How Restaurant Owners Can Get the Most Out of Attending a Trade Show

Its trade show season and our crew at East Coast Chair & Barstool is gearing up for traveling to shows around the country. We’ve already exhibited in Columbus, Ohio for the North America Pizza & Ice cream Show back in January and we still have three more shows to attend this year. We invite you to visit us at one of the following locations to meet up and check out our furniture: Las Vegas, Nevada for the Nightclub & Bar Convention & Trade Show from March 7th through 9th, Chicago, Illinois for the National Restaurant Association Show from May 21st through 24th, and Orlando, Florida for the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show from September 27th through 29th. In addition to inviting you to visit our booth at one of these trade shows, we’d like to offer you some information about how to get the most out of your attendance.

Restaurant trade shows offer a place for owners and vendors in the industry to gather in one place. Vendors set up booth spaces to showcase their products, market their company, and network to restaurant owner attendees from across the country. Attendees are greeted with cooking demos, working product displays, new technologies, and food samples galore, in addition to special discounts that are only offered for trade show attendance. Owners have the opportunity to ask detailed questions about products, experience hands on opportunities to try new products and technologies, and gain knowledge through educational sessions that offer industry best practices, trends, and other relevant information. New ideas are often born at a trade show and owners return to work with a new motivation to improve business practices similar to when their doors first opened.

So how can you, as a restaurant owner, get the most out of attending a trade show? Take a look at this list of steps that we have compiled after years of attending and exhibiting at shows.

Before the show

  • Register for the trade show in advance to ensure your admittance as well as to take advantage of discount registration if it is available.
  • Book a hotel room close to the trade show location and do it well in advance. We recommend that you book a room at the hotel that is affiliated with the show to ensure the ultimate convenience for you. It may cost a little more but will allow you more time to take advantage of what the show has to offer.
  • Research the vendors that will be at the show by viewing and even printing out a map. Make a list of the vendors that you need to see in addition to others that spark your interest. This information can typically be found on the trade show website or through links in the e-mail you will receive once you register for the show.
  • Read materials regarding the educational sessions that will be offered at the trade show and plan to take advantage of them. Some shows include attendance at these sessions with your trade show admission, others do not.
  • Decide what products or services that you are looking for or would like to check out.
  • If you and your managers or employees are attending the show with you, plan to divide and conquer so that you can take full advantage of the time you have available.
  • Check to see if the trade show has an app that you can download on your phone that gives you first-hand information about the show.
  • Set appointments ahead of time with companies you know that you want to visit.
  • Pack extra clothes and shoes for the trip in case you decide to change up what you wear to the show and so you don’t have to worry about laundry. Branded shirts are often worn by attendees to showcase their restaurant while exploring the show.
  • Make sure to take a stack of business cards to hand out to everyone you meet.
  • Take an extra bag in case you pick up larger materials that don’t fit into your suitcase.

During the show

  • Dress comfortably with supportive shoes for all the walking up and down the isles you will be doing.
  • Arrive when the show begins to beat the larger crowds.
  • Don’t forget to wear that shirt you packed with your company logo to showcase your business!
  • If you make any purchases at the show, have a specified place to keep your receipts so they you don’t lose them.
  • Booth staff will often try to engage with you as you are walking by. It’s a great way to approach new customers! But, if you are not interested in the products or services they are offering, it’s okay to say “no thank you” and keep walking. Booth staff understand this will happen and they likely want to spend more time with interested attendees anyway.
  • If you visit a booth that you would like more information from, ask them to e-mail you more information.   Most of the time you will find that vendors have a device that can scan your name badge in order for your name to be added to the company’s e-mail list.
  • Take photos at the show that you can share on your company’s social media platforms. Let your customers know that you’re working to advance your business with new products and services.
  • Set up dinner meetings with fellow attendees or vendors after the show to network and compare notes.
  • Review the materials that you received from vendors each day so that you aren’t bombarded with doing that task upon your return home from the show.
  • Plan to leave the show about a half an hour early to avoid long lines for buses or cabs
  • Set aside some time to do something fun! Trade shows can be overwhelming and often taxing on your mind and body. While on a business trip, it’s important for you to unwind, relax, and have fun.

After the show

  • If you haven’t reviewed your materials nightly, pull out your bags of business cards, catalogs, and flyers. Categorize them by priority and make sure to check the trade show specials when you are doing this. You surely do not want to miss out on a trade show discount that is only offered for a limited time.
  • Follow up with vendors that you met with or are very interested in ordering from
  • Plan a meeting with your managers and staff to discuss your experience at the show and to communicate your future plans with these new resources and information

Trade shows have become a must for restaurant owners in today’s competitive restaurant industry. Keeping up to date on the trends and knowing what products and services are available are key to staying relevant among the hundreds of thousands of other restaurants trying to stand out. Following these steps before, during, and after a trade show will help you stay focused on the event to make sure you’re getting the most out of attending.

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