Exhibition Opening 1: should we serve food?


There’s nothing like Exhibition Opening Night (or Day).

So you’re having an exhibition.  You and the other exhibitors and their supporters will have been toiling away for ages.  First you had to organise a space for the exhibition.  (that’s a whole separate blog!)

Then you all had to make the work (let’s pass over that one quickly; it’s easy, right?)

You  will have had a check list of things that MUST be done before the doors open on the exhibition:  photography; event promotion;  invitations to the opening;  curation, including props, plinths etc;  catalogue; bump-in, security……..

That’s already a lot of work.  So when someone asks:  “what are the catering arrangements for your opening?” it can be difficult to pretend you care.  Many of us will simply have our fingers crossed that there will be an  opening!  Or else we’ll be thinking “pretzels!!!”

Over the last four years I have been involved in catering for several group exhibition openings.  It’s been a wonderful learning experience which I thought I should share……

Will we feed them at all?  

There are sometimes very good reasons to decide it’s NOT necessary to feed and water (aka load up) your guests.


Horace Target-Audience-Splash

If your exhibition is aimed mainly at impressing gallery owners so you get future invitations  to exhibit at their lovely galleries, it might not be necessary to serve anything.  Busy “professional” exhibition goers are wanting to get in and out again quickly; it’s not as much a social event for them. (Apologies in advance if you are a gallery owner/manager who likes to linger over the food!)


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Similarly, if your opening is scheduled for immediately after a usual mealtime, say, at 2pm on a Saturday, you can assume that attendees will have recently eaten.



Some other very practical impediments to serving food include:


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.lack of space or facilities for the safe transportation, storage and/or service of food.  Some galleries have no kitchen or even a fridge.  If you have to transport food a longish way even before you get it to the gallery you will rightly be wondering if that is safe…




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.food  not permitted by the gallery (although sometimes an initial prohibition can be negotiated into an agreement. Some galleries which are used to having student exhibitions are understandably cautious about committing to having to clean up afterwards.  Convincing them that you know what you are doing and will definitely leave the place cleaner than you found might be  a worthwhile effort.)


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.too little time (for example, the space is only available for an hour and food and drinks would be a distraction)




Horace dollar signs.cost (in my view it’s better to spend limited funds on exhibition space, props and promotion of the whole exhibition period than on food for those who are available to attend an opening).

Hospitality is Good!!

WAFTA Catering 2 Abigail Harman

Terry Devereux serving hors d’oeuvres at the 15 September opening of WAFTA’s Altered States exhibition , 16-23 September 2017, Perth Town Hall, in front of work by Diane  Binns (left) and Janie Matthews (right) . Image by Abigail Harman, Perth.

Having said all that, if you have the time, space, permissions and money it is nice to be able to provide hospitality.  When you want your potential buyers and supportive friends to enjoy a relaxing couple of hours, and tell all their friends what a great exhibition it is, food and beverages will help enormously. Plus all the hard workers like yourselves can treat it like a well-earned opportunity to party!

Get a Caterer?

So, if the answer is “yes, we will serve food and beverages” the next step is to decide whether finances permit outsourcing to a caterer?  If you can do that you save yourself all the hassles of menu planning, quantity estimation, ensuring food safety, doing the food preparation and presentation, and organising with the venue for access and delivery.  Caterers can often handle arrangements for alcohol licensing and service too.


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However, if like many of us, your organisation or group is effectively doing this on the smell of an oily rag, you need to do the catering yourselves.



In the next blog I will outline some tips for self-catering an art  exhibition opening.


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One Golden Rule: if you serve alcohol then you MUST serve food with it!!



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1 Response to Exhibition Opening 1: should we serve food?

  1. lizarnold28 says:

    I like the idea of serving food because it allows an opportunity for the shy ones among us to have a reason to speak to people we don’t know. It’s much easier to open a conversation when you have have a platter of delicious snacks to offer your guest.

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