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Highlights from CSES2015: Travels to Vegas

By Liese Gardner

Every year about this time, I drive to Las Vegas. I look forward to this quiet time that always follows months of activity leading up to the Catersource/Event Solutions Conference — getting ready for presentations by my clients and myself, serving on the Event Solutions Advisory Board, and cheering on clients at the Spotlight Awards. This year I was also covering it as the editor of DesignDawgs.

People like to say trips like this are a good time to think but I realized I don’t think too deeply about “stuff” while I’m driving. What I do think about is the road, the landscape and how it shifts with each hour marker point. The first hour is Los Angeles to Pomona and connecting with Highway 15 — I love intersections and this one means I’m on my way? The second is a Starbucks stop in Barstow — Flat White is my new fave. The third is Baker — what does that giant thermometer read today? And last, is the coast into Vegas and the strip — always a thrill to see.

What I realized is that the drive for me is really about being present in the moment — taking each hour as it is, not what it was or what it might be. What a luxury that seems these days when we all have to think of, and work on, projects that not only are happening today, but events that will occur tomorrow, next week, and next year, all of which need to be dealt with simultaneously.  This year I told myself that I’d take the show like that — one hour at a time. I’d enjoy every moment as it happens and try not to miss too much. That meant I wasn’t taking as many photos or posting as many tweets as I might have normally. Which makes it a bit harder to put my annual wrap-up together, but it made each moment at the show that much richer. Thankfully, shutterbugs posted a lot of photos, and Event Solutions and Catersource helped out with some of these wonderful images so I can bring you some highlights from CSES2015.

As they always do in the world of events, the conference began with a party…We had a “Premonition” the Monday night event would be great, and it didn’t disappoint.

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On the tradeshow floor, many more opportunities for networking and design trends and tidbits. From the tabletop contest…


To the AFR Design Challenge,  back for the fourth year. Design outlaws David Twigger of Vermillion Events and Design Group, and Andy Hopper of KG Designs, “dueled.”


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The pressure!



The results! David Twigger’s colorful interpretation. And below, Andy Hopper’s rustic look. Both were winners in my book!



Each night, after intense days like this, there was time to visit another of Vegas’ amazing dining possibilities. This in and of itself is part of the fun and the destination!


For me one of those dinners was at the amazing NOBU (pictured above) with Sean Low, The Business of Being Creative,  and Amanda and Matt Allen from MMD Events in Tampa. Sean is on the DesignDawgs board and he, Matt and Amanda are contributors. Additionally, they all presented phenomenal session at Catersource/Event Solutions. Over dinner, we pondered the high concept design of the restaurant, and whether these pillows of illuminated light were meant to be sea creatures, a reflection from above on what was on our plates below, or simply just beautiful pillows of light. In the end, we decided it didn’t matter. More sake please!

The next night was the DesignDawgs Advisory Board meet and greet at Gordon Ramsay Pub and Grill (below).

design dawgs advsory board

Several members of our board were there — King Dahl, MGM Resorts Events, Sara Gorlick, Rakuten Marketing, Kristin Banta, Kristin Banta Events, Jack Weiner, kool. Party Rentals, and Kevin White, XPL. And many of our industry — Jill Jensen, Mark Sheldon, AOO Events, Steve Kemble, and Brooke Cowgill and Laura Cardo, both from Kristin Banta Events. The big Dawg, Dave Merrell, DesignDawgs publisher, is in the middle. I’m next to him on the right, and Marcus Gray, associate editor, is next to Sara on the right.

P.S. It is my goal in life to one day pose for a picture with as much style as the fabulous Kristin Banta!


Loved getting to know Sara Gorlick and Kevin White more this year! Look for an article soon in DesignDawgs about Kevin’s trip to Turkmenistan to speak about events!


Then it was time for the Rock the Industry Awards. All the awards are now combined in this one evening in which caterers, event planners, designers, florists, venues, entertainment, come together to celebrate one synergistic industry. The night was emceed by the sass-fab Steve Kemble — he of, count ’em, four outfit changes. Even with all those awards — the ACE, CATIEs and the Spotlights — the evening moved swiftly.


The talented Vicky Crease from Vicky Crease Events in Johannesburg, South Africa, swept the CATIEs, receiving the highest honor of Caterer of the Year, as well as the ACE for International Caterer of the Year for this type of beautiful work…


For all the CATIE winners, click here.

For all the Spotlight finalists, click here.

For all the ACE winners, click here.


This year, the Spotlight Awards were judged fully on merit with no “people’s choice” type of voting. This meant that they were voted on solely by the Advisory Board, rather than an open vote. The new award system adds more weight to the honor, a fact that eight-time finalist, Jen Poyer, Catalina Island Conservancy, (Corporate Event Planner of the Year), mentioned as part of her acceptance speech. Susan Lucci no more!

In addition to a beautiful trophy, the winners also took home a hand-lettered, hand-made winner’s envelope by Los Angeles’ Calligraphy Katrina!



Two new categories were added this year to the Spotlights. Dan Berger of Social Tables took Innovator of the Year while PDW in British Columbia, was awarded International Company of the Year.



Oh yes, and then there was this. The highlight for me this year was the total honor of being inducted into the Event Solutions Special Event Hall of Fame! A beautiful induction speech for me by Hall of Famer Pauline Parry, owner of Good Gracious! Events, brought tears to my eyes and was a warm welcome to this prestigious group of industry professionals. I look forward to continuing to make a positive impact on the industry.

Along with myself, the wonderful Tony Conway was also inducted, and introduced by his longtime friend, Joann Roth of Someone’s in the Kitchen. As owner of Legendary Events in Atlanta, Tony has been instrumental in bringing change to the catering and event world not just there, but nationally. With clients such as Oprah and Tyler Perry, he’s a man to know!

joann and tony

And then there was Preston Bailey. A down-to-earth man and professional, yet an out-of-this-world designer. He had time to talk with everyone, sign programs at his closing session on the show floor, and to create this incredible carousel of flowers at a special presentation later at the Wynn!

Preston Bailey

Then it was back on the road. But instead of heading south, I went north to Zion, Utah. And this time, I wasn’t taking it hour by hour, or even mile by mile, but letting time and space stretch out and upwards. From concrete to neon to nature, it was a week that refueled me for a new year with new scenery and goals to be faced and met with anticipation; a road before us waiting to be explored.



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Liese Gardner is a marketing and content strategist for top brands in the event industry and can be found at As a contributor to DesignDawgs, Liese generates original content and curates contributed articles from professionals in a variety of design fields.

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