A banquet was a long-time convention feature which has all but disappeared.
In the early days, a banquet was typically required by the hotel as part of the package -- if you didn't agree to a banquet, you would be charged significantly higher rates or denied a package at all. A banquet was typically the culmination of a Worldcon, with a large fraction of the membership paying for the meal and attending. The banquet would include GoH speeches as well as the presentation of the Hugos. Normally, members of the convention who did not pay for the banquet would be allowed in for the speeches and Hugos.)
In some respects, it was a more informal affair that today's Hugo ceremony. It was normally presided over by the Toastmaster, and included speeches by members of the committee, and the GoHs (sometimes full-length speeches. For a more-than-full-length speech at one of the last Hugo banquets, see Baycon.)
The Hugo Banquet tended to be quite expensive by the standards of the time, and Hugo banquet prices was a major issue at early Worldcons. Attempts to circumvent the high cost of the banquet meal led to the Balcony Insurgents and Dave Kyle Says You Can't Sit Here at NyCon II. (See also Dave Kyle's NyCon II Reminiscence.)
The Hugo Banquet fell out of favor in the early 70s.
During the 1950s and '60s, it was common to have professional photographers take a group photograph of the entire banquet room.
Banquets at Worldcons faded away during the 1960s and '70s, and by the '80s were uncommon.
Noreascon Three had a very successful 50th Anniversary Brunch banquet to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1939 Worldcon, and Constellation had a Crab Feast which also exposed to the world the danger of giving wooden mallets to 500 fans waiting to eat...
Convention banquets became less popular because of their logistics problems and because it became harder to get fans to buy tickets to something which was frequently much more expensive than a better dinner elsewhere — hotel catering in the past was notoriously bad, the fare often the proverbial Rubber Chicken and Peas with "Bouncing Potatoes."
Regionals continue to have occasional banquets right up to today, sometimes because the hotels demanded them, sometimes (such as Midwestcon which only dropped the banquet in the early 2000s) because of long-standing tradition.
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