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An Appetite for Experience... (and Seating!)

An appetite for experience…(and seating!)

As the events industry celebrates successes on multiple fronts, what’s the one critical question that the entire sector is still asking? Easy…

…could we make exhibition catering a bit better???

Released in February 2024, the 32nd edition of the UFI’s flagship Global Exhibition Barometer research indicated that 2024 revenues for the exhibition sector are expected to reach 115% of pre-pandemic levels on average globally.

The report highlighted two other significant findings. Firstly, 52% of exhibition-related companies plan to increase staffing levels in the coming six months. Secondly, 91% of these companies consider that generative AI will affect the industry – a figure up from 87% in the report's previous edition.

So great news all round, right? But when it comes to the events industry, there is always one nagging question that never gets put to bed.


What is the real issue at trade shows?

No, it’s not about the lack of comfortable seating. It's “why is the food at shows sometimes so hit and miss?”

Well, these factors don’t help:

Firstly, trade shows attract a large number of attendees and delegates, and thousands of them get hungry at similar times (strange, that). The restaurants and cafes may often struggle to keep up with demand, leading to long lines, lukewarm food and limited options: “Chicken or fish, madam?”

Also, they may not have the kitchen space or staff to handle the volume compared to regular restaurants - so just imagine you’re that person operating the till and the end of the queue seemingly disappears into the mists of time! Patience and kindness is always the best policy.


The priority at trade shows is often speed and convenience. Staff need to get food out quickly to keep lines moving, and this can come at the expense of flavour and quality ingredients. The dull, lifeless ham and cheese panini on your tray was likely made some time ago - before being pre-packed - so not even a defibrillator is going to give it any flavour!

Lastly, many trade show vendors operate out of temporary booths with limited kitchen facilities. This can restrict the type and quality of food they can offer compared to a permanent restaurant with full kitchens. Renting additional booth space and paying for extra staff at trade shows is expensive.

Sometimes the numbers just don’t add up.

Adjust to taste

There's another way to feed the masses at trade shows.

Instead of just fast-food chains, invite local restaurants into the show and allow gourmet food trucks with healthier catering options. How about themed halls with vendors focused on specific cuisines or dietary needs?


More seating would be great too. If I can only choose a burger and chips for $20, I’d at least like to digest it in comfort, not while leaning on one leg next to the outside smoking shelter!

The solution? Introduce an appetite for experience. Consider incorporating live cooking stations, tastings, or chef demonstrations (all within the appropriate realms of health and safety). This elevates the food experience and makes it a destination within the trade show.

Invite your culinary partners to add inclusive, delicious vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and allergen-friendly options.

Eating at events isn’t and shouldn’t be defined by consuming miscellaneous animal or plant proteins paired with dubious carbohydrates and a slice of cheddar - and we’re pretty sure a lot of people are now very bored with the token ‘halloumi burger or nothing’ vegetarian option!


Eating at events isn’t and shouldn’t be defined by consuming miscellaneous animal or plant proteins paired with dubious carbohydrates and a slice of cheddar - and we’re pretty sure a lot of people are now very bored with the token ‘halloumi burger or nothing’ vegetarian option! 

Finally, we should make the whole catering process as sustainable as possible: taking five minutes to complete the surveys after the event means organisers can gather feedback to use as food for thought.

Comfortable seating is always welcome. Which reminds me...

...can I sit down already?

If we’re talking about seating and visitor logistics, event organisers could work with venue property management teams to not only sort out seating issues, but elevate the entire experience with more space and enhanced comfort.

Case in point: the Georgia World Congress Convention Centre in Atlanta is linked to the colossal ASM Global State Farm Arena. Venue and event management ensure that the two venues are seamlessly integrated, providing more than enough space for visitors and staff alike to move, interact and conduct business.


State Farm Stadium - Image ©️ ASM Global

It’s time to get your logistics head on and start booking requests for local restaurants and bars months (if not years) ahead of your event to not only look after your attendees, but provide the local economy the economic benefit of their attendance.

Finally, whoever comes up with the best way that generative AI can improve the taste of the humble ham and cheese panini, then lunch is on us!

Did we mention the seating?


Enigma creates award-winning custom builds for events, trade shows, 3D exhibitions, museums, interiors and more, bringing effective design solutions to physical and digital spaces.