Thursday, May 25, 2017

How to organize a community food festival

For many years my partner and I have organized Seafest, an oyster festival on Cortes Island.  We serve approximately 700 people a gourmet 10 course lunch cooked on camp stoves, with the help of about 75 volunteers.  Organizing such a community food festival is like putting together a puzzle, and not much different from trying to read oracle cards to see what the future will hold: the weather, the crowds, the food. Here are some of my favorite tips for success.

Start planning early with a "master board" that lists every task to be done and every person to be contacted.  There are just too many details to keep in the front of one's awareness, and success comes in skillfully managing the details.

Do the specialty shopping yourself.  It is OK for your local grocery outlet to buy the green onions and cooking oil but trust yourself to find the right kind of chipotle mayonnaise that will keep your chef's happy.

Pay attention to good signs and put them everywhere someone will need to make a choice about where to go.  If your event can afford it, provide free transportation at a separate gathering location to and from the festival site.  The money spent on the van and driver will be offset in the number of happy visitors who did not have to wait in long lines and search for parking.

Keep your chefs happy. We believe that we are organizing the festival for their benefit, rather than that they are cooking for our benefit.

Share the wealth.  We encourage vendors to set up tables of their beautiful crafts and cooking, as long as they don't serve what we are serving.  We ask 10% of the day's net profit instead of a table fee, knowing that everyone prospers where there is an abundance.

Music always makes magic, and local musicians appreciate that we pay an honorarium for their talent, rather than asking them to entertain for just a thank you.

Find volunteers that are willing to stand in the fire.  It is not easy to spend 4 hours cooking over a hot wok, so best to find folks that thrive on the hustle and intensity.

Hope that something unusual happens.  This is the magic of a community festival.  When someone decides to come dressed as the ocean.

Go to the trouble of finding out the name of everyone who helped, and thank the volunteers publicly. We all appreciate being appreciated.  Happy beginning of summer from the Journey Oracle.