Navigating Wedding Shows as a Caterer 

By Clint Elkins, SB Value

Wedding expos, bridal shows, boutiques and extravaganzas – where there are happy engaged couples planning weddings, there are commercial gatherings of vendors eager to fit the bill. These events can be great opportunities to generate leads, but they can also be tricky.

As a caterer, how can you ensure that your investment produces the ROI you expect and desire when you exhibit at wedding shows?

Preparation

While the days leading up to a wedding show can be frenzied, the real preparation begins before you ever sign on the dotted line. You first need business goals and a marketing plan. These will help you determine if you have chosen an event that is aligned with your needs.

Show-Specific Goals

Once you have committed to a wedding show, create specific goals for the event. What has to happen in order for your investment to be a success? If it is securing bookings, how many? More business? How much? Bear in mind that your goals may also be qualitative. Perhaps you want to solidify relationships with area wedding pros who are in a position to refer business to you, meet new prospective colleagues, or demonstrate a particular menu item or design that you want your fellow vendors to promote.

Create a Follow Up Plan

Next, make a plan for post-show follow up. How will you capture contact information and interest on-site? While most shows will share contact lists, there is often a delay, so you will want your own method of gathering details. What is your plan for contacting the warm and hot leads after the show? Decide the specifics such as timing, what channel and what information you will include in advance.

As part of your follow up, make sure you have a system in place for tracking all leads, including their sources and whether or not they result in bookings. This data can tell you which referral sources are strongest, and which investments are worth repeating in the future.

Promote the Event

Another essential pre-show step is promoting your participation in the event, even to your prospects. Use your own social media, your mailing list and any other opportunities that arise to share the event details and encourage couples to attend.

You may be worried that sharing as-yet uncommitted leads with your competitors will result in a loss of business. However, if your lead is strong, consider the show an opportunity to shine even more and stand out in the crowd. You will gain goodwill from other vendors for bringing business to the show and demonstrate your confidence in your services.

Also, set aside a time right after the event to meet with your team and discuss how things went, what went right, and what you would change in the future. Do this as soon as possible so you don’t forget anything important.

Samples

Exhibiting as a caterer can be particularly complicated as not all shows allow sampling. If you are considering having food on site, connect with the show producer well in advance (before you sign, really) and review all the policies and regulations. Know if there will be power available, adequate ventilation for cooking and room for safe storage. Ask about load-in logistics, including where you will enter and what time the facility will be available. These are important details when you are basing much of your exhibit’s effectiveness on sampling your menu items.

Arrival on Site
Arrive as early as possible. Ideally, you want to be first in line so you have plenty of time to make sure your booth is prepared and everything is ready. Depending on the size of the show, you might want to bring a surprise and delight gift for your fellow exhibitors. Think in terms of a treat or amenity to help them get through the long day.

Staffing

Staff adequately for the event, ensuring that you have enough hands to address all needs, but not so many people that you are crowding your own exhibit and making it look unwelcoming. If you have extra staff, rotate them throughout the day and give others breaks. You might even consider bringing in a couple of your past enthusiastic brides or grooms to share their experiences.

The Food - Put Your Best Foot Forward

While you may feature a favorite or two, get creative. Research what couples are clamoring for these days and compare that to what is in line with your offerings.

Also, consider the environment. Make your sample portions easy to eat in a crowded space, on the run. Keep your exhibit area clean by busing any trash throughout the event and bring enough for everyone.

Remember that the decision makers may or may not be exclusively the couple, so appeal to parents, friends and relatives as well. Even wedding party members are prospective future clients. Don’t risk alienating your next generation of clients.

Network

Build in time to network with other vendors. Find out who will be attending and note any you would particularly like to connect with on site. If possible, during slower times while your staff mans the booth, take time to walk the floor, see what others are offering and make introductions or renew friendships.

Scoping Out a Show

If you are planning to attend a show but not exhibit, follow best practices for a non-participant professional. Set goals just as you would if you were exhibiting. Determine a number of vendor contacts you want to make, or decide that you will just observe to decide if you plan to participate in the future.

Always remember that exhibitors paid to attend and are there primarily to make sales. Be respectful of their time and avoid getting into conversations that conflict with dedicating their time to their prospects.

By the same token, avoid the rush of couples at the beginning and aim to attend about an hour in. If a fashion show is involved, know that traffic through the exhibits tends to slow down considerably after the performance, giving you a great opportunity to walk around. You can attend earlier if you want to gauge the number of attendees, but don’t expect to connect with vendors until traffic lightens.

Do not pose as a prospect. If an exhibitor mistakes you for one, be quick to correct them and make sure they understand that you’re simply a vendor attending to get a feel for the show.

Do not solicit business when you are on site if you are not a paying exhibitor. This is the fastest way to be officially blacklisted by the show’s producer and earn the disdain of your fellow vendors. Remember that you are surrounded by colleagues who paid to exhibit. They are the ones who should be selling.

Wedding shows can be lucrative in a variety of ways, including generating both leads and introductions to influential peers. Prepare now for your next show and maximize your investment by starting with a solid plan.

Clint Elkins is the VP of Sales of SB Value, a group purchasing program designed to reduce catering, kitchen and food-service costs by leveraging the collective buying power of thousands of companies. You can visit them this February at the Catersource Tradeshow in New Orleans, so be sure to come by their booth and say hello!

 

Please credit: Julie Napear Photography, https://www.julienapearphotography.com/