Hundreds Attend 2017 Hospitality Fest

August 17th, 2017 | hereschicago

Chicago area event & meeting planning professionals join forces to share ideas and have fun

By Jason Paha

Hospitality Fest Chicago 2017 Gibson's Restaurant Group

Hospitality Fest Chicago 2017 Gibson’s Restaurant Group


The brightest minds in the Chicago hospitality industry united Wednesday, Aug. 16, for an evening of festive networking, hearty laughter and exquisite food, thanks to Hospitality Fest 2017.

The event, hosted by Here’s Chicago, the city’s most trusted source for meeting and event planners, was held at the Montgomery Club, 500 W. Superior St. Food and beverages were provided by Gibson’s Restaurant Group.

Brittany of Absolutely Chicago Segway Tours talking with planner attendees

With 570 registrations, Hospitality Fest was awash with event planners, hospitality professionals and some of Chicago’s top venues exchanging ideas and enjoying entertainment, samplings and raffle giveaways. Among the night’s raffle prizes were a gramophone donated by Ravinia Festival, a baseball and photo signed by former Chicago White Sox All-Star Paul Konerko and a guitar autographed by Blues legend Buddy Guy.

Buddy Buy signed guitar giveaway at Hospitality Fest 2017

Buddy Buy signed guitar giveaway at Hospitality Fest 2017

Attendees also received gift bags that included the Here’s Chicago and Premier Travel Media 2017 Chicago Holiday Party Planning Guide, a magazine containing party planning and hosting tips from some of the finest entertainment experts in the Chicagoland area.

“This is a great place to get many ideas all in one location,” said Nicole Salerno, partner and director of events for Rockit Ranch Productions. “For busy event planners, this is a one-stop shop.”

“Jim (Grillo) does a fantastic job with events,” said Tami Manton, owner of Group Theater Tix, referring to the president of Here’s Chicago. “He gives us what he promised. This is a great opportunity for companies like us to learn about this end of the industry.”

Many participants frequented the Here’s Chicago 2016 Hospitality Fest and found the experience so valuable, they returned for this year’s festivities.

“Last year’s fest was great and this one seems even more well-attended,” said John Krol, marketing director for WhirlyBall. “I get a lot of quality leads from this event.”

“This is a good place to meet planners and help bring business to (Buddy Guy’s Legends),” said Randy Hajduk, director of special events for Buddy Guy’s. “I see people who I’ve known for years and I also make new friends.”

Like most exhibitors, Hajduk’s space featured a distinctive flare, as an autographed Buddy Guy guitar (that was later donated for the raffle) sat upright on his table, drawing admiring eyes.

Museum of Science and Industry at Hospitality Fest 2017

Museum of Science and Industry at Hospitality Fest 2017

Stan Hansen, senior marketing specialist for the Museum of Science and Industry, also joined in on the fun as he wore a fashionable dark blue lab coat while he and his associates dispersed information about the museum along with cookies decorated to resemble entries from the Periodic Table of the Elements.

“Hospitality Fest is a perfect venue for the museum to let people know about us,” Hansen said. “A lot of people think of us as a kid’s museum but we tell them about our 10 different event spaces that can hold 12,000 people and how the museum has so many amenities and they come away impressed. Here, I can let people know that at the museum they can drink a cocktail under a 40-foot tornado.”

Many vendors opted to serve snacks at their table, be it cookies, candy or, in the case of Joy District, a New American restaurant and cocktail bar, attendees were encouraged to make their own s’mores treats. The Hard Rock Café also opted to give away chocolates, with their offerings shaped like delicious guitars.

Hard Rock Cafe at Hospitality Fest 2017

Hard Rock Cafe at Hospitality Fest 2017

“The Hard Rock has been in Chicago for 30-plus years and we like being a part of this event,” said Tara Hippensteel, national director of tour and travel for the Hard Rock Café. “At events like this you are always developing new partnerships or reuniting with old friends. This industry is your family. In Chicago, you are constantly seeing people as they grow and develop in their careers and it is nice to see them at things like this.”

Venerable Chicago television and radio hosts Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano were also on hand, providing their brand of cagey humor while mingling with patrons.

“We’re here doing the schmooze thing,” Sirott said. “One of the things we’ve found at these events more than anything is we run into a lot of interesting people. We probably run into four or five people who would be great to get on our show.”

“People here are ready to have fun and the atmosphere is lively,” Murciano added. “We always keep an eye out for possible guests for our show. This is a great way to meet interesting people in the community who have a story to tell.”

Bob Sirott & Marianne Murciano at Hospitality Fest Chicago 2017

Bob Sirott & Marianne Murciano at Hospitality Fest Chicago 2017

One such attendee who harvested the fruits of the 2016 Hospitality Fest and returned for this year’s event is Jim Goodrich, owner of With A Voice Like This. Goodrich serenaded the crowd with Christmas Carols while dressed in a Charles Dickens-styled outfit and afterward, sang the praises of Hospitality Fest.

“I was here last year and as a result, I made some connections and we ended up performing at the (Magnificent Mile) Festival of Lights and ABC 7’s Great Chicago Light Fight,” Goodrich said. “How can you ask for a better setup than a bunch of event planners in one room? This is fantastic.”

Caroling Connection at Hospitality Fest 2017

Caroling Connection at Hospitality Fest 2017

“This is the perfect time for venues to showcase their holiday party offerings” said Jim Grillo, CMP President of and founder of Hospitality Fest.

Click here for all photos of Hospitality Fest 2017 and tag yourself 

Photos courtesy of Edward Fox Photography & Video

If you attended Hospitality Fest 2017, the founder of the event, Jim Grillo, CMP would love to hear your comments & feedback about the event.  You can drop him an email at

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