Conference Networking Idea: The Dinner Matchmaking Booth

Patti Shock wrote a post recently that stirred up a few memories for me: Table for One? Right This Way.

I've been that single attendee who emerges from a day filled with learning and networking, only to find that my dinner plans are wide open. Hmmm, what shall I do?

  • Roam around the city to find carry out?
  • Order room service?
  • Table for one?

That last option reminds me of classic Steve Martin scene from the movie The Lonely Guy:

Years ago, I was at a conference where one evening, this savvy planning team matched up attendees in groups of 10-12 and sent each group off to various restaurants for dinner. One person served as host, engaging the group in some great discussions. A shorter menu was designed and payment was taken care of in advanced, so there was no quibbling over the bill with strangers. This dinner was hands-down one of the best evenings I've experienced. If your audience is of a manageable size and your budget permits, I'd recommend you consider this. With the right qualification criteria in place, this might also make for an excellent sponsorship opportunity.

But I have one more budget-friendly idea to share...

The Dinner Matchmaking Booth

I've seen Restaurant Reservation booths located on or near the expo floor, where attendees can get info on local restaurants and even make dinner reservations. More often than not, traffic is light -- but I think we're missing a huge matchmaking opportunity. Here's how a Dinner Matchmaking Booth might play out:

  • Add a question to your registration form to see if attendees are interested in being matched up with others for dinner. Get a quick yes/no to keep registration moving quickly. You can always email these folks later to find out more about preferences.
  • The week before your conference, do a quick reg list sort to identify organizations sending only one person to your conference. Send out an email invitation to this group letting them know about the Dinner Matchmaking Booth. Give them an option to participate online, too.
  • When people step up to participate (at the booth or online), find out what preferences they have as far as cuisine and include a couple of questions about who they'd like to meet. Do your best to match them up with others in similar industries/fields.
  • Make reservations, alert the restaurant that they'll need to prepare separate checks, and send out confirmation emails or text messages to all. Knowing that last minute changes will happen, be sure to include info on how to cancel, too.
  • Go a step further and have someone from your organization accompany groups for dinner.
  • Add "Dinner Matchmaking" to your mobile app to generate even more interest. Mention it at your Opening General Session, too.

Sure sounds like a smart way to stir up more peer-to-peer networking, don't you think?

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