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Showcase: The City slickers
posted on: 11/2/2013 12:48:18
Square meal venue and events
Square Meal's Venues and Events differentiates itself from other food shows through its database and unique location. EN investigates how this City-centric brand is achieving against its objectives.

In profiling Square Meal Venues and Events’ visitor and exhibitor base, a careful reading between the lines is necessary. For those who may not have seen the connection, the show at Old Billingsgate on the bank of the River Thames targets the City region, or Square Mile as it as known to London folk.

That is why the event has opted to remain in the quirky venue instead of moving to a larger but ultimately less intimate facility in the near future. Square Meal head of venues and events Graham Hill said the Barbican was also considered during the initial planning phase but dismissed in favour of Old Billingsgate’s look and feel.

“The key to it when we were doing our back-of-envelope plans was that the venue had to be in the City,” he explained. “Our target audience is postcodes EC1-4. We could envisage it at the Barbican; it was doable there, but it’s more an exhibition venue than an event venue.”

The latest show on 19-20 September was Square Meal’s eighth edition. Across its four floors and terrace, the event aimed to capture a wide profile of venues and suppliers but with a difference. According to Hill, the show is very much about being independent, as defined by its venue and client approach.

“We are not a Spirit of Christmas or Taste,” he said. “We’re more in the realm of Confex and in our approach to the quality of audience. In addition, we have no media partners. Organisers often enter into partnerships with media owners or contra deals for advertisers. We have never done that. Instead, we have a good database and a strong brand.

“Ultimately the primary point of difference to those shows is our corporate audience.”

The organiser reported 7,430 attendees to the 2012 Square Meal Venue and Events (ABC audited), a slight drop from 7,804 in 2011. Despite this, attendance is still up seven per cent on 2010.

This year’s show adopted shortened opening hours, in part due to traffic restrictions imposed by the City of London. Its 2012 seminar programme meanwhile attracted full houses throughout both days and included a keynote on the Olympic Legacy led by London Legacy Development Corporation director of events and programming Clive Little.

“He spoke about when the events industry can get into the park again, which is likely to be summer 2013,” Hill said. “A big marquee structure will also be erected on the site.” 

Exhibitor demands

Hill noted a push for both larger elaborate stands and also small, inexpensive ready-to-use stands from exhibitors this year. To address this, Square Meal introduced simple pod spaces on the top floor for venues such as the converted cinema venue Troxy in east London and the iconic Lord’s cricket ground. “Those really worked,” said Hill. “People wanted to come in and have an easy set-up.” The show also offered a Table for Two set-up, where for £2,000, restaurants could exhibit.
“Restaurants are not natural exhibitors, unlike hotels,” said Hill. “It’s important to us to make it easier for restaurants to enjoy the show.”

Kyrsten Perry, director of north London conference centre The Window, appreciated the new pod set-up. “The ready-to-use Pod stand was brilliant. We zapped an amazing 601 visitors,” she said.

Other exhibitors were equally pleased with attendees. Designer Flowers MD Shirley Poyntz claimed to have had her busiest show ever. “Our stand was mobbed. We registered 970 visitors and gave out more than 800 copies of our new brochure at the show,” she told EN. “We’ve already turned so many leads and enquiries into bookings.”

Terrace walk

An iconic feature of Venues and Events is its terrace, with spectacular views across the River Thames and over Tower Bridge. The space is now used to host networking functions and exhibitor parties but had a very different purpose during the show’s formative years.

“In our first year with the show, lorries were driven round there,” said Hill. “People used to go out there for a cigarette, but when I went to the Showman’s Show in 2009 and saw this great 10x15m tent, I could see a way to use the terrace for much more.

“In 2010 we hosted the London Speaker Bureau’s autumn party. Since then we have hosted exhibitor parties and added astroturf, which coincided with our primary branding changing colour from blue to green.” Hill said the terrace also took pressure away from its lunchtime queue.

“It means people do come in and out of the show, and gives it air and space,” he said. “It makes the show brighter and breezier all round.”

The views alone should ensure Square Meal’s Venues and Events brand continues to reap rewards from its high-end clientele.

This was first published in the November edition of EN. Any comments? Email

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