8 Things I Learned from Cooking at a Food Expo

I worked for Chef Davis (as seen on Shark Tank) at the International Seafood Expo, and this is what I learned:

That’s me in the back right, prepping some samples for attendees.
  1. Wear comfortable shoes, preferably non-slip “waiter” shoes.

Prepare to stand for 10+ hours, and non-slip waiter shoes are particularly helpful when navigating through spills at the dumping stations.

2. Pace yourself while cooking, and be mindful of injuries.

I burned my eye during the first day and experienced a corneal abrasion, which was incredibly distracting (and painful) for the remainder of the 3-day expo. It happened while multitasking between flipping burgers and maintaining the chafing dishes, which could have been prevented if I paced myself correctly.

3. Refrain from telling jokes, unless you want to be caught in an awkward situation.

I learned this from working at a prior trade show that also drew an international crowd, and beforehand our supervisor warned us to keep our jokes to ourselves since humor doesn’t translate well across different cultures. I had forgotten about that piece of advice over the years but was reminded during this event when I overheard someone relay a joke to another attendee, but unfortunately the meaning of the joke was lost, and rather than changing the subject, the joke-teller desperately tried to explain the joke over and over again until the other attendee eventually ran away from them. That’s the funny thing about jokes, because once you explain it, then it’s not funny anymore.

4. Pack your own lunch.

You may not have time to grab food during your break, nor should you rely on free samples since they are intended for the guests, so pack your own lunch just to be safe.

5. Maintain a calm and polished demeanor, no matter what the situation may be, because your temperament may effect future business relationships.

You may find yourself unable to keep up with the flow of service during high-traffic times, so if necessary, politely inform your guests that a fresh batch of food will be ready shortly, and maybe use this as an opportunity to network while waiting. Your ability to work well under pressure has a direct influence on potential long-term business relationships with these investors, retailers, the media, other vendors, etc., and if you become too frazzled, then it may hinder decisions on future plans.

6. Schedule your media interviews beforehand.

Take an active role in your relationship with the media by contacting them beforehand to schedule interviews. Some vendors take a passive stance and wait for the press to make the first move, which unfortunately causes them to miss out on media opportunities.

7. Be cognizant of your alcohol consumption during networking events.

This may seem like an obvious statement, but one vendor was drunk and belligerent during an after-party, and then had to apologize to everyone the next day. Be mindful of your drinking around your business associates, and treat any after-parties like a networking event.

8. Be respectful of others, and help each other out.

I saw a fight break out at the dumping station because some folks didn’t want to wait their turn, which was silly because they spent more time fighting about it than actually dumping out their chafing dishes (which only takes a few minutes). Only a thin curtain separated the dumping station from the rest of the event, so everyone in the surrounding area probably heard all of the fighting. Sometimes these events bring out the extremely competitive nature of the industry, which may lead to squirmishes like these, but I feel like it is best to be respectful and helpful towards one another, and not just because it is common courtesy, but because it’s the only thing that makes sense. I have worked many trade shows over the years, and I always carry extra supplies in case other tables need things like napkins, plates, etc. One time we shared our power chord with another vendor because their power source died. When everyone works together it creates a better environment.