Dining Tips When You Don’t Want to Eat Crow

By Julie Sturgeon

Product launches and annual meetings go together like a hamburger and French fries, especially since you have a captive audience already committed to attending an association’s shindig. But success happens only when you choose the best locale to unveil your newest baby – and that’s not necessarily the first restaurant large enough to hold your group, says Katherine Stuart Faulconer, president of Restaurant Events in San Diego.

To select the best dining venue, first ask who you compete with for guests. If it’s an internal roll-out, this is a no-brainer. But if you mingle with, say, 10 other pharmaceutical firms waving their arms to get doctors’ attention after hours at a medical convention, the stakes are higher.

Next, scavenge the area closest to the convention center or meeting site. When attendees need to choose between bashes, they prefer the one within walking distance rather than the company that forces them to pay an expensive cab fare. And when you’re on the city’s fringes, those who plan two stops that evening will likely skip yours at the last second, leaving you stuck with their restaurant bills, Faulconer warns.

Finally, explore your theme. If it’s outrageous fun you seek, a chain restaurant like Dick’s Last Resort can offer a blank slate to dream up anything from flying the company CEO onto stage via cable wires to parking Volkswagen Beetles in the interior and still leave room for 800 guests. But unless you need that gigantic splash factor, it’s best to select a local restaurant known for its unique setting – i.e., a renovated movie theatre, a train car, a converted warehouse.

“It’s more important to sell your event on atmosphere rather than menu because attendees rarely know what they’re going to eat in advance,” Faulconer points out. “And they’re more likely to try something they don’t have in their own home towns.”