Damian Clarkson looks at how exhibitors should be using catering
Quite simply, having hospitality on an exhibition stand will attract attention. It will attract visitors to a stand, and then give them an enticing incentive to stay while the sales team finds out more about them and their purchasing requirements.
For example, offering a potential customer a drink can help oil the wheels of the data gathering process. They feel valued because a little bit of hospitality has been lavished on them and, once they accept the drink, they have unconsciously committed to stay for a short time while they have it. I’ve found no-one will just quaff a glass of champagne straight down and walk away. As they relax and chat, the company representatives can gently get to know all about them.
While everyone knows that a company exhibits to create sales, the process does not have to be a 'hard sell'. Having hospitality on a stand can help soften this process, engender a welcoming environment and create a buzz. An empty stand isn’t appealing, so any activity and buzz you can create will attract even more people to find out what’s so appealing about your company.
Before bringing hospitality onto a stand it is worth considering a few points. While wanting to attract potential customers, you shouldn’t want to attract just anybody looking for a freebie. I’d recommend the sales team be pre-briefed to ask a simple qualification question before offering hospitality.
That way the genuine customers can be quickly identified and made to feel special.
Appeal to the senses
Having a chef on the stand creates a certain amount of expectation. Visitors will automatically think “The food is going to be good!” A chef gives a stand a sense of occasion, and actually preparing something edible can be a fantastic crowd puller because it adds fun and movement to what is often a static stand.
But, as exhibition space can be expensive, it is not a wise idea to allocate a large proportion of the stand to a fully working kitchen. Consider serving food that can be prepared in advance and then simply finished off on-site. Don’t have anything too fragile or complicated. Keep it simple but beautifully executed.
Consider two options: actually serve food and drink for visitors to consume on the stand or offer a handmade edible gift for them to take away.
We made chocolate truffles for a client at a business exhibition this year. Most of the work was done in advance, and they were simply finished off and popped into pretty boxes as required by the visitors. Visitors were drawn to the tempting smell of chocolate that wafted through the exhibition hall, and were delighted to be able to see them being made, queuing up to be able to take a few home.
Pre-baking handmade cookies and having someone ice them on the stand, personalising them for each visitor, can also be really effective at making people feel special.
For other occasions, some cupcakes iced with the company’s logo can be an effective branding activity. A simple idea would be to photocopy the company logo onto sugar paper and use it to decorate the edible gifts. Simple foodstuffs, cost-effectively packaged in some branded cellophane bag and tied up with a ribbon, will give your visitors a branded token to take home and enjoy.
If you decide to serve food to eat on the stand, consider who your audience is and what they will expect, and turn it on its head. Once, we served pie and peas to an audience of hoteliers and it went down a storm. The audience were tired of the traditional canapés, so when presented by simple yet tasty hand made pies, they were taken aback and then got stuck in.
Of course, if you go down the road of surprising people, make sure the ingredients and presentation are spot on, to ensure the plan doesn’t backfire.
At London Fashion Week, the most popular food I’ve seen served is, surprisingly, chips. It goes without saying that they were handmade and of a high quality, but they were chips nevertheless. Sometimes the audience will surprise you with what appeals to them, so learn from your experiences and adapt the hospitality offering for the next occasion.
Using food to create impact doesn’t have to be expensive. The most effective ideas are often simple, but innovative, creative and well executed. Simplicity is a popular catering buzz word at the moment, but it has to be impeccably executed.
Just allow on-stand hospitality to complement and enhance your exhibition presence. It should not dominate or overshadow your objectives. Hospitality should mirror
a company’s ethos and brand values and help a company achieve and excel its objectives for exhibiting.
Damian Clarkson is the MD of The London Kitchen and can be contacted via Exhibiting deputy editor James Barrett.