Parties, meetings maintain steady volume as styles evolve

Despite concerns about a slowing economy, event planners and facilities managers don’t expect a significant drop in activity for this year.

Despite concerns about a slowing economy, event planners and facilities managers don’t expect a significant drop in activity for this year.

Jennifer Delaye, owner of the JDK Group in Camp Hill, said her company’s mix of corporate events and private parties hasn’t changed much, but the style of events has.

“We’re still about 50-50 in terms of corporate and pleasure events,” Delaye said. “Corporate planners are looking for better value, with a twist on the old standard event.”

JDK Group is the parent company of JDK Catering, Essential Party Rentals and Image Event and Design Production. The group has 35 full-time and 60 part-time employees.

Patrick Kerwin, executive director of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex, said the facility has booked 75 major events for 2008 so far and expects “lots of smaller meetings and receptions” as well.

A number of weddings and even two proms are scheduled to be held in the complex’s newly renovated banquet hall, which can seat about 800 people with a dance floor.

Kerwin said he’s seen some growth in overall business volume, but he is cautious about the economy.

While seeing strong inquiries for 2008 so far, Jill Cecala, director of northeast sales and marketing for Hershey Resorts, said her corporate clients are booking closer to the date of the event, and some are scaling back to smaller programs, due to the unstable economy.

Nonprofits and associations are “going ahead with events as usual,” according to Joe Geiger, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations and the Pennsylvania Society of Association Executives.

“Our groups tend to run about a year lag time” in terms of economic changes, Geiger said. “The nonprofits follow a bit behind the stock market.”

As members begin to feel pinched by finances, events may be scaled back.

He said more associations are using a theme for their meetings and finding additional ways to make them more attractive and cost-effective for members.

Still, Geiger said, at this point his organizations are continuing to provide their members with the opportunities for networking and high-level education they expect.

The Lebanon Valley Expo Center is moving ahead with a planned expansion in 2008.

“The expansion indicates what we see as the future,” said Dennis Grumbine, executive director of the facility. “It ties in with the casinos and slots.”

The center supports thoroughbred and standardbred horses for racetracks. As those businesses expand, Grumbine said, breeding farms throughout the state expand as well.

The 25,000-square-foot building expansion is tailored to animal agriculture sales and production, but it also will provide space for other, larger events.

“Our consumer shows have doubled in the past five years,” Grumbine said. Because of this growth, the rental rates have not increased in that time because the new business generates additional revenue. He is hoping to attract several large auto shows and has already booked one for 2009. He declined to reveal the name of the show.

Some vendors, such those participating in a business expo, are looking for more state-of-the-art technology, such as secure Internet access, Grumbine said. The center provides wireless Internet service now, but it is working toward providing hard-wired service in the future.

To keep customers coming back, caterers will go for the unusual.

A trend toward a more casual package that began last year is continuing with her 2008 plans, Delaye said. In terms of decorations, planners are looking for “earth tones, straight, clean lines without a lot of fuss and muss,” she said.

Comfort food is becoming popular again, but adding an unexpected ingredient keeps it fresh, she said. She has served macaroni and cheese with lobster, mashed potatoes with goat cheese and meatloaf with venison and mushrooms.

Presentation has changed as well, Delaye said.

“We’re using different vessels for serving,” she said. “Instead of the standard plate, we might put salad in an Asian take-out box or cold soup in shot glasses.”

Delaye said her clients are also choosing quality ingredients over quantity of food.

“This generation is looking for variety,” she said. “Serving a number of smaller portions instead of one big meal gives people more choices.”

Kerwin agreed that food is one area in which he has seen change.

“Promoters are asking for healthier food options with lighter fare,” he said. Although the facility’s largest event, the Pennsylvania Farm Show, is not known for low-calorie offerings, even that event included a variety of choices this year, he said. Baked potatoes, salads and fruit were among the food available in the food court.

Planners are also “thinking green,” Kerwin said, noting an increase in requests for recycled and recyclable products.

As far as concerns about the economy, Grumbine is optimistic.

“I know there is a possible recession,” he said. “But we’re not seeing it here.”

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