Skip navigation
Special Events Blog

Key Takeaways from Catersource + The Special Event 2024

Wedding PR Pro Meghan Ely recaps business concepts from this year's conference

Cover photo: Meghan Ely, Meagan Culkin, Katie Mast, Adrienna McDermott, and Kevin Dennis in their session Rolling with the Punches: How to Stay Up-To-Date and On-Trend with AI, New Tech, and More in 2024. Photo courtesy Ivan Piedra Photography/AGNYC Productions/SpotMyPhotos


With Catersource + The Special Event (CS+TSE) behind us and peak season around the corner, this time of year offers industry professionals a chance to reflect and prepare for the busy months ahead. If you attended this year’s conference in Austin, TX, you likely returned home with pages of notes and pockets full of business cards.

This year’s education covered everything from design trends and sales strategies to the most cutting-edge technology on the market. As wedding season approaches, don’t miss the opportunity to take what you’ve learned and apply it to your business.

If you need a refresher, here are some of this year’s top takeaways.

It’s time to embrace AI

While artificial intelligence isn’t a new concept, it’s still widely overlooked in the catering and events industry. Fortunately, many speakers took the stage to drive home the importance of adopting AI in 2024—a message that was well-received by attendees.

“I am always looking for ways to streamline processes and level up technologies in our organization,” Magnolia Collective’s Meagan Culkin says, adding that she was “impressed with the variety of sessions that focused on AI and automation technology.”

Shannon Tarrant of Wedding Venue Map agrees, noting that most event pros aren’t using AI. Thus, “by learning the basics of artificial intelligence in every aspect of your business, you’re considered an early adopter and can easily separate your company from the pack.”

AI and automation tech are powerful tools for saving time and building consistent processes while serving to differentiate your business from competitors. Take advantage of it while it’s still a new-to-the-industry concept!

Self-care is good business practice

Although we’re several years removed from pandemic shutdowns, messages of rest and self-care persist as the industry continues to face evolving consumer demands, economic uncertainties, and an oversaturated market. 

This year, a number of speakers stressed the importance of self-care for busy event pros. Sarah Chianese of Mangia and Enjoy! elaborates, recalling how the conference “opened up to a more humanistic side of the industry, going beyond sales, tech, and marketing strategies and diving into opportunities to explore, reveal, and dig deeper into what we need to take care of from the human side of events and catering.”

Oduberg Law, LLP’s Leah Weinberg agrees that the self-care conversation is critical for the industry, especially now. “I had so many people come up to me after my talk on being an empath and a highly sensitive person in this industry, saying how much this talk was needed and how no one is talking about the emotional side of this industry right now,” she says. “That’s a clear sign that so many of us need to turn inward at the moment and prioritize our own needs before those of our clients.”

The hospitality industry is built on serving others, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of  wellbeing. Event pros must fill their cups first to thrive in this industry.

Success starts with building community

Hosting a national conference takes a village…but so does building a successful business. It should come as no surprise that industry thought leaders spoke often about the importance of networking and fostering meaningful relationships.

Keynote speaker Laura Schwartz addressed this point when opening the conference with her talk, Common Ground. Ian Ramirez of Madera Estates recalls a line that stuck with him: “Face-to-face interaction is the most powerful way to communicate.”

“I made a point to engage in more face-to-face interactions at the conference, in between sessions, in hallways, and at the Opening Night Party,” he shares. “Face-to-face interaction is the essence of our industry: bringing people together to communicate and enjoy shared experiences. Even better: making memories that will last a lifetime.”

Clint Elkins of SB Value shares Ramirez’s sentiment, adding that the tradeshow floor remains an excellent place to meet new people. “This is the perfect opportunity to make connections outside of the education sessions,” he promises. “You can learn a lot from other businesses in terms of their offerings, as well as see first-hand what attracts other attendees to engage with them.”

For industry veterans, community involvement also provides a chance to pay it forward to the next generation of event professionals. “We all started somewhere,” reminds Jen Sulak of Weirdo Weddings. “I met so many still in school, and their joy was all over their faces. It reminded me of when I fell into my career!”

The power of relationships fuels the industry, so don’t take your network for granted. Nurture your connections well, and you’ll build a thriving community of supportive peers.

Explore new ideas, but don’t let go of what works

The beauty of CS+TSE—and our industry as a whole—lies in the diverse perspectives of thought leaders with different backgrounds. Caterers, photographers, florists, planners, DJs, and other pros converge to connect, learn, and educate.

Kevin Dennis of Fantasy Sound Event Services highlights the value of open-mindedness and approaching educational topics through a different lens. “I like to add variety to my conference agenda and attend sessions with speakers I’m not familiar with, as it’s helpful to hear someone else’s perspective rather than exclusively attending sessions with speakers you’re familiar with,” he shares.

However, alternative perspectives are no reason to abandon what works in favor of the latest bright-and-shiny business trends.

For example, Ava and the Bee’s Adrienna McDermott cautions against eschewing traditional marketing channels like blogging. “Unlike social media platforms, which are subject to changes in algorithms and potential shutdowns, a blog provides a consistent online presence that you own,” she explains.

The lesson here: Welcome new perspectives and experiment with ideas, but keep investing in proven strategies like wedding submissions and educational blog content.

There was much to learn at this year’s conference, and it’s shaping up to be a productive year for all who attended. Details for next year have been announced, so be sure to save the date for CS+ TSE 2025  in Fort Lauderdale, FL!  

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.