Working a café area in an exhibit booth.

Do you have a café in your exhibit booth? If you are giving out coffee, smoothies, or any other type of beverage plus any snack or food item, then you do.

Are you getting the most out of the additional booth traffic the café is generating? Sure, your booth visitors are getting something of value for free, but will they even remember where they got their coffee and cookie? Probably not.

Your booth staff is the key to making your café work as well as it should. As more and more companies are offering food and beverages as give aways in their booths (especially in Pharma booths as tsotchkes have been banned under the Pharma Code), your exhibit staff should know how to use your café to generate even more goodwill, establish new relationships, and produce more qualified leads. And yes, this does happen. We train our client’s staffs to do this and you can train your staff too.

Most visitors understand that nothing is really free and that if they enter your booth to get a coffee and cookie, they’ll essentially be trading some of their time. So if you only give out coffee, guess what? Most visitors will get their coffee and walk right out of your booth. The solution? Give them a beverage and a snack so that they’ll be more likely to remain in your booth. They’ll either sit down or stand at a table as this will free up their hands so they can eat and drink.

So this means you need to offer seating, tables or both. I like cocktail style tables and chairs as they are higher so when one of your booth staff is talking with them, they’re at more of an equal eye-level.

What if there’s a line for coffee as is often the case. Remember, the objective is to make a visitor’s time in your booth or in line a pleasant experience.

The visitor knows that when they’re in line, they’re captive. Your staff should greet them in line with a smile and comment on the line, how long the wait should be, how the conference is going and what they like about it, and what they might want to do next. And since the line is usually for the beverage, you can offer the visitors in line the snack before they get to the counter. In fact, we had someone carry a tray of cookies up and down the line offering it to the visitors. They were very appreciative.

If the conversation gets a little warm and fuzzy, they should try to find some area of mutual interest or commonality; where they’re from, what they do, etc. Your staff should not take advantage of their captivity by talking about something of no interest to them or by pitching products and services.

If there’s a long line in your booth it can cut off areas, create bottlenecks, and obstruct traffic. So you and your staff also need to know how to move a line. I learned this when I worked for amusement parks for six years.

To move a line, take the time to talk the first couple of people in the line where the move to the left or right is going to start. Tell them what you’re going to do and why and ask for their cooperation. Tell them if they move, you’ll help ensure that everyone behind them follows their lead.

Ask these one or two visitors to move and then raise your voice and speak to however much of the line behind them can hear and ask them to move also telling them why. Go down the line to be extra polite, thanking people for moving, telling them why, etc. You can also ask for any questions about the booth as you do this.

Once a visitor receives their coffee and cookie offer to help them find a place to sit. It’s European seating which means it’s perfectly fine to offer seating at a table that already has some people sitting at it. Just be polite and introduce everyone.

To get the most out of your booth café, check up on your visitors who are seated like a host would. Ask if they’re enjoying it, if they want anything else, etc. Once you’ve had contact a few times, encourage any questions and invite them to remain in the booth. Some will. And those can turn into qualified leads.

And I usually encourage my clients not to give out any beverages or snacks to exhibitors, but there are always exceptions.

Matt Hill

Matt Hill has been speaking and training since 1983. He specializes in making his clients more effective with their face-to-face interpersonal skills. He has trained over 50,000 people in the U.S. and around the world. Matt lives in San Jose, CA with his wife, Lynn. They have three children; a daughter living in Boston, a son in grad school at CalPoly San Luis Obispo, and another daughter in at Chico St. University. If you’re ever in San Jose and want to take a mountain bike ride or play some tennis, call him.

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