6 Tips to Make it Well-Worth Your Time-
Conference season is upon us in the restaurant industry. We know that conferences can inspire a mixture of emotions — excitement, anxiety, curiosity. The more prepared you can be as a small-to-midsize restaurateur, the more you’ll gain from any business conference you attend. Here are a few tips for ensuring your time at restaurant conferences go smoothly and that you’ll get the most out of the conference.
1. Do your research and be friendly.
Make a game plan around how many booths per day you’d like to visit while at the conference. Be sure to dig into any and all information you can find on the people you’re interested in meeting and the booths you want to check out. Watch video interviews, listen to podcasts, and pay close attention to the values fellow restaurant owners describe as being fundamental to their approach. Sincerely try to find connections between their story/vision and your own. Find out what recent initiatives or product launches have happened at the company, read product/podcast/customer reviews to find out what people really connect with in their offering.
- When meeting in person, identify yourself with a sentence or two.
- Enthusiasm and warmth are important, as is going in with a learner’s mindset.
- Mention what aspect of their work you most appreciate, or mention a recent company development. Give them the chance to be the expert on their topic and show that you’ve taken the time to learn about them.
- Ask open-ended questions about where they see the industry heading.
2. Plan your sessions.
Most conferences release conference schedules well in advance. Save yourself time by being intentional with what keynote events and daily sessions you want to attend, selecting those that are most relevant to you and your business. Plan your walk-path in the conference center and choose a couple events or booths per day that you want to focus on.
3. Wear comfortable shoes — and enjoy the city you’re in.
Speaking of walk paths, make sure to wear comfortable shoes! Conferences entail some walking and standing, so plan to wear supportive footwear both during the conference and while exploring the surrounding city at the end of each day (if that strikes your fancy).
4. Bring business cards.
This might sound old-fashioned, but the physicality (and now, the rareness) of a card makes a subtle impression in the mind of the person you’re meeting. Be sure to ask if they have a preferred method of staying in touch.
5. End with a commitment.
If you make a connection with a fellow restauranteur or a potential technology partner who could be beneficial to your business, suggest touching base in the future.
- You can gently take the lead here and say, “I’ve loved connecting with you. I know our time is limited right now, but I am genuinely curious about [x]. May I reach out to you early next week so we can find more time to talk?”
- End on a warm note of gratitude. “Thank you for sharing with me. Looking forward to connecting again soon.”
For yourself, commit to implementing one or two things that stand out as being most relevant to your business within the next 6-12 months. Conferences can drum up a lot of excitement, but pace yourself and stay practical about how many changes you can reasonably make in the near future.
5. Write notes down afterward.
While ideas, impressions, strategies and conversations are still fresh in your mind, jot down notes. Reference these details when you’re brainstorming internally, or make mention of them when nurturing conference connections.
6. Give a shoutout on social media.
After the conference, compose several posts about the experience to share across your social media accounts with your customer base and professional connections. Mention the people you met by name and celebrate what they bring to the industry.
Small business conferences can be a goldmine of insight and connection if you approach them with the right mindset. It’s not possible to fully predict how industry relationships will unfold after a conference. However, the most important thing is to establish trust and rapport with like-minded entrepreneurs and operators who you meet. Similarly, the strategies or skills gained from these events, when patiently applied, can build your restaurant business in incredible ways.