What Are the Pros and Cons of Food Festivals?

Categories: Bites & Dishes

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Food & Wine
As spring emerges in the Valley, so do the food festivals -- and they seem to be getting bigger and more popular every year. At last weekend's Devoured Culinary Festival, more than 45 restaurants participated. And the event sold out a month beforehand.

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Given the money spent, time away from the restaurant, and efficiency unknowns, are food festivals worth it, from a restaurant's perspective?

I asked Valley chefs and restaurateurs to reflect on the pros and cons of food festivals, and this is what they had to say:

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Heather Bryan,
General Manager, Zuzu

Food festivals offer a chance to show off your restaurant and, hopefully, have an impact on the public so they remember your food and come visit your facility. Unfortunately, it's hard to track a return on your investment. Also, there are so many other vendors that, unless you really stand out, chances are you'll be forgotten by the end of the day.

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Chef Stephen "Chops" Smith,
Searsucker Scottsdale

Food festivals can be fun! The chef gets to play around, get out of the restaurant, breathe some fresh air, and get in touch with the public. On the other hand, some food festivals have the potential to turn into drinking festivals, where the guests don't give a shit what you're serving and they're just there for the party.

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Michael Rusconi,
Chef and Owner, Rusconi's American Kitchen

I only get involved in festivals that benefit charity. I like a captive audience where we can deliver our message and have always felt that some of the big events where you feed 1,000 to 5,000 people are often a waste of time from an exposure standpoint. Often, guests stop at 15 or 20 booths and can't remember where they ate. You can get lost in the crowd.

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Gina Buskirk
Chef and Owner, Gina's Homemade

Food festivals can be a good way to showcase your restaurant in front of a large audience, but the flip side is that they can be a distraction to running your core business. You're typically just one of a large number of restaurants vying for attention, and your message can easily get lost in the din.


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