Are Food Festivals Worth It?

Categories: Chow Bella

Thousands of people, lots of restaurants, and the plastic cups -- my god, the plastic cups!

For many parts of the country, food festivals are in full swing this time of year. We've most likely had a taste or two at several, but what do those on the other side of the booth think? This week, Valley chefs and restaurateurs weigh in on whether these food-centric events are worth the effort.

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Aaron May, chef and restaurateur

YES: Totally worth it for the customers and sometimes worth it for us chefs. When we participate, which we are doing less and less of unless they are charity driven, I like to do a demo or participate in some way other then being a faceless booth handing out tasting size portions of food. It's important to stand out and make a lasting impression at these events, otherwise you're just one of 30 places that will be forgotten.

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Joe Johnston, owner, Joe's Real BBQ, Joe's Fresh Farm Grill, Liberty Market, Agritopia

NO: They happen during the busiest times in our restaurants and conflict with us trying to serve our existing customers. We serve common food done uncommonly well and the point of many food festivals is to serve items designed to wow you, even if they are not on the regular menu. Furthermore, all of our restaurants are a tight integration of food and place, which is hard to convey from a table under a tent.

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Lauren Bailey, owner, Windsor/Churn, Postino Central, Postino East

YES: Food Festivals are a great way for the food and beverage community to showcase all that we have to offer as a city while benefiting an organization at the same time. We love going out and supporting our communities and our staff loves to be there, too. I do feel that some events are more successful than others and I think they're a lot more work than most people realize.

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David Viviano
Chef, The Westin Phoenix Downtown

YES: Food festivals bring together like-minded chefs and guests. It builds camaraderie within the culinary community. We look forward to those few times a year that we can pool our resources together to achieve a common charitable goal.

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Romeo Taus
Chef and owner, Romeo's Cafe

NO: Restaurants go to extreme lengths to showcase their signature dishes. Most times they do not translate well. Some of them I really enjoy and the food offerings make a lot of sense: taco, BBQ, etc. As an operator of an unique menu restaurant, the downside is much greater than any goodwill benefits.

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I spoke to one vender at one event and he said it cost him six thousand dollars for the event and he didn't know if he'd get anything in return and that is the truth. But speaking as a customer some places put out stuff that is very good and then they can't match it when you visit them.

Sweets & Treats
Sweets & Treats

It wasn't for me. I did Scottsdale this year and lost money. I've had a few contacts come in, bur only for quotes. I bought into the 5,000 person a day traffic estimation, but people aren't coming there to buy like at the farmers market. They want to party and hang out and don't want to tote stuff around. We had to bust our asses just to get people to try something. It was fun and I enjoy talking to people, but that wasn't the venue for me. Don't get me wrong - I had a great time. Just a lot of work for not enough return.

Concerned Festival Goer
Concerned Festival Goer

They're almost universally not worth it for the ticket buyers either.  Maybe because some of the restaurants apparently don't feel it's worth their time as well..

Joe Joe
Joe Joe

Not all food festivals are created equal... Some are better organized and promoted of course. Nonetheless, a proper festival should be seen as an opportunity for chefs to showcase their talent and for quest to experience the "out of the ordinary". Unfortunately, not all chefs/restaurants are suitable or even capable of putting on the "show" that's required. You can't show up with the same ole item off your menu and expect that it will drive the crowds to fill your seats the next day. I've done a festival or two and we've always used it as a wonderful opportunity to get creative and bring new experiences to the fold. The response has always been tremendous and we ride that wave all year long. Devoured Phoenix anyone?


I'm not sure it matters to this level of chef, but I do know that I have a few regular spots now that I have learned from the Scottsdale culinary fest. Spinatos is now our go to pizza place and McReynolds farms is a place i have used for two large parties that i had never heard of before. I can see how the fancier items do not translate though.

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