Posted on 9/19/2011 7:44 AM by Debbie Designer

I recently pulled myself away from burning patterns with birds on them long enough to see what the New York Design Center FirstLOOK kids are raving about these days.

Anyone who thinks that FirstLOOK and its ilk aren't all about the cocktails and the cheese plates is completely delusional. Seriously, remember that. If you see someone walking around craning their necks to look at wood stains rather than wine options, they cannot be trusted.

Anyway, the event could have been called FourthLOOK as far as I’m concerned, so I went straight into crazed hors d’ouevre hyena mode, if only as a means of entertainment.

In a word, the food was awkward and uncomfortable. Ok, that’s two words. Consider it a poetic reflection of the fact that there were only two options: sandwich bricks and honey dew melon spears, the latter of which would have gone directly into my eye were it not for the cocktails.

Yes, first thing was first: hop on the drink line. I had arrived early, when people still thought they could get through the showing without nature’s painkiller. The wait was short, and the white cosmos were sweet. Mental fist pump, and we’re off.

As I entered HBF I thought "Wow, now here's a group of people who haven't learned the definition of finger food."

Perhaps the makers of those little sandwiches were master controllers of their own mouths, able to absorb each bite of bread through perfectly pursed lips and leave no crumb behind. I, on the other hand, have a mouth of the Neanderthal-meets-Labrodoodle variety. This does not do well at parties. I'll be the woman in the back with half a cucumber sticking out the side of her mouth. Please hold all conversation until further notice.

After staring at the six or seven sandwich varietals, and anxiously sipping my cocktail, I realized it was time to move on lest any sales reps latch on to my vulnerability.

Heading across the hall to Jasper Group I was hit by a frozen meat truck of disappointment: the same mini sandwich bricks were here too. It was at this point that I began to realize NYDC had the event universally. Cue exit, stage right.

Feeling pretty low, I wheeled myself down the hall to DIRTT Environmental Solutions and --what did my eyes see? Mini bowls of snack foods! And a cheese plate! But alas, amid the peanuts and the mints were the dagger eyes of some nameless designy folk seated around the food table.

I reached past their thick-rimmed glasses and costume jewelry, trying to put cheese on a cracker as gracefully as possible, with a perfectly choreographed swipe of the knife that rang out, "Stop making me feel bad, ye who sit so close to all the snackings."

As I chewed, I stared around the room, trying to make sense of the exposed metal and circuitry around me. What was this trying to say? I couldn't understand it, but knew that a few pensive nods and head tilts were a necessary schtick to look like I belonged. Then I found myself flipping through a spec binder. Cue exit, stage left.

Was it worth it? The thought floated through my head unanswered as I headed to the elevator. Waiting with me in the lobby was an abandoned sandwich, dangling precariously over the edge of an ashtray-cum-trash can. I closed my eyes in solemn silence and beamed a message to the person who left it behind: I know how you feel. The elevator arrived and I sank ever lower to the 14th floor.

At Allermuir it was back to the Great Catering Debacle of 2011. Nice move spreading those plates around, Allermuir. Like a pirate on a treasure hunt, I turned corner after corner, round mock cubicle after mock cubicle only to find more sandwiches laughing at me and my loose-lipped eating habits. Following that breadcrumb trail through the entire showroom, I had fallen victim to the oldest trick in the book.

Yes, I had seen it all, including all the lime greens of the Casper and Kojak collections. Like a “TEAMWORK” poster in the lunchroom, that color is not making the work environment any better. It’s time to give it up.

Fleeing to Krug, stomach rumbling, hopes high, drink half done, I discovered none other but the same catering plates hiding in the back.

Bottoms up.

My compatriots (Did I mention I had those?) and I decided to finally take the sandwich plunge.

As if a sign of our ultimate sin, of giving into this force-feeding, we were approached by a recent divorcee whose friends had recommended he attend design events as a great way to “meet women.” Or perhaps they had said “pick up women.” Who knows what one says, really, once one has reached that kind of low. The question stuck in all our minds as we contemplated what we would start saying now that we had sunk into this particular layer of hell.

Between bites of average cold cuts, and a surprisingly pleasant wasabi mayo, we exchanged banal comments about “What type of furniture this was.” Mr. Divorcee should have done a little research before heading over to the dark side, though he was better than the sales rep we initially suspected him to be.

Finally I went to Decca Contract, which was a stand out. It was the only space where I really did careen my head around to look at products like all those dubious happy design people, smiling their perky smiles, chewing down sandwich bricks like it’s their last meal. The showroom features some really beautiful wood treatments, and I was so enamored by the sample wall, I can’t even remember if there was food or not. So two thumbs up to that, right?

And this is where the lesson is to be learned.

First, we must delineate between two types of showrooms: those that are truly beautiful and interesting, and those that have to have a gimmick.

If you have to have a gimmick, don’t skimp. Even if NYDC is offering basic catering for everyone, step it up. Case in point: I was in DIRTT looking at a spec binder. I repeat. I was in DIRTT looking at a spec binder, and all because of some table crackers.  Variety is key here. It keeps people in your space, and while the teeth munch, the eyes shift—preferably all around your latest collections.

Lesson two for the aesthetically challenged: don’t lure me around your showroom like a professional version of the cookie monster.  Keep all the food together. Hopefully it will get too crowded and some mingling will happen.

For you knockout showrooms out there, food isn’t really necessary. People are already excited to come to your space and see what new designs you have to offer. Whatever you do, don’t take the catch-all catering. That stuff will only bring you down. You’ve got a brand to uphold, and it can’t rest solely on a foundation of ham and cheese.

Oh, but I know, I know. Of course you wouldn’t dream of having bad catering. It’s a sad irony that the B&B Italias of the world are the ones presenting seafood canapés and Prosecco.  (That was great, by the way, back at ICFF 2010.)  Maybe there’s a mid-level showroom or two out there sneaking by with “Krab Meat,” but for the most part it’s cold grapes and stale bread to go with bored shapes and dated color palettes.

In this day and age, it’s just not cutting it.