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Setting the Scene for 2018

By Marcia C. Callaghan

The year 2017 was one full of innovations in the events industry. We saw the rise of new social media tools for event live streaming and the fall of others (sorry, Snapchat). There was also a notable effort to make events more immersive through the customization of guest experiences and the use of new technologies like virtual and mixed reality. With all that’s come and gone, the focus is now on 2018, and so far it appears this year holds some exciting new trends in food, decor, technology and venues. We talked to some top industry leaders to see what the future holds for the next 12 months.


TREND NO. 1: Lid Tight Presentation

In 2017, we witnessed the emergence of all kinds of Instagram-worthy foods: unicorn frappuccinos, black charcoal lattes, galaxy cakes and spaghetti donuts. While pictureperfect food isn’t going anywhere, one of the newest trends that will soon take over is food jars, filled with layer upon layer of colorful goodness. Karen Firsel is leading the pack, having opened Northbrook-based Jar Bar in May with a vision to supply the suburbs of Chicago with forward-thinking, clean-eating options that also look pretty. “You have to be really psyched about what you’re eating to tell your friends about it,” says Firsel, who first cut her teeth with a career in television production. 

Since opening Jar Bar and finding an audience for her local eatery, Firsel has now started catering to all sorts of corporate events and weddings, offering enticing eats like a popular series of Cake Jars that can also be customized with wedding or corporate color schemes. Planners can integrate the jarred concept into events that don’t require full sit-down meals and call for on-the-go, portable sustenance, says Firsel. Furthermore, food jars make unbelievably cute displays that create visual disruption and prove to be super convenient for both attendees and event organizers. 

TREND NO. 2 : Faux Feasts

Farewell to the days in which nonvegan guests had to conform to those bean-and-veggie sliders while craving something meatier. There have been numerous efforts in recent years to design foods that satisfy everyone’s appetites, and 2018 may be when it all finally booms. The concept of faux food is to use natural ingredients to replicate meat qualities. Impossible Foods, Inc. has made headlines experimenting with creating meat, fish and dairy-based foods out of plants and other ingredients. The company rose to fame in 2016 when it launched the Impossible Burger, which naturally recreates the look, smell, texture and taste of a regular beef burger—but is made from all-natural ingredients such as wheat, coconut oil and potatoes. The magic ingredient is called “heme,” which gives the burger its meaty smell and flavor. At the time of print, the burger has not been released in Chicago, but Jessica Appelgren, director of communications at Impossible Foods Inc., says, “Our Chicago plans are still forming and you can expect to see us in the greater Chicagoland area very soon.” 


TREND NO. 1 : Shine On

We saw a lot of holographic and iridescent décor in 2017, covering simple napkins to entire rooms. In 2018, we can expect these finishes to stick around and be applied to both soft and bold palettes alike. (Think of pearlized finishes as the new lucite.) Grown-up neutrals such as taupe, beige, gray, a “greige” combo and nude with pearly finishes will start to accent many designs with chic effortlessness. As well, metallic glazes will appear on year-round seasonal hues to create glossy pops for more colorful occasions. “I’m always looking to create vibrant event designs as the foundation for my guest experiences,” says Event Designer Sarah Novosad. “And this year, I’m amped about golden and silvery finishes on all colors.” From satiny pastels in the springtime to metallic maroons and aubergines in the autumn, design finishes will range from hi-shine to demi-matte across furniture and fixtures, serving ware, giveaways and more. 

TREND NO. 2 : Mixed Material Bouquets

Flowers have always been a staple of event design, and in 2018 the trend will be all about texture in florals. Leading designers are moving away from basic bouquets by mixing in a variety of materials that go beyond the bud. In 2018, we can expect to see lots of fluffy textures in the form of pampas grass, smoke bush and other feathered grasses that create a whimsical watercolor look of blurred beauty. Spongy banksia, wiry horsehair and shiny cherry branches are some of the favorites used by John Regan, owner of Twisted Stem in Crystal Lake. “I like to surprise people,” says Regan. “It’s all about creating a push and pull between different colors, forms and textures.” Whether it’s natural, colored, big or small, we can expect the unexpected with more and more asymmetrical compositions that include a variety of materials. 


TREND NO. 1 : Face-Forward Tech

Camera-based facial recognition technology is gaining momentum in multiple industries, including meetings and events. Computer algorithms have made tagging people on social media easier than ever before, now allowing planners to reach their audience’s audience with rapid speed and increased event exposure. This technology can monitor guest experience in real time at live events, giving planners the ability to more accurately gauge speaker engagement, catering preferences and overall reactions to different displays and activations, which means so long to feedback forms. As the technology advances, planners will also be better able to switch targeted content to attendees to create more customized experiences. Fun and games aside, planners are also starting to use “face prints” for security scanning both at checkpoints and with drones throughout the event, with the help of companies like FaceFirst. All of these dynamic uses have sci-fi vibes that makes a unique face just another piece of metadata. 

TREND NO. 2 : Meet Christie Terra

To planners, A/V specialists are essentially like superheroes making dreams come true and saving the day with one slide switch at a time. We spoke with Mark Yokota, executive consultant at media solutions by OSA International, Inc., about what we can expect to see in the new year—and is there ever a lot of new technology to get pumped about. Yokota told us all about previsualization on media servers, RGB laser projections, dynamic calibration and new developments in both LED and video processing technology. One of the most anticipated technologies is the Christie Terra, which offers Software Defined Video over Ethernet (SDVoE), making it the foundation of future video technologies. Yokota explained to us how it works with much fervor—but in tech-speak, which is basically an overwhelming foreign language. “Long story short,” Yokota says, “with Terra, we’ll have far less cable to run, and require fewer adaptors and input cards, resulting in greater savings for our clients and a huge improvement in the presenters’ user experience. It’s an exciting future.” 


Brand Stamps  

Commercially branded experiential spaces have been springing up across the country offering retail, restaurant and programmed event experiences to the surrounding communities. Branded spaces enable corporations to expand their identity and audience-base through hospitality and experience. In April 2017, Hickory Street Capital opened The Park at Wrigley Field with six stories of spaces, including many multiuse retail spaces operating in tandem with the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Here, corporate branding went meta with the launch of the American Airlines Conference Center that opened within the campus in Spring 2017, as well as The Budweiser Brickhouse Tavern that opened in Summer 2017. The campus, owned and developed by Hickory Street Capital, expands the experiences for Cubs fans to interact with the brand. “For planners, there are number of different packages that can be tailored across the campus, creating a unique way to combine business and entertainment surrounding one of the most iconic assets in the city,” says Julian Green, spokesperson for HSC, “and with the opening of the upcoming Hotel Zachary we’ll offer a full suite of event opportunities for meeting planners, including accommodations.” 


In addition to writing for Illinois Meetings + Events, Marcia L. Callaghan is the events director at Milk. She boasts 11 years of industry experience beginning with a career in events management.