How to Maximize Your Presence at Restaurant Industry Events

By Dana Krook

Restaurant professionals shaking hands at an industry event

Ever see that one guy at a networking event circling the outskirts of a social circle, hovering mid-conversation, awaiting an opening that never comes? Well, this is a post on how not to be that guy.

When you choose to attend a restaurant industry conference, in order to maximize the impact of your restaurant at the event (and the impact of the event on you), it’s important to commit to more than just showing up. The key to making the most of your time at a conference? Presence. Not just showing up, but actively engaging in the discussions and events.

Let’s look at what you can do in order to make the most out of your restaurant conference experience.

Define Your Objectives

Before the conference, decide exactly what information or objective you want to leave the conference with. On top of this, make sure you and all attending staff are on the same page, and equipped with specific goals. Are you attending primarily to network? To see what your competition is doing? To purchase a franchise? Defining your objectives right from the start will determine how you schedule yourself at the show and what you’ll take away. The challenge then becomes sticking to your mission as the conference, with its bountiful informational offerings,  takes off.

Search Exhibitors and Attendees Ahead of Time

Once you’ve defined your purpose and goals, take a look at the other attendees. Who is exhibiting? Who’s presenting education sessions? Who has something you want? For example, at the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 show there were educational sessions on everything from Social Media 101, to a Fast Casual CEO panel, to a Tipping Trends debate. It’s up to you to match the sessions with your objectives and what you think would present the most value to your business.

Work the Room

You know that exhibitor playground, where all the vendors set up for the event? Work, work, work, that room! When you’re not in an education session, it’s where you’ll want to be. What will you find there? Everything from a cooking robot, to new web design studios, to the latest in pizza dough advancements. Suppliers flock to the market place, often with deals in hand. So if there’s any aspect of your restaurant you’d like to update, this is where you’ll find it. Also it’s important to grab the business cards of all the contacts you meet – you’ll need these later when you debrief post-show.

Connect on Social Media

There’s a ton of reasons to be actively sending your experience of the event into the social media world, but the biggest reason is that it’s like working the room, but online. Here’s a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Follow exhibitors and speakers.
  • Tweet to new connections and about things you’ve learned in the sessions you’ve found valuable. The Twitterverse loves a good quote.
  • Use the event hashtag. This allows you to become involved in the online discussion happening around the event. Some conferences even have a feed of the hashtag on a big screen, so the more active you are, the more likely you are to be featured.

Attend Education Sessions

As a restaurateur, in all likelihood you find yourself stymied with day-to-day logistics and the bigger picture – the industry picture – tends to get thrown to the wayside. Conferences are the perfect time to get yourself up-to-date with the latest industry discussions. Not only can these add fuel to the fire of your networking conversations, but they also might just make you change course in terms of your upcoming strategy. What are the top trends in menu development that will make your customers happy? Would your staff be resistant to a new tipping model, or would they benefit? What are the benefits of delivery apps and would they be right for you? These discussions could change your day-to-day – not to mention your profit margin and ability to turn tables over and get more people in the door.

Attend After Hours Events

It wouldn’t be a restaurant industry event without the ability to cut loose and chow down on some delicious grub. This is the best place to casually liaise with any contacts you’ve made during the event and get great social media fodder. From a block party to an awards ceremony to a pig roast, get excited to rub shoulders and be reminded about what the hospitality industry is really all about: having a good time, strengthening relationships, and enjoying life.

Follow up

Finally, when it’s all over, don’t forget that relationships can extend beyond the precious conference bubble. Send out an email blast to industry contacts to follow up and include a coupon. If they’re in town, it could turn them into a customer and inspire some good will so that they’ll remember you until the next conference.

Photo of Dana Krook
by Dana Krook

Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.

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