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Learning from Weddings

Thai chef Toi Green is always innovating. When she’s not making Pad Thai or Panang Curry at her Thai Orchid restaurant here in Lexington, Kentucky, she’s making ice cream by hand in small batches. The result is rich spoonfuls of ice cream in unexpected flavors like blackberry buttermilk.

Green sells her Crank and Boom ice cream from a cart at the farmers market, and this spring, brides have booked the cart for their weddings.

Green’s venture made me think about the ways wedding trends work their way into meetings and events. The photo booth you step into at a wedding reception in June will probably appear at a trade show in September; the signature bourbon cocktail you sip during a wedding toast in April will likely be in your hand at a business reception in December.

Noelle Skalnik said this is partly because brides and meeting planners share a common goal — personalization. “It is about showing who you are,” said the director of sales for the Homewood Suites by Hilton Orland Park and Elements Conference Center in Chicago’s south suburbs.

It is also about making events memorable.

“I’m finding that meeting planners are more about differentiation — what makes this meeting different from the last three? They are raising the bar just like a wedding does,” said Devon Sloan, events director for the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort.

Here are wedding trends that work well for meetings and conventions, shared by Skalnik, Sloan and several other planners.


Theme it.

A couple who chose “home” as the theme for their wedding at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Tinley Park Convention Center in Tinley Park, Illinois, hung keys with place cards on a door they had bought at a hardware store and decorated for the event. The idea would work equally well for a real estate convention or a home repair conference, said Angela Foreman, the hotel’s director of convention services and catering sales.


Make food fun.

Dessert bars are big at wedding receptions, said sisters Emily Ornelas and Katie Freibert, owners of J Bridal in Tucson, Arizona. “They can take what they want, and they don’t have to be served that one slice of cake,” said Ornelas.

Midnight snacks are reviving wedding reception revelers after an evening of dancing and drinking. They can also boost guests at opening-night dinners. Pizza, sliders and other treats can be offered by waiters, food trucks or at food stations, Freibert said.


Light it up.

A wedding dressed up its registration table at the El Conquistador by hanging a rented chandelier above the table. Meeting planners saw the glittery lighting and immediately wanted the same for their registration tables. “It made registration feel much more glamorous,” said Sloan.

To make a towering ceiling seem less so, an innovative bride hung LED lanterns in the exhibit hall at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Tinley Park Convention Center. Meeting planners have used the lanterns, too, after seeing pictures from the wedding, said Foreman.


Add scents to the sensory experience.

Wedding planners are using aromatherapy to set a mood; Sloan and her staff are about to do the same for a conference. The resort’s spa staff will assist in choosing appropriate scents.