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Blog: The Rough Guide to Food Festivals

Blog: The Rough Guide to Food Festivals


Blog: The Rough Guide to Food Festivals

In the next 1000 words we aim to share with you how we go about designing, organising and hosting a food festival. 1000 words isn’t much to squeeze in what might be 12 months of planning but hopefully we will give you an insight, some ideas and maybe some inspiration to make something happen where you live – or to ask us to come and do it all for you!

The “need” is the heartbeat of our festivals – do the people want and need what we are creating? We kick off our research with local stakeholders (councillors, community groups, Chamber of Trade etc.), asking where are the gaps, what is missing locally and would such a [ad]venture be welcome? Its no good putting on an event that we think is the best thing since sliced bread but that no one comes to. These people may well become powerful advocates for the festival in their extended networks – make sure you add them to your mailing list and keep talking with them, engaging them and letting them know their opinion is valued.

The planning and coordination up to the “big day” might be over a prolonged period so you are going to need energy and a commitment to making this happen to best of your abilities. Make sure you have a clear vision of why you want to host the event that is personal to you. We prepare a timeline of the months to the festival day, plotting in key deadlines – licensing, resident meetings, print deadlines etc. This allows us to break the tasks down, divide labour, work on the things that interest us and make sure nothing slips down the back of the sofa. It will also allow you to see where your skill gaps are, decide if you can learn how to do it or need to find someone else to lend a hand.

Curating the festival is very important to ensure the event is as balanced as possible. Getting the right mix of traders for your target market (with limited duplication), in the right pitch for the visitor (and the trader) takes a lot of post-it note shuffling on large layouts, but is essential. If you are aiming to create more than a market you need activities and entertainment. You not only want people to visit, but to stay longer, spend more, learn more and have fun. Keep your vision strong! Beware the danger that, by trying to include everyone’s ideas, you end up with a right muddle that no-one wants to attend. If what you are planning contributes towards your vision it’s in! If it detracts or distracts, chuck it out.

For many public events and especially food festivals, footfall is king. If you don’t get crowds of shoppers you will have unhappy traders and that instantly changes the mood of a festival and can sour a whole event – however good your organisation has been. Be creative and alive to publicity opportunities. We prefer to use flyers and press releases for maximum coverage for minimum spend, but work with what you have – do you have friendly farmers with fields facing busy roads? If so then £60 per banner might be a steal for the exposure. Equally with social media; don’t just broadcast information – take time to engage with your audiences and entertain them.

We only create events that we would like to attend and so, we hope, will thousands of other people. In order to stay the distance to the big day you need to not fall out of love with your baby. One risk is that as the big day draws near your need of detail, lists and spread sheets takes over. It’s okay, so long as stuff is still getting done and you are pulling that finish line towards you rather than writing an increasingly long to-do list. Do take a day off (even if, like us, that is often visiting someone else’s festival to research).

Some people have told us that, come the day of the festival, we look surprisingly calm. I know that that is because of our pre-planning, high-quality communication with traders and having a team of volunteers we trust. With these elements in place we can not only enjoy the festival we have created but also react to opportunities and events as they unfold. That might be a trader no-show, a minor accident, an element over-running, extreme weather, last minute interview opportunities or, as happened a few weeks ago, a trader turning up on-spec and asking for a pitch! You can plan for a lot of things but try to ensure you have the freedom not to be lost in the detail on the day.

Making sure your event is commercially viable means different things to different teams. Some charge an entry fee, some charge higher pitch fees than others, others spend time on grant funding applications and others chasing commercial sponsorship. Whichever route you choose, choose the one that matches your intentions for the event, the potential attendees and the types of traders you want to attract. Consider that an entry fee may put off some visitors and also mean they have less cash to spend with traders, grant applications take time and aren’t guaranteed, sponsors will want something in return and charging higher pitch fees will exclude new, small or cautious traders.

Our fears were right, 1000 words isn’t enough. Give us feedback and tell us what you’d like to hear more about and we will write a follow up piece answering your queries.

Beverley & Sarah Milner Simonds are The People’s Plot and were runners up in the search for the Best Harvest Festival in the Daily Telegraph/Love British Food competition in 2013.

Their next food and drink festival is 25 October 2014 in Burnham on Sea, Somerset.