Trade Show TalesBlog

What Not to Eat in Your Trade Show Booth

May 5th, 2015 15 COMMENTS


Trade show experts tell us to never eat in the booth. It’s bad etiquette. From my experience, this arbitrary “food rule” is specific to North America. For example, at EuroShop, there was food everywhere, whether served to attendees or eaten by staffers. It’s time we dispense with this food hypocrisy. People are going to eat, so let’s agree on some guidelines. Some food is appropriate. Others not so much. Here are my suggestions of food never to eat/serve in your booth.

Anything Your Grandpa Would Take on a Fishing Trip

Potted meat, vienna sausages, sardines (in oil, tomato, or mustard sauce), saltines, and Milwaukee’s Best. Basically any canned meat sold at The Dollar Store and any beer that costs less than bottled water.

Any Regional Delicacy Eaten Mostly on a Dare

Rocky Mountain oysters, lutefisk, scrapple, geoduck, head cheese, turducken, chitlins, watergate salad, and chaudin. Plus, any meat you can’t typically buy at the supermarket (“Try these yummy rattlesnake nuggets!”).

Anything Served with Eyes

Fish, ducks, pigs, etc. If it’s hanging in the window of a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, you may want to keep walking.


Anything Your Mother Had to Force You to Eat When You Were 10 Years Old

Brussels sprouts, kale, liver, venison, tongue, lima beans, spam, mystery casseroles,  …. this list could be several pages long. Two more: Anything Served at the School Cafeteria on Friday or Anything Cooked by Your Weird Hippie Aunt.

Anything That Smells, Lingers, or Coats Your Fabric Graphics

Tuna fish, deviled ham, canned corned beef hash, bacon (sorry), garlic, onions, stinky French cheese, kimchi.

Anything in a Large Glass Jar Typically Found at a Bar

Pickled pigs feet, pickled eggs, pickled sausages… Heck, let’s make this easy and say anything pickled, except pickles.


  • Poutine (french fries with brown gravy) — This food explains a lot about Canadians
  • Spaghetti — There’s no graceful way to eat it, and you’re guaranteed to have a tomato sauce accident
  • Sloppy Joes — Or any food with the word “sloppy” in the title
  • Any Food That Turns Your Fingertips Orange
  • Any Food Requiring Special Utensils to Consume
  • Any Food Where You are Tempted to Lick Your Fingers and Then Wipe What’s Left on Your Pants
  • Any Food That Makes You Gag When Eaten by the Guy Sitting Next to You on the Plane

Please add your suggestions. We all know that the more food that’s available on the show floor, the less we have to spend entertaining clients. I’m all for the day when a client says, “I’d love to go to that steakhouse, but I ate so much at the show I’m going to have to pass. Thanks anyway.”

No, thank you!!!

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or


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15 Responses to “What Not to Eat in Your Trade Show Booth”

  1. g Camarato says:

    About three years ago I went to the North American Auto show in Detroit. One of the auto manufacturers had a really cool exhibit and decided to make it better by treating all attendees to Chili Dogs off a street cart, right there in their space.
    Chili, New Cars and all that fresh show carpet do not mix. I witnessed chili clean up in multiple exhibit spaces even into the next day.

  2. Mel White says:

    Gary —

    Perfect! So… Anything Where Something Can Squirt/Leak Out One End. Hot dogs, burritos, waffle cones.

  3. POPCORN. I know this is a favorite giveaway of many exhibitors, and appreciated by many hungry attendees as well, but it makes a HUGE mess. If you hire someone to make and bag popcorn, hire another one with a vacuum cleaner.

    Many exhibits at Automechanika Frankfurt measure success by the volume of Beer and Sausages consumed by customers visiting their stand during the show.

  4. Mel White says:

    Scott —

    Popcorn and cookies. Why not pipe the smell into the booth? Then when attendees approach looking for a treat, look a bit confused and tell them it must be farther down the aisle, but offer to show them your latest product or service. The ideal “bait and switch” without all the mess.

    Unlimited beer and sausages — How can that go wrong?

  5. Jeff Provost says:

    Can I eat my fried dough, zepole or funnel cake at the exhibit stand, Mr. White?

    I promise I’ll order it without powdered sugar.

  6. Mel White says:

    Jeff — Then what’s the point if eating fried dough? What’s next — no cinnamon sugar or honey? Heresy!!!!

  7. Brad Jarzemski says:

    Boy do I love a good Gyro! However, whether I ate one or I’m wearing Tzatiki sauce you’ll know that I’ve had one for lunch for sure!!

  8. Mel White says:

    I’m just imagining the vertical meat spinning on the spit, and a staffer shaving slices with a sharp knife. The meat hasn’t even hit the bread yet, and it’s already a recipe for disaster. Throw in a random comment about the Greek economy and someone’s going to get hurt.

  9. Mal says:

    Fruit with pits. Where on earth do I spit it?

  10. Kathy Burton says:

    This all depends on WHO eats in your booth. At our recent tradeshow, one exhibitor noticed that attendees were looking for a place to eat lunch (there were several tables provided, but the crowd had grown past the table capacity). He quickly cleared the table in his booth, set his two chairs on one side, borrowed two chairs from a booth next to him for the other side, and welcomed four attendees into his booth for lunch. What a great impression not only of him, but also his company. Think he got their business? I thought this was such a good idea that I plan to encourage exhibitors to do this at our next show–in fact, I think companies should invite key prospects to dine in their booths via a pre-show mailing; maybe even list “available seating times.”

  11. Deborah Elms says:

    Add “anything that has to be scooped”. One year we were at a local show where our promo division had provided branded cups for a customer who had an Italian ice cart in their booth. I don’t know what happened, but next year, ice cream and Italian ice were on the no-no list right after popcorn …

  12. Mel White says:

    Any Food that Gives You a Brain Freeze. Who wants to look at that face?

  13. Daphne Yeo says:

    Anything that makes you look like chipmunks cos you simply can’t put it into the mouth gracefully, especially for ladies e.g. mini burger sliders (a misuse of the word mini!)

  14. Lauren says:

    Great suggestions! It is best to stick to smaller foods that don’t have bad odors such as crackers or pretzels.

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