By Jenny Berg Posted October 18, 2011, 11:14 AM EDT
CHICAGO The Futures Industry Association's Futures and Options Expo wrapped its three-day run at the Hilton Chicago last Wednesday. After they'd stopped by the last trade show booths, 725 industry pros adjourned to the ballroom for a massive steak dinner. Dubbed “The Great Chicago Steak Out,” the charitable event offered dishes from 19 local steak houses and raised $375,000 for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
For the past three years, the association has hosted a benefit for the depository. “When [we] started planning this year's event, we really wanted to infuse new energy into what had become a rather boilerplate dinner,” said Angelique Wilkins, the association's vice president of conferences and meetings.
Previous iterations of the event have offered three courses in a sit-down format. “Guests complained of being somewhat stuck at their tables for a good two hours before the entertainment began and people were free to get up and move around,” Wilkins said. “Since networking is critical to our members—it's how they conduct business—we threw away the old model completely.”
Earlier in the year, Chicago Private Dining Steakhouse Group, which was interested in becoming more involved with charity, approached the depository. Reps at the nonprofit “immediately thought of pairing [the group] with the Futures Industry Association,” Wilkins said. “The result was an event with an extraordinary menu featuring the best of these amazing chophouses.” The new menu helped address guests' concerns from previous years. “We went from having three courses to 44 menu items, as small bites, that were networking-friendly,” Wilkins said.
Though developing a menu that showcased each of the 19 restaurants equally—not to mention coordinating a food delivery and preparation schedule for the evening—presented logistical challenges, the private dining group “is incredibly organized, and succeeded on both fronts masterfully,” Wilkins said. The restaurants brought in everything from appetizers to main courses and desserts, and guests piled their plates with dishes such as creamed spinach, wedge salad skewers, New York strip steak, and mini coconut cream pies.
Another challenge was tasteful branding. Planners mulled over “how to present the food in the ballroom so that guests could identify what they were tasting and easily move from station to station, plus how to give credit to all the steak houses and sponsors, without logo overload,” Wilkins said.
Ultimately, Freeman created banner signs for each steak house station that were “both unobtrusive and easy to see,” Wilkins said. MagicWig Productions created a four-sided screen that showcased sponsor and partner logos throughout the evening, and Kehoe Designs added logos to flower arrangements and pillows in seating areas for key sponsors.