Chris Smith reports from Square Meal Venues & Events Live 2017

Square Meal Venues and Events was back in September, promising event profs a jam-packed exhibitor list of suppliers from across the industry, an exclusive line-up of guests and inspirational showcases of innovative products and services.  

So we sent Event Profs Panel member, Chris Smith, along to explore what was on offer, and report back. Here's what he found…

The premise of the event is simple: over 250 exhibitors are organised over three floors of the impressive Old Billingsgate, London, each trying to grab the attention of the event professionals that stream though the doors. 

Square Meal - leaflet

So far, it ticks the same boxes as that of the Meetings Show, IMEX, IBTM etc (and that's no bad thing) but where the Square Meal event is different in format is that there's no requirement to panic-book appointments with suppliers beforehand.

The organisers have designed a show that's easy to get around. Upon arriving at the venue I was funnelled into the lower ground floor, where some of the quirkier entertainment suppliers were grouped. All were competing with one another to have the most creative exhibitor space through lighting, music, robots (yes, really) and even a wellness area. There was a fun atmosphere to the zone and my interest was piqued enough to ensure I spoke with every supplier to see what was being offered. This immediately strips the event of some of the formality that is felt at other trade shows, so I enjoyed plodding round the show floors and the unexpected encounters with interesting suppliers that I may not have otherwise had.

The focus at this year's event seemed to be all about creating an 'experience'. Creating a new or unique experience is key to making an event memorable and this is especially important if the audience is at a senior level. Whilst clients will have clear business goals and ROI expectations, they recognise that it's vital to create a talking point.

Some senior delegates at a technology event I recently attended told me that they went to a minimum of seven events per year. These seasoned attendees can appreciate a well-chosen venue, good quality catering and valuable content, but the events they remember most are the ones where the organisers tried something different.

As an event planner I appreciated being able to see something new at this event, even if some of the products and ideas were on the wacky side.

A supplier that particularly stood out was the Guinea Pig Company, which had created floating illuminated balls, designed to be detached from the ceiling and hugged by your delegates (we all have one client that would love that). 

Square Meal - ball Square Meal - glow balls

It also showcased an interactive sculpture composed of more brightly-lit balls that changed colour according to the movement of the group standing on nearby floor pads. Another great product for those clients who want to brand everything, including the toilet seats! 

Square Meal - lights Square Meal green lights

I also couldn't resist trying out the various contraptions on the 'Lick Me I'm Delicious' booth. The owner, Charlie Francis, is probably tiring of the Willy Wonka comparisons but its unique designs - such as edible fragrances, bubble volcano and brain freeze cocktails - would definitely be a fun way of introducing an interactive element at an event that also serves as an ice-breaker.

Square Meal - edible mist

After dragging myself away from frozen cocktails, I headed upstairs to the ground floor, which was tightly packed with more exhibitors, mostly comprising of venues, including QHotels.

This is where the folks at Square Meal made sure there was something on offer for everyone and I spent my time in this area catching up with the big venue groups, as well as meeting some smaller venues.

The floors above housed further exhibitors including event florists, merchandise companies and, of course, a wealth of restaurant venues. As usual, all the exhibitors were using various weird and wonderful ways to draw buyers into a conversation.  

The other way the event stands out is its deliberate focus on all things F&B. I attended some of the seminar sessions, which were really interesting, the talk with Raymond Blanc in particular.  Although it did, admittedly, turn into an amusing half an hour where the co-presenter spent the entire time trying to keep the very passionate Mr. Blanc on topic!

Square Meal - food talk Square Meal - food talk 2

When it comes to F&B, a lot of suppliers claim to offer something different but many still have a way to go. One of the F&B challenges our industry faces is suppliers and partners recognising that offering clients a wine tasting session is no longer enough to create a truly memorable experience, and this seems to be an area where our creative, relationship-led industry needs to raise the bar.

There are indeed, obstacles. Venues naturally have preferred suppliers that may offer them commission, or make the logistics of running the event that bit easier. 

Square Meal food

However, I would like to see venues that can either create more bespoke, flexible and memorable experiences in-house or that can be more open to working with external suppliers who are pushing the boundaries of what has been seen before.

Thankfully, events like Square Meal V&E are encouraging this and are trying to inspire us and offer creative solutions, rather than force feeding us until we are bloated with information.

I am looking forward to introducing our clients to some of these ideas and connecting them with venues that are happy to be challenged and create something new.

Key takeaways from the event:

  • Creating an experience for event attendees is more important than ever
  • Experiences start with the venue and carry through to catering, content and extras, such as merchandise and interactive props
  • F&B needs to get more creative and become part of the event experience
  • Interactivity is fun, and it creates a talking point

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