To celebrate the opening night of NeoCon on Monday, Global—the Total Office (a contract furniture manufacturer and marketer) hosted a two-hour cocktail party in its Merchandise Mart showroom for roughly 400 guests. With about 75 concurrent parties happening in showrooms throughout the Mart, companies entered into an unofficial competition to lure customers. Some showrooms enlisted live entertainment, most had bars, and there were even rumors of a temporary wading pool built into one of the lower-level showrooms. For its part, Global lured guests with chocolate.
“We have several new finishes to showcase this year,” said Michael Fishman, director of marketing and design at Global. For the opening-night NeoCon event, Fishman and his team brainstormed several ideas for thematic parties that would incorporate the new finishes' brown hues. After deciding that on-site espresso and coffee bars had “been done,” they settled on a chocolate theme, also electing to tie a cherry-blossom fabric pattern featured on some new Global chairs into the event's decor. About a month and a half before NeoCon's opening night, the planning crew sent out scratch-and-sniff, chocolate-scented invites to the architects, designers, and other industry types who would be attending the trade show.
To help execute the reception, Fishman enlisted the services of Hearty Boys Catering. On the night of the event, the catering company set up two bars within the showroom and concocted specialty drinks—a bright blue vodka-lemonade blend and a white chocolate martini served in a blue cocktail glass—that would reflect the blue, brown, and white pattern of the cherry-blossom fabric.
An elliptical table held a buffet of desserts including rocky road brownie bites, handmade truffles, and fondue in flavors like rose-scented white chocolate and cayenne-laced milk chocolate. For the table's centerpiece, Coco Rouge provided a four-foot-tall chocolate sculpture, shaped like a cherry-blossom branch and studded with edible white and blue flowers. Throughout the reception, six bartenders were on duty, and 10 servers circulated with passed hors d'oeuvres like chipotle gazpacho in cucumber cups and candied pear-and-Gorgonzola Napoleons.
Despite all the preparation and careful staffing, the NeoCon crowd is known to be a formidable one, and revelers can get rowdy when faced with an endless array of free food and drink. According to Andy Burwell, a sales representative from Hearty Boys Catering, this week's event is one of the year's most challenging for vendors to get through. “I am Googling 'sensory deprivation tanks' as we speak,” he joked the day after working the cocktail party.
Burwell said that spillover from neighboring showrooms, party crashers (one of whom—true story—asked to take home all the leftover desserts), and a simply larger-than-expected crowd created challenges for him and his staff on Monday night. According to Burwell, some guests grabbed close to four drinks at a time, while others parked themselves directly outside the showroom's kitchen in order to scoop up handfuls of hors d'oeuvres as soon as they became available. The apparent ravenousness of some guests prevented the Hearty Boys staffers from making full laps through the crowd with food and drinks intact.
To combat the problem, specialty cocktails—which were originally intended to be passed—were designated to behind-the-bar staff. But in the end, “that's NeoCon,” Fishman said. “You have to prepare for it. The only real way to deal with it is to close our showroom doors and turn it into a private party, but we didn't have to do that.” Fishman added that the crowd had “mellowed out considerably” by the second hour of the event.
Global carried the chocolate theme throughout the three days of NeoCon, hiring Hearty Boys to hand out sweets to guests who wandered into the showroom during the day and placing ground-up cocoa beans in strategic places throughout the room to emit an on-theme fragrance.