Banquet Industry Embraces Trend Toward Customization

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Before the pandemic hit, Stambaugh Auditorium was in a stretch of 115 consecutive days of scheduled events.

The start of a concert by a national act at the venue was just two hours away when word came that the building had to be shut down.

“We had spent the entire day preparing, getting the stage ready, to find out we couldn’t open the doors to the public because we got shut down,” says Dani Dier, chief business officer at Stambaugh Auditorium. “We were in the midst of the longest string of dates of having an event daily.”

Dier says Stambaugh wound up postponing and rescheduling over 500 concerts, banquets and wedding receptions because of the state-mandated shutdown of public gatherings.

“It was a slow process of getting back into new events,” Dier says.

Banquets, meetings and events are back on the rise, she says, and new industry trends and technology are part of the comeback.

The Business Journal spoke with three local banquet halls to determine market conditions.

Stambaugh Auditorium has a theater that seats up 2,500 people and the Tyler Grand Ballroom banquet venue on the lower level, which hosts mid-sized to large events and private receptions.

“We do everything from national shows, local concerts, lectures, corporate business events to small receptions and wedding ceremonies,” Dier says.

Stambaugh also operates Christman Hall, a smaller and elegant rental room on the third floor. It’s often used as a nontraditional wedding space because it has an atmosphere similar to a church.

“We also host small orchestral concerts there,” she says. “We do corporate business events, whether that’s a dinner or a lecture. And then for national shows it is also a lobby space that can be used for merchandise, a bar, concessions…”

Dier says Stambaugh can host multiple events simultaneously.

The Tyler Grand Ballroom is a traditional space.

“It can hold anywhere from as few as 90 [people] to as large as 600 people for banquets seated at tables with a dance floor or corporate events,” Dier says. “This space is very versatile.”

The Tyler Grand Ballroom is equipped with the technology for screen projector use, dimming lights and hanging flat screen displays.


Over the past year, Stambaugh has gotten most of its business back.

It has also made a lot of changes, Dier says.

“Our production team learned so much and we have many new resources that we’re able to offer,” she says.

Stage lighting, sound, video and audio recording, livestreams, catering and more are available in-house.

“We do have event coordinators there for every single event,” she says.

Dier says 300 to 500 events take place throughout the building annually.

An additional 200 to 300 events are held each year at DeYor Performing Arts Center, Dier says. Most of those events include corporate events and national shows.

The Stambaugh Auditorium staff also manages the DeYor.


Business was off to a rocky start when the Eastwood Event Centre opened in 2020, the year the pandemic hit.

“We have been rebuilding our brand and reputation,” says Toni Cameron, director of sales and catering at the Eastwood Event Centre in Niles. “We are looking to build our clientele.”

Toni Cameron is director of sales and catering at the Eastwood Event Centre in Niles. The venue has a capacity of 900 with six smaller break-out rooms.

Cameron says in-person meetings are again on the rise at Eastwood Event Centre, which is connected to Eastwood Mall.

“That sets us apart from our competition in terms of things and amenities that surround us to give guests different options while they are here,” she says.

The event venue holds a maximum of 900 people. Six smaller break-out rooms are also available for parties of as small as five.

Cameron says each break-out room is equipped with a screen and projector, and in-house sound systems. They also have lighting packages and a broadcast camera that can be used for livestreams to virtual clients or projectios for those in attendance.

“There is a lot of opportunity to really customize your event,” she says.

The event center hosts a variety of events. Currently, it is booking mostly corporate events and conferences, Cameron says.

“In terms of our competitors, what sets us apart is that we have such a big event space,” she says. “We can accommodate much larger parties than some of the competitors in the area.”

Cameron says about five weddings are already booked for 2024 and 10 to 15 larger conferences.

“We do have our own in-house catering with a new head chef that is fantastic,” she says. Clients can collaborate with the chef to create custom menus, Cemron says.

And the Eastwood Event Centre plans to sponsor more events in 2024, such as vendor shows and community events, she says.


Another trend in the banquet industry is based on the appeal of the outdoors.

Annie Carpenter, director of events at Buhl Park in Sharon, Pa., has noticed that many people love “the outside aspect,” where events are safe and covered indoors while maintaining the feeling of being outdoors.

 “It’s expanding the space instead of being held in four corners of a room,” she says.

Carpenter says the outdoor spaces were very useful during the pandemic and the trend has stuck.

“We were starting to open up because we were an outdoor venue,” she says. “We were able to have that 250 [people] max capacity outdoors.”

Buhl Park returned to full swing by the end of 2021 and early 2022, Carpenter says.

Most of the events held there are weddings and banquets. The hall also serves as a venue for graduation and birthday parties, family reunions and more.

“We host various golf tournaments because we do have a free nine-hole golf course,” she says. “We are comprised of about 300 acres between the park side and the golf side.”

The most popular room for rent is the Casino Ballroom. The large white two-story building holds up to 180 guests at the top and 40 guests in a separate conference room on the lower floor.

“For another indoor facility, we have the activities building,” Carpenter says. “Most people know that as the preschool building because we run our summer youth program out of there.”

Currently, Buhl has 200 to 250 bookings, including at its outdoor shelters. About 75 to 80 bookings are for the ballroom and conference room alone. Carpenter says some companies also host meetings and training events at the park’s facilities.

Pictured at top: Dani Dier, chief business officer at Stambaugh Auditorium, stands in Christman Memorial Hall, a small elegant rental room on its third floor.