Where Should Attendees Eat At Your Event?
With the incredible amount of planning that goes to an event, most organizers feel they’ve considered every action and reaction to their decisions. There will, of course, be ever-changing trends and standards that they have to adjust to but, in the grand scheme, they’ve covered it all. Determining where attendees eat at your event is no different.
How much time and effort goes into planning what the attendees are going to eat? With recent trends erring to healthy food preferences, there has been a renewed interest in providing the right kinds of food to attendees. But, there’s a factor that seems steadfast that we really should consider more often. Where are the attendees going to eat?
There are two main options for the location of food services during tradeshows, exhibitions, and conferences: in the exhibit hall or outside the exhibit hall. These two different locations both have benefits to the vendors and attendees but have certain disadvantages as well.
Which way is right? Well, we would tell you to consider both! However, we dug a little deeper to provide you with the potential pros and cons of both.
Lunch in the Exhibit Hall: More Foot Traffic
Vendors want to maximize the amount of time they have to interact and communicate with attendees. Therefore, the fewer reasons they have to leave the exhibit hall, the better. A large point in the argument for having lunch within the exhibit hall is that removing food from the exhibit hall reduces the amount of facetime that vendors have with the attendees.
Serving food in the exhibit hall requires attendees to traverse the show floor to get their food. If there’s something that’s going to get attendees moving, it would be lunch. Once there is foot traffic through the exhibition hall, it is then the vendor’s responsibility to attract attendees.
Lunch in the Exhibit Hall: Foster Unique Experiences
Considering how you can facilitate the relationship-building opportunities between attendees and vendors is a large part of a successful event. We all know that food is a universal language that encourages social engagement and we think you should take advantage of it.
We recently heard that Proef Media BV in the Netherlands, executed their lunch in a new way at a recent event. The event held a session in the morning and the exhibition floor was open the remainder of the day. Lunch was then provided at the exhibitor booths, where the hosted buyers found lunch supplied at the exhibitor booth. The connection was made based on their preferences for visiting the exhibit floor. Incorporating new ways to connect attendees with vendors through lunch services is a highly effective and innovative way to foster communication, networking, and relationship-building.
Lunch outside the Exhibit Hall: More Networking
Other professionals argue that eating within the exhibit hall and trying to visit with vendors is too distracting, and suggest having lunch in an alternate area. Providing a separate area for dining allows attendees to network with other attendees they might otherwise not have the opportunity for. When there is time to focus strictly on networking and conversation, they will offer more attention to the vendors as well (instead of looking around to see who else is at the event).
Some professionals believe that providing food within the exhibition hall causes crowds and bottlenecks to develop that are difficult to manage. Also, a janitorial service must be available to help clean up accidents, spills, or misplaced trash. Maybe consider a small driver to bring the guests back into the exhibition area after lunch? With an afternoon of sessions or people to talk to, attendees need their caffeine boost. In this case, we’d suggest having desserts, sweets, or a coffee bar within the exhibition hall to gear the focus back to that area.
Lunch outside the Exhibit Hall: Sponsored Dining
Consider the option of having a sit-down lunch to help foster a more intimate atmosphere. These opportunities can help lay the foundation for strong business relationships by allowing more time for uninterrupted conversation. Further potential revenue streams for your event and offer more exposure for the vendors by providing packages to sponsor a “break-out” lunch event. In an alternate location, vendors who are interested can sponsor lunches and provide presentations, information, and speakers during the meal.
There are other times when this type of opportunity can prove valuable as well. Offer vendors the option to provide “break-out” or VIP sessions for breakfast and coffee breaks, pre-dinner cocktails, etc.
Either Way, Make It Easy
Once you decided on whether to serve lunch in or outside the exhibit hall, decide what kind of food to provide and how to serve the food, whether it is a sit-down lunch, high-top tables without seats, or grab-and-go type foods, you’re finally ready to think about the most important part; the attendee experience. When events are packed with a full agenda and an attendee spends half of their lunch waiting in a line and the other half trying to find somewhere to eat, they’re going to leave rather unimpressed.
Professionals recommend that food be placed around the entire hall, allowing for more free-flowing traffic and less wait-time in lines. Avoid placing food near entrances, as they cause bottlenecks. Another tip is to considering the size of the eating area. Larger areas will help promote networking, but will also allow for more time to linger (thus decreasing their time within the exhibition hall). You have to consider both the attendees and the vendors and find a common ground that can please both. However, if you choose to serve lunch within the exhibition hall make sure to supply enough waste cans to collect trash and avoid messes.
Where Should You Provide Dining?
No matter where you choose to place your dining area(s), just remember that whatever you choose will have differentiating effects on the foot traffic and attendee behavior. It’s best to consider those attending the show and what their wants and needs are. Is it a multi-day event? Can you switch it up to mix the offerings up a little?
Just remember that your role is to provide the best experience to those involved. If you’re catering to a group of attendees that typically eat on-the-go (restaurant industry, perhaps?) they most likely wouldn’t mind multi-tasking. We don’t have a magic formula, but we can at least bring a stronger consideration for not only what food is provided, but where it is within the event.