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“Customization” seems to be the buzzword and trend in the hospitality departments of McCormick Place in Chicago and Washington State Convention Center, and making sure each exhibitor receives it are the general managers for the in-house food and beverage providers, Aramark and SAVOR…Chicago, respectively.

Whether it’s creating unique services or delivering experiences beyond catering, SAVOR…Chicago General Manager Connie Chambers and Aramark General Manager Dawn Wheeler give exhibitors the tools, tips and assistance to build connections with attendees in the increasingly competitive tradeshow environment.

SAVOR…Chicago at McCormick Place

“We learned that exhibitors want to create their own identity to attract people to their booths, so we created packages and offer Chicago craft beers, which ties the connection back to Chicago. The unique packages are limited. You have to order them relatively early, so every exhibitor doesn’t have the same order and for people to stand out,” said Connie Chambers, general manager, SAVOR…Chicago at McCormick Place. “We also offer donut machines, cappuccino services, roasters and martini bars. We can customize it all.”

Savor...the donut service

Savor…the donut service

Depending on the exhibitor’s request, SAVOR…Chicago has created warm and inviting booth environments with fresh-baked cookies and milk shooters to large-scale functions with ice breakers for clients like Exhibition Services and Contractors Association. SAVOR…Chicago’s ability to customize its services to exhibitors’ needs is also seen in its new online menu offering.

“The online menu allows exhibitors to place orders when it is convenient for them rather than calling on the phone,” Chambers explained. “We know they are traveling from one show to another. We email them a confirmation and then process the order.”

In its two years of operation at McCormick Place, SAVOR…Chicago saw that many exhibitors wanted to use their services as an entry point to make sales, so they further customized their experiences by offering thematic elements, such as an old-fashioned soda bar, as well as by working with talent agencies to deliver models.

“Someone may say they want a model; we can arrange it. Sometimes they do it on their own,” stated Chambers. “We can also have personnel handing out samples or have a bartender in standard banquet attire.”

To further enhance its offerings, SAVOR…Chicago also provides crepe service as well as self-serve yogurt and ice cream machines to create unique elements.

“It’s another level of hospitality you don’t expect when going into a booth,” she added.

For companies new to exhibiting, Chambers recommends starting out with one-bite items like cookies or similar small items that can be stored in a bag for later consumption. For success, she added to avoid cumbersome items like knives and forks.

Aramark at Washington State Convention Center

From the moment exhibitors walk into the Washington State Convention Center, Aramark discovers what their needs are, according to General Manager Dawn Wheeler.

“Exhibitors often don’t know what they want or need until they get here, or they may not know what their budgets are,” she explained. “We help exhibitors with everything from setting up booths on the show floor to electrical and wireless as well as catering. We address any questions they may have.”

Who knew severed hands were tasty?

Who knew severed hands were tasty?

Operating at Washington State Convention Center for 26 years, Aramark helps exhibitors deliver memorable experiences, such as providing custom confections from its in-house bakery or carving an ice sculpture into a canoe.

“We also create action stations, such as live cooking on the show floor. We have a grill, and we create a space for it if the booth is big enough. For Sakura-Con, there was an Asian action station, with noodles and vegetables in boxes for people to grab and go,” stated Wheeler. “Lately, specialty coffee cocktails help drive traffic to booths. For the Specialty Coffee Association show, some exhibitors were supposed to get coffee cups with logos, so we got them what they needed in a timely matter.”

One of the more popular experiences Aramark created was for an exhibitor who wanted to play up Hollywood’s zombie fetish at Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), a gaming convention.

“During PAX, an exhibitor had a ‘Walking Dead’ game. We put together a turkey leg to be served like a severed hand. The exhibitor ordered 500, but they were gone quickly,” she added.

For new exhibitors, Wheeler recommends avoiding large food items that need a plate. Citing that many attendees carry bags and purses at tradeshows, she explained that plate juggling is troublesome. Similar to Chambers’ advice, Wheeler indicated that small items, such as popcorn or something sweet and savory, are great options.

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