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Convention Center Catering: What You Need to Know


Have you ever noticed that trade show booths that give away food almost always have longer lines than booths without food? Serving food is an awesome way to attract trade show attendees, promote your brand, and make connections. However, unless you plan properly, it can also be tricky and expensive. If you want to serve food at your next exhibit and want to reduce costs at the same time, keep reading. Here are 10 tips that will save you money and stress.

1. Ask Permission, Not Forgiveness
Before you move forward with hiring caterers for your trade show booth, take a step back and contact someone from the show management team. Find out if you’re allowed to serve food at your booth, and don’t forget to ask if there are any limits on what you can or can’t serve. It’s better to ask permission than to show up with a bunch of food that you’ve already paid for and get told you can’t serve any of it.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate
Once you’ve got the green light from the show contractor or another higher-up, you can start reaching out to caterers and getting quotes for your event. When you get quotes back, don’t be afraid to use your negotiating skills and find a price that works for your budget. There’s generally some wiggle room when it comes to event catering, especially when you’re ordering large quantities.

3. Look at the Fine Print
After you’ve decided on a specific caterer, read the fine print on their contract carefully before signing anything. There may be some extra fees and taxes beyond the prices listed in the initial quote. Don’t forget to take those into account, otherwise, you might end up with an unpleasant surprise when the final bill arrives.

4. Order Early
It’s always a good idea to place your order early, especially when you’re arranging catering for a big trade show or convention. If you wait too long, you may have a hard time finding someone who can work with your schedule and meet your specific catering needs. You may also have to pay extra fees for rush orders, and there will be less room to negotiate since you won’t have time on your side.

5. Ask About Ordering on Consumption
Ordering on consumption allows you to pay only for the items you use at an event. This often applies to things like sodas, bottled drinks, and individually packaged food. Ordering on consumption is a good way to avoid extra costs while still providing refreshments that can attract people to your booth. You may not be able to order all of your food this way, but there might be at least a few menu items available with this option.

6. Always Audit Your Invoices
It’s not uncommon for errors on catering invoices to result in you being charged extra (sometimes by hundreds or even thousands of dollars). If you want to ensure you’re getting the best deal possible and aren’t spending more than you need to, a thorough invoice audit is essential. It’ll take a little extra time on your part, but the benefit of saving money will absolutely be worth it.

7. Consider Cleanup Fees
Some trade show managers charge a cleanup fee to exhibitors who serve food at their booths. Be sure to ask about this early on in the planning process so you can factor the fee into your budget.

8. Partner with Local Businesses
Sometimes, you can save money on catering by partnering with a local business. In exchange for getting their name out there and being featured at a big trade show or event, some restaurants might be willing to offer promotions to exhibitors and provide food and drinks at a discount.

9. Practice Portion Control
If you want to use food as part of your trade show booth marketing but want to avoid overspending, make sure you’re managing portion sizes. Maybe everyone doesn’t need to receive a full-sized foot item when they stop by your booth. A smaller serving will likely work just fine.

10. Prevent Food Waste
Finally, make sure you’re minimizing food waste as much as possible during the exhibiting process. Not only is food waste bad for the planet, but it’s also bad for your wallet. Here are some tips to help you avoid it:

  • Avoid serving highly perishable foods (meat, mayonnaise, eggs, etc.)
  • Get a rough attendee headcount before you order
  • Avoid buffet-style service (this tends to produce more waste than serving pre-portioned food)

Connect with a local food bank or soup kitchen before the event, too, and arrange to donate any leftover food to them afterward.

Set-Up Catering at Your Tradeshow Booth Today
With these convention center catering tips, you’ll have an easy time serving food at your next event without spending an arm and a leg. Follow these steps and your booth will be the talk of the show hall!