PR Machine: Fest Food Nation

Make outdoor events worth the effort

Since diners now want good food and an experience – especially ones that can be captured on social media and discussed later with friends – it’s no wonder food festivals are on the rise. But does that mean restaurants should jump in and join the fun?

Participating in food events comes with its share of costs and potential headaches, according to operators who have experienced them – from family-friendly to exclusive high-end affairs at posh resorts. Before committing, consider the following matters.


icon labor Labor

cooking food at a festIf you’re part of a restaurant group, ask your sister restaurants or corporate HQ for help.

If you’re an independent, reach out to chef friends and former colleagues.

Nathan Anda, executive chef at Red Apron Butcher in Washington, D.C., asks a former employee who now lives in Denver to help him each year at the Great American Beer Festival. “That’s a way to
catch up with a friend, as well as get free labor,” Anda says.

icon equipment Equipment

The festival provides burners, tables and other equipment.

No equipment is provided; I’m on my own.

Jason Tilford, chef and owner of Mission Taco Joint in St. Louis, says slowly accumulating festival-ready “infrastructure” –  propane flat-tops, cash registers, tables, branded tents, mobile wood-fired grill and electric freezers – is a long-term investment that makes it easier to say yes to more events, so consider stocking up now and reaping the rewards later.

icon food ingredients Food/Ingredients

Event sponsors are providing ingredients.

I have to assume costs to make this work.

Debbie Gold, former executive chef at Chicago’s Tied House, builds all fest costs into her annual budget at the start of each year. Pencil in a handful of events, but leave flexibility for last-minute opportunities. To build an accurate budget, ask organizers what equipment will be provided, as well as the expected food portions. Worthwhile? “It’s not just you posting (on social) but the people attending. Other chefs there are also posting,” she says. “The photos you get with other chefs – that’s PR you can’t pay for.”

icon travel Travel

Honorariums and travel/ parking vouchers are offered.

I’m booking my own flights and lodging.

Alex Seidel, chef and proprietor of Denver’s Fruition Restaurant, Chook, Mercantile and Füdmill, says the costs associated with traveling with an employee are often outweighed by the morale boost the event gives to staff: “Travel was the coolest for me growing up,” he says. “‘Oh, we’re going to do an R&D trip, and I get to eat with my chef at a restaurant in New York.’ To provide that opportunity is really something special to give back.”