EXHIBITION NEWS July 2017 - Page 45

COLUMN Julian Agostini Julian Agostini, Mash Media MD, laments the on-going issues around exhibition catering Unhealthy eating T here is no question that in the three decades that I have been around our wonderful industry, we have made enormous strides in many different directions. There remain, however, several thorns in our side; problems that have forever been a headache for the organising community, which get discussed occasionally yet never resolved. One example of this is catering at exhibitions. I can feel your yawns but it’s tedious because we’ve actually never really done anything to change the situation. Why is that? The fundamental issue, surely, is that there is no choice of supplier and I can’t think of any trading situation where a monopoly is good for the buyer. Simply put, it isn’t a healthy scenario and yet we all just take it on the chin because we are told there is no alternative. Yet that’s confusing because we are an industry that breaks boundaries and, as the world leaders in taking exhibitions forward (which I truly believe the UK is), why have we stumbled at this particular hurdle, especially when the results are galling for so many organisers? Many years ago, one of the fi rst EN debates was about the escalating costs of catering (like I said, it’s on a loop). The debate seemed to heat up when the organiser of the World Travel Market complained that they wanted to provide an exhibitor breakfast on the opening morning of the show and were being charged £2 (or similar) per glass of orange juice (this is around 15 years ago). The only answer given was: Caterer: “How many glasses of orange juice are we talking about?” Organiser: “Maybe 4-500” Caterer: “And how much does the World Travel Market make? Are you really bothered about whether orange juice costs you an extra £5-600?” Horrifi c answer. That’s not a solution. Imagine if that logic was applied to absolutely everything an organiser buys, or anybody for that matter. You would end up creating a market, taking all the risk and building something incredible just so that every supplier and his mate can get a payday…hmmm, that might sound a little too familiar to some. Here’s the thing; it’s not the money. If you look at any organiser’s budget, a huge amount is spent on making the show a great experience for exhibitors and visitors. It is, however, most defi nitely the value for money that seems to still be sorely lacking in on-site catering. Exhibitions are not eating experiences like a restaurant; exhibition venues are not fi ve star hotels, and yet the prices compare, leaving organisers, exhibitors and visitors feeling ripped off and dissatisfi ed. Why is this ok? I had a box at West Ham (at Upton Park) for over a decade and even more frustrating than the offering on the pitch was that which came from the caterer. I had to pay for my entire season’s food upfront (we all know that model, but it just doesn’t feel right with catering), which was approximately £33 per head for a two-course meal. That should be more than ample to serve up something pretty good at any decent restaurant, except I wasn’t at a decent restaurant. Sometimes cold, sometimes accoutrements turned up late, there were three separate matches when the sponge puddings (a favourite of the club) turned up like 10 giant biscuits...I’m not joking. I received an apology the fi rst two times but not any money back – have you ever tr ied to get a refund from an on-site caterer? And why should they? I didn’t have a choice. Either I didn’t provide any hospitality, which would be ridiculous, or I put up with a rotten service providing overpriced food and beverage, like most exhibition organisers. As the events industry, it is our duty and desire to create great experiences at our exhibitions, and that will undoubtedly involve hospitality, but this is cost prohibitive as well as sub-standard. Why can’t an exhibitor offer a visitor refreshments without the on-site caterer trying nick a quid? Amusingly, a well- known venue exhibiting at Confex this year was appalled at having to pay corkage to Levy’s for a giveaway (unaware that their venue operates the same way). This set-up is archaic. Organisers want to work in partnership with forward- thinking suppliers, not be press-ganged into using them because they invested in the kitchen (don’t start me on that one!). So what’s the answer? This is a venue problem, and the owners need to come to the party if the UK is really going to be the best in the world at staging exhibitions, not just organising them. The venue creates the agreement and knows exactly what follows for the organiser, so the rules of engagement need to change. These are ugly deals that do not help the industry, and venues can’t wash their hands of them. Personally I’d rather pay a ‘go away’ fee of a few thousand (not £15k, which is again deliberately prohibitive) to the on-site caterer and bring in my own choice. Therein lies competitive edge and improvement, or at the very least it will strike catering off the moaning list. exhibitionnews.co.uk | July 2017 45