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The Great Industry Gathering, Texas-Style

Catersource + The Special Event heads to Austin February 12–15

Catersource + The Special Event is the best place to expand your network, learn from industry veterans, and get inspired about your career. This year we head to the Live Music Capitol of the World: Austin, TX. Get ready for some great entertainment, legendary barbecue, and a week of fun!

Don’t miss a moment! Arrive early Monday 2/12, depart Friday morning 2/16

Arriving early? On Monday, kick off your week by attending our Taste of Austin Venue Tour, followed by a pub crawl for Connect Social at 7:30 p.m. End your week by joining us at the Closing Night Celebration at Superstition night club. In between, you won’t want to miss a thing. Here’s a look at all that will be offered during this unforgettable week!

See Opening Keynote Laura Schwartz


At the Opening General Session on the Keynote Stage on Wednesday, February 14 at 9:00 a.m., join professional emcee, keynote speaker, television commentator, and author Laura Schwartz for her session "Common Ground." 

Named one of The 100 Most Influential People in the Global Event Industry by Eventex 2019-2023 and one of the top seven speakers in the United States, Laura Schwartz has been a professional emcee and keynote speaker since 2001. Laura began her professional career in 1993 as the youngest female presidential appointee in history, serving as the White House Director of Events for the Clinton Administration. In addition to speaking, Laura published her first book "Eat, Drink and Succeed” and currently appears on television as the American contributor on Australia’s #1 Today Show. Laura has been featured by and is a published writer in Fast Company, Elle Magazine, Marie Claire and other periodicals. In 2021, along with her cast from ITV News, she was awarded the International Drum Award for Podcast of the Year.

See Michael Cerbelli’s: The Hot List™ LIVE

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At the Closing General Session on the Keynote Stage, Michael Cerbelli will bring back his ever-beloved Michael Cerbelli’s: The Hot List™ on Thursday, February 15th, at 8:00 a.m. after a two-year hiatus. 

Celebrating its 21st year of production, Michael Cerbelli’s: The Hot List™ takes the most cutting-edge event and entertainment ideas and places them on the forefront of the event industry. Combining his quick wit, natural charisma, and decades of event production experience, Cerbelli makes The Hot List™ presentation an exclusive experience to be enjoyed by planners and industry partners alike. As a 90-minute non-stop presentation, The Hot List™ is equally entertaining as it is educational: it allows event professionals to gain priceless insight into the new and upcoming trends. Don’t miss this popular inspirational session!

This is your chance to elevate your events and uncover top vendors and performers first-hand, preparing you for unforgettable events in 2024 and beyond. The Closing General Session is included in the purchase of any pass, from All Access to tradeshow only.

Event Inspiration

David Merrell’s popular (and room-filling) annual trend session will return in 2024. Don’t miss David Merrell & Susie Perelman Present: Current Trends in the Event Industry. Photo courtesy WASIO Faces/SpotMyPhotos

Get ready to be struck with creative ideas for 2024 and beyond. This year’s lineup features classes that will spark creativity in all aspects of your business. With topics focusing on sustainability, trends, event tech, marketing, DEI, and weddings (and much, much more) you’ll leave Catersource + The Special Event full of ideas and ready to innovate!

Competitive cooking

Who doesn’t love a good culinary competition? Watch DICED on Wednesday, February 14 at 11:00 a.m. to see chefs create the latest food trends right before your eyes (while they compete for a cash prize!). Impress clients with the “I saw it first” pitch you’ll be able to give after watching the best in the industry whip up inspired dishes.

Certified Catering Consultants

Need a quick consultation about the catering aspects of your events? We have you covered—the Certified Catering Consultants (CCC) are experts in many applicable areas. They will offer free half-hour appointments on site to address your hospitality-related challenges, identify your highest value opportunities, and/or help you improve your business and ROI. Head to Room 11A/B to sign up for a free consultation during show hours Tuesday through Thursday.

Discover new ideas on the tradeshow floor

TLC Creative Technology brought a fun tech innovation to the 2023 Tradeshow Floor: a robot arm that could serve beverages. Photo courtesy WASIO Faces/SpotMyPhotos

What better way to get inspired than on the Tradeshow Floor? Catch up with old friends, partake in the festivities, and get down to business. If you want to see the trends, chat with the who’s who in the market, and forge new partnerships, we’ve got you covered.

Eat, drink, and be amazed at all that takes place on the Tradeshow Floor! You’ll be able to browse, learn, taste samples, and buy from a plethora of trendsetting and relevant exhibitors, who are here to help you grow your business and recognize potential. With a lively Happy Hour on Wednesday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., Booth Awards at 10:30 a.m. Thursday morning, and Fast Chat sessions on the Ignite stages, the Tradeshow Floor will be packed with activity, from networking to education to trendspotting.

And don’t forget about the annual Tablescape Competition! Want to know how to build a beautiful tablescape incorporating lush florals? You’ll want to be on the tradeshow floor at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday. Join our talented Tablescape Competition Chairs Michelle Howard, Matthew Crowe, and Colton Staver for a fun and interactive way to express your creativity. Four to six teams of four participants each will be tasked to create a fabulous tablescape with all the trimmings. In the fashion of a TV reality series, each team will be assigned a table and an overall client request. They will then have timed phases to design, choose products, and produce a tablescape. Tables will be available for photography afterward!

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Participants of last year’s Tablescape Competition were challenged to work in teams and create eye-catching designs for imaginary clients and events. Photos courtesy WASIO  Faces/SpotMyPhotos

New this year! Fast Chats

We’re offering quick-hitting 30-minute chats this year where attendees can discuss targeted topics with industry experts. Topics range from technology to sustainability to marketing to operations. Held on the tradeshow floor Ignite stages, these are up-close-and-personal conversations encouraging discourse between presenter and attendee. If you have 30 minutes between an appointment on the tradeshow floor, or want to learn something quick before moving on, this is the place to go!

Lunch & Learn is back

Since its last appearance in 2020, Lunch & Learn returns to Catersource + The Special Event this February. Join Scott Frankel, your host, as he welcomes catering and event professionals to his session I Can Top That! Event Mishap Stories & What We Can Learn from Them, spinning their brutal truths of near misses, mishaps, and amazing recoveries during their events. Enjoy a delicious three-course themed lunch as you also hear how they have overcome their trials and walked away with advice that they will share with the audience. A checklist of dos and don’ts (and a full belly) will be your parting takeaway!

After a satisfying day of learning and networking, get ready to spend your evenings having fun! Every evening features a different event theme and venue, all curated to bring you the latest trends in a setting that also grants you the time and space to connect with friends, peers, and colleagues.

Wellness Lounge
Open Tuesday through Thursday during regular show hours in Room 13A/B

We all know how easy it is to pack your schedule full and then wish there was time to recharge. Fear not! Head to the Wellness Lounge, where soothing music, essential oil mixing stations, crystal consultations, and comfortable seating awaits. This room is dedicated to silence and relaxation, and it will also be the site for morning yoga, as well as several wellness sessions, including Snatching Wellness from the Jaws of Wellness Culture (Tuesday), Let’s Have a Talk in the Walk-in (Wednesday), and Charessa Sawyer’s Event Therapy Lounge: Meditation & Self Care Strategies (Wednesday). Come recharge, catch your breath, and recenter yourself before rejoining sessions and stepping onto the exhibit hall floor! 

Evening Events

Monday February 12 • Speakeasy
Chair: Lauren Kelly, Hello! TX
Kick off your week right by connecting with friends and colleagues at our opening welcome reception Connect Social from 7:30 p.m.–10:30 p.m., which brings attendees of Art of Catering Food together with Catersource + The Special Event.

Tuesday February 13 • Brazos Hall
Chairs: Lindsey Ganther, Contigo Catering and Sarah Surprise, Whim Hospitality 
It’s time to celebrate with colleagues from near and far during the Opening Night Party from 7:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m. 
Saddle up for an electrifying night at the Neon Cowboy Extravaganza, a dazzling event taking place during our Opening Night Party at Catersource + The Special Event!
Get ready to step into a vibrant world where neon meets the Wild West, as Brazos Hall transforms into a haven for event enthusiasts. The Neon Cowboy theme promises a fusion of modern flair with a classic Texas twist, creating an atmosphere that’s both edgy and full of southern charm.

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The Closing Night Celebration in Orlando last year gave attendees a taste of food around the globe. Photo courtesy WASIO Faces/SpotMyPhotos

Wednesday February 14 • Skybox on 6th
The can’t-miss networking celebration to raise funds for our industry is back! Join the SEARCH Foundation for their Annual Signature Event and mingle with top industry professionals all while supporting friends and colleagues in crisis. For those not attending the SEARCH event, this is an evening to hit the town with your teams and peers and enjoy a taste of Austin. Here are some restaurants we recommend checking out:

  1. Franklin BBQ: Perhaps Austin’s most famed BBQ spot, the lines are long for a reason. Pitmaster Aaron Franklin is somewhat of a Texas BBQ legend, so this is the spot if you want to see what the BBQ scene is all about. 
  2. Con Todo: This popular taco truck by Chef Joseph Gomez highlights cuisine of the Rio Grande Valley (but is adamantly not Tex-Mex). Be sure to order your tacos “con todo”—with everything.
  3. Justine’s Brasserie: Justine’s is a late-night dining spot known for its vibey nightlife and French cuisine favorites. A perfect spot to end the night.
  4. Odd Duck: Chef-partner Bryce Gilmore provides a New American take on classic Texas fare, sourcing ingredients from local farms.
  5. Koriente: Close to the Austin Convention Center, Koriente is a favorite Austin restaurant that serves a variety of pan-Asian dishes in a chill environment.

Thursday February 15 • Superstition
Chairs: Kristi DePew, Eclipse Event Co. and Leslie LaSorsa, Crave Catering 
Celebrate with colleagues amidst an entertainment-filled experience as we wrap up a great week for our industry at the Closing Night Celebration from 7:30 p.m.–10:30 p.m. 
Superstition is an elite multi-room nightclub in Austin, Texas. Channeling the energy of the 1970s, Superstition combines world class entertainment including DJs and live performances with over 12,000 square feet of elevated space. Superstition also hosts the Gold Room, a cocktail lounge and patio featuring reimagined classic cocktails for a more intimate experience.

Associations & Groups

Associations and groups will be present at Catersource + The Special Event, many of which will also have booths on the Tradeshow Floor and/or in the conference area. Take the time to seek these people out and learn more! We are all in this together and hope to learn from each other. Here’s who to look for this year (as of publication):

Industry accolades: award recipients

Each year, we at Catersource + The Special Event honor industry leaders who we feel have made a significant and positive impact on our industries. 

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Rob Barber

Join us in celebrating recipients Rob Barber (Special Events Gala Lifetime Achievement award, stay tuned for our feature on Barber) and Mary Crafts (Michael Roman Lifetime Achievement award, head to Catersource magazine’s feature on Crafts) at our annual Awards Ceremony on Thursday, February 15th on the Keynote Stage.

An awards nominee reception will precede the ceremony, beginning at 4:30 p.m. This is a great opportunity for networking and supporting some of the industry’s movers and shakers.

Catersource + The Special Event 2024 is also the time for our annual ACE, GALA, and ICA CATIE Awards (click here to see this year’s Gala Award nominees).

We’ll also be honoring World Central Kitchen, the charitable organization launched by Chef Jose Andrés, with the Richard Carbotti Volunteerism Award. Accepting the award will be Jason Collis, Chief Relief Officer.

Founded in 2010 by Andrés, WCK is a nonprofit organization that is first to the frontlines providing fresh meals in response to crises. 

Applying their model of quick action, leveraging local resources, and adapting in real time, WCK has served more than 300 million nourishing meals around the world. When disaster strikes, WCK’s Relief Team mobilizes with the urgency of now to start cooking and serving meals to people in need. By partnering with organizations on the ground and activating a network of local restaurants, food trucks, or emergency kitchens, WCK serves comforting meals to survivors of disasters quickly and effectively. To support regional economies, WCK prioritizes purchasing local ingredients to cook with or distribute directly to families in need.

Finally, join us for the surprise reveal of the Steve Kemble Award at the annual Awards Ceremony, which will be presented Thursday evening from 5:30 p.m.–7:00 p.m. 

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