Trade Show Food: Do’s and Don’ts

Trade Show Food Macaroons

Every veteran trade show attendee knows there are certain trade shows you can easily eat your way through. There’s no getting around it, the free food is among the top things that trade show attendees look forward to (quality swag is also a contender). I mean, let’s be real, you can literally taste the freshly baked trade show donuts before you even hit the floor. Serving food at a trade show can sound like a lot of fun, and a great way to generate foot traffic to your trade show display. However, it can quickly evolve into a total nightmare. Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to serving trade show food.

The Do’s of Serving Trade Show Food and Drinks

Serve Alcohol (duh!)

Colorful Alcoholic Drinks

Let’s not beat around the bush – people love alcohol. This one is at the top of the list for a reason. Most trade show attendees will do just about anything for a cold and crisp brew. This is especially true for the hard-working executives milling about the trade show floor. Furthermore, people go to trade shows to have fun. Yes, they’re there to do business, but they’re also there to get to know their peers, let loose a little, and have a good time. What better way to kick things into gear than to serve your own company-branded drinks at a cocktail bar or beer hut? If you’re going to open up your wallet and invest in a food stand, then you might as well go big and serve up some liquid gold.

However, some potential customers may think that serving alcohol at a trade show is unprofessional and may judge your company accordingly. However, it is usually worth the risk since free alcohol has proven to be the most popular consumable at trade shows over the years. When all is said and done, you can rest easy knowing that people will visit your booth more than once when you serve alcohol.

Take the Time to Consult the Trade Show Food Organizer Before You Finalize Your Menu

Most trade shows held in a convention center will have a contract with a caterer. This means that the catering company must provide any food or drink served on the premises. Knowing this, it’s always wise to figure out the rules and logistics in terms of fees for bringing in your own snacks and beverages as soon as possible. You can also ask what other companies are ordering, which is a great way to avoid doubling up on a similar menu as another exhibitor. While it’s great to differentiate your brand with a unique menu, some caterers will offer a discount if you order the same offerings as another company. This is a great way to save a few pennies on your bags of caramel corn!

Make Sure to Order More Than What You Think You’ll Need

Restaurant Owner Placing Order

It’s vital that you remember that the caterer is going to be wicked busy during the event, so keep your last-minute orders and adjustments to a minimum. Furthermore, you’ll also want to order more of your trade show food and drinks than what you think you’ll need. Over ordering is a wise practice because the last thing you want to do is run out and end up waiting hours for another tray of appetizers. The caterer is likely serving a plethora of exhibitors, so your order may not be their top priority.

There’s also nothing worse than having a prospective client venture across the entire trade show floor to snag a bag of your tasty movie theater popcorn only to find out that you’re fresh out. This isn’t the best way to start a conversation and it’s flat-out unprofessional, which could hinder your momentum at the show. In short, it’s always best to overorder just to be safe. Heck, the worst that can happen is that you have dinner for a couple of weeks!

Always Brand Your Trade Show Food and Drinks

Branded Coffee Cup

No matter what you decide to serve, put your logo on it. Attendees are going to carry your food and/or drinks around the show (at least until they finish it). This is a prime opportunity to showcase your brand; all you need to do is slap your logo on it. It can be as simple as offering freshly baked frosted cookies with your logo on the icing. Another hot item is bags of popcorn featuring your logo. You can also provide bottled water with your logo on the label. Remember, the more creative, the better! You want to ensure that attendees remember who provided the delicious treats while devouring them on the trade show floor.

The Don’ts of Serving Trade Show Food and Drinks

Avoid Average Food that Doesn’t Stand Out

For most trade show attendees, this isn’t their first lap around the track. They’ve likely seen it all – pizza cones, cotton candy, donuts…you get the idea. If you’re looking to stand out and make an impression, you need to provide one-of-a-kind food and drink that will get prospective clients talking. Your menu doesn’t have to be elaborate or pricy, it just needs to be different and memorable. You need to take this opportunity to attract a crowd. It’s always wise to go with something that is worth standing in line for. Think about it, a standard hot dog with ketchup and mustard is a typical favorite, but doesn’t really create a buzz. However, charcoal ice cream will most certainly generate a healthy buzz across the trade show floor. You want to offer food and drinks that people will want to share via social media and that resonates with your brand.

Steer Clear of Stinky Food

Smelly Food

Our ability to smell is the most powerful of the five human senses. A whiff of fresh-cut grass can take you back to your glory days when you scored the winning goal against your cross-town rival. The smell of your grandfather’s freshly baked sourdough can guide you down memory lane to the afternoons you spent with your grandparents.

Our sense of smell is closely linked to memories and emotions, so use this power to attract prospective clients to your booth by serving food that activates those fond memories. Movie theater popcorn, freshly baked cookies, piping hot pizza, and gooey donuts all smell amazing when they’re being prepared. So when you’re building your menu, go with options that smell as yummy as they taste. On the other hand, there are foods that taste great, but straight up smell offensive. Avoid serving anything with fish or eggs in it. You also want to avoid spicy foods. In short, you want to attract attendees to your savory-smelling booth, not repel them.

Avoid Perishable Food Items

Woman Smelling Rotten Meat

Serving any type of meat or animal product is always risky. This is especially true when you don’t have access to on-site refrigeration. With this in mind, sticking with baked goods, popcorn and candy are all safe bets. On the other hand, even vegan foods, such as white rice can spoil quickly. It’s all about how you handle the food and how much traffic you expect to visit your booth. The last thing you want is to be the reason why half the attendees left with nasty stomach aches. If you insist on serving proper meals and appetizers, you best have a cooler chock full of ice near your booth to store excess food. Furthermore, you want to avoid condiments like mayo and sour cream, which can go south easily. When in doubt, go with pre-packaged options that feature your brand!

Keep It Clean and Avoid Messy Foods

Baby with Food All Over Face

So we’ve mentioned popcorn as a solid trade show food option. However, popcorn does have a dark side – it can be a buttery mess. You don’t want to be the exhibitor with bits of popcorn littering the perimeter of your display. So unless you make it a point to clean up every hour or so, you should steer clear of any potentially messy food items. Also, don’t forget to provide napkins!

Closing Thoughts

If you’re looking for additional tips or advice, then send the Buzz Impressions team a note and we’ll be happy to assist. Our knowledgeable team will work with you to identify your goals and craft a menu of delectable foods and refreshing beverages that will reel in the masses!

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