of your grandma’s brownies can take you on a journey down memory lane to those days you sat in her sun-streaked kitchen. Our sense of smell is linked to memories and emotions so use this power to draw prospective clients to your booth by serving food that piques those good memories. Movie theatre-style popcorn, freshly-baked cookies, piping hot pizza, sizzling donuts. All of these food items smell amazing when they’re being prepared, so when you’re choosing your food item, go with one that smells as delicious as it tastes. On the other hand, there are certain foods that taste good but smell…questionable. Avoid serving anything with fish or eggs in it, as well as spicy foods. You want to attract people to your sweet-smelling booth, not repel them.

3. Don’t serve highly perishable items
Serving meat or animal products is always a risk, especially when you don’t have refrigeration on-site (which chances are…you don’t), so sticking with things like baked goods, popcorn and candy is a sure-fire way to stay safe. On the other hand, even vegan foods like white rice can spoil quickly. It’s really all a matter on how you handle the food and how much traffic you can realistically expect in your booth. You definitely don’t want to be the reason why half the trade show went home with stomach aches. If you’re gung-ho on serving proper meals and appetizers, then have a cooler with ice somewhere near your booth to store excess food. Avoid extras like mayo and sour cream that can go bad easily, or better yet, stick with pre-packaged items (that hopefully have your logo on them!)

4. Don’t serve messy food items
We’ve mentioned popcorn as being a good “food choice” for trade shows, but not so fast…popcorn has a dark side…it can be a buttery mess. You don’t want to be known as the booth with the popcorn all over the floor. So unless you’re committed to sweeping every hour or so, steer clear of “messy” food items. And don’t forget the branded napkins!

Need more tips and advice? Consider partnering with a professional trade show service provider like Evo Exhibits. Our experts work with you to identify your unique goals, create a booth tailored to your needs, and conduct post-show follow-ups for success at all current and future trade shows. Get in touch today!

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