By Gautam Chandna – Allure – Christie

All of us have participated in that long week designed to inform and educate us on what is going on in our specific industry or areas of expertise. We set up our flights, book the rooms, pack our bags, and hunker down for a week of learning and/or advanced exposure. Many times our trek leads us to spend hours in a convention center designed to facilitate learning and community with folks interested in the things we have an interest in. I’d guess that, like me, your experiences at convention centers range from “okay to pretty good.” So what makes a convention center experience pretty good, or better?

There are a number of convention center top 10 lists, where the venues are ranked for such factors as ease of access, airport convenience, venue capacity, hotel proximity, cost, wireless availability, and (the thing that caught my eye) dining experience. Think back to your last “dining experience” at a trade show and see if it is similar to mine. You have a jam-packed agenda, rushing from meeting to meeting. Your stomach gurgles and you look at your watch to realize you are well past lunch time in your home time zone. So off you go in search of some sort of dining experience.

Let’s face it, most convention centers consider dining to be a necessary evil, that perhaps they can make a little money on. Many of them outsource the dining function to a concessionaire or management company and look to make a little off the top. While the dining outsourcer brings efficiency to the table, they are typically not in the business of making sure they elevate the “brand” of the convention center. Meanwhile, you and I shuffle through a long line of poorly presented menu options and settle for the first thing that looks remotely appetizing for lunch. Oft times, we don’t discover the price of our meal until we have shuffled through the long cashier line.

Making this a better experience is an easy fix. The venues simply need to pay attention to it and recognize that dining/concessions is a significant revenue opportunity for them. And it can be a fruitful exercise in brand bolstering if they do it right. Here are thoughts from my peer group on how dining should be done in a large convention center environment:

  1. Keep it organized. Give people some guidance on where to go, how to navigate it, and where to pay when they’re ready. Digital Displays used as Wayfinders are a great way to do this, and they make it easy to manage content, dayparts, and features.
  2. Make it clear. Once customers find your food court, help them understand what is available. Get a digital signage system managed by slick digital signage software and get the items and prices up in full view.
  3. Make it efficient. Keep customers informed up to the minute, by showing only the items that are readily available. Connect your digital signage software to your POS system, Kitchen Display System, and Inventory System to help you run more smoothly and eliminate misinformation on the Digital Menu Boards.
  4. Make food look appetizing. Get great food shots and display them with special effects, great graphics, and eye-catching movement … so customers want the menu item, rather than settle for it.
  5. Make dining a cash cow. Market what you have – by daypart, revenue, margin, combo, speed, or LTO. Digital Menu Boards give you the option to feature those things that drive more money, speed of service, and add-on revenue.
  6. Elevate your brand through dining. Visitors are thrilled by good dining experiences wherever they travel, so why not make the effort to give them something to talk about … aided by technology, marketing, and getting your best food items on their plate?

Conventions are great, but how many of us ever mention the meal and food service unless we have something negative to say? Like I suggested earlier, it’s easy to fix. Get a Digital Signage expert to advise you on how to do this inexpensively and creatively. Stadiums have learned this in the last few years. It’s time for convention centers to step it up and join the club.

Photo Credit: Allure-Christie
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