Minding Your X's and Y's

Faced with designing and catering an event for 6,000 attendees under 30, the Los Angeles-based Good Gracious! Events started its planning by doing research on this age group in order to tailor the event to their tastes and needs.

The generation known as Y, aged 18 to 24, (Generation X is people aged 24-36), is as large as the Baby Boom generation. Therefore, what Y'ers do, think, and buy will influence markets, attitudes, and society in years to come.

For this event, Good Gracious! was responsible for crowd flow at the bars and the buffets (which numbered 80 stations in all). The executive chef at Good Gracious! (who is 20-something herself) researched bars, TV shows, music, and fashion that are popular with Generation Y and developed the following guidelines for planning an event for the next generation of meeting attendees:

1. Their favorite foods are those that suit a Super Bowl-trained palate -- burgers, fries, meatballs, macaroni and cheese, guacamole, chips -- but in bite sizes. The motto here is, "Don't make me work for it."

2. Bombard them with images, yet keep the buffets clean and simple so they can see the food, take it, and go. While the best menu would be extremely identifiable (burgers, fries, and so on), it must be creatively presented.

3. Provide a lot of variety in entertainment. As much as they like lounging, they also like loud, up-tempo music. Variety is the key. Create lounge areas with cool furnishings and house music. The buffets and lounge areas created by Good Gracious! were themed to compliment the four major areas of the event. In a soundstage turned into a Zen-like "Bento Box," buffets featured bamboo forests, running water, stone designs, and sod placed both on and under the tables; in the raucous "Gaming Lounge," tables were surrounded by video games; an area called "Igloo" was mainly a sophisticated martini bar in an all-white structure; and a rooftop area based on Los Angeles' famous Skybar with sleek wood boxes, glass, and minimal floral design created a contemporary, L.A.-style design.

4. This group likes comfort food that is easy to eat while walking. (Asian food is still very big. Sushi is easy to transport, as is anything in a Chinese takeout container or Japanese bento box). As far as passed food goes, oyster shooters; popovers with chili, sour cream, and cheese on top; deep fried tempura; wontons -- again, small bites of comfort food on the go. The menu Good Gracious! created featured finger food that the guests could easily pick up and eat. This called for creativity in food presentation and containers. Macaroni and cheese was served in ceramic spoons and Chinese salads and dim sum were served in takeout containers, while food items on the buffets such as quesadillas, wontons, pizza, pretzels, and tempura were cooled so they could easily be eaten while on the move.

5. As much as Gen Y'ers like clean and simple looks, they want to see something new and over the top. Designing an event for this new generation is both exciting and challenging. As clients, they know what they want and they make decisions quickly. They are willing to explore new ideas in event design, flow, and content. On the whole, this age group brings with it a tremendous amount of life and energy to meetings and events.