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.
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
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).
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
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
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
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!
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.
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
- 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
- Interactivity is fun, and it creates a talking point