Are Food Festivals Worth It?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Josh Hebert Chef and owner, Posh

YES: Being out in the public and meeting people is never a waste of time.

James Porter, chef and owner, Petite Maison

YES: For ticket buyers, they're worth it if you choose which ones match your foodie fantasy. As a restaurant, there's not a great return on our costs. Usually the organizers are the ones who benefit the most from our reputations which is ideal when it's a charity. That said, it's usually a great time for us to see other chefs, hand out food and say hi to people, and have a couple cold ones with other white-coats, friends and vendors. "Worth it" is relative when you're in this biz.

Rita French Chef de Cuisine, Province

YES: I think any food event that supports local nonprofits and gets chefs out in the community is great. I am a huge fan of Devoured. It supports the Phoenix Art Museum and Local First Arizona. It's also great since we see a lot more of the independent restaurants represented there each year.

Christopher Costantino Chef and owner, Costantino's Kitchen

NO: I've been to a few and I haven't found any (yet) that were worth the entry fee and the time spent. It's a good way to get your name out, but the contacts don't always translate into sales. It all depends on the reason you're participating.

Bill Sandweg Owner, Copper Star Coffee and Circle H Barbecue

MAYBE: The jury is still out. We're still too young to tell. Somebody asked me the other day to pay 20% for a festival, and I'm not interested because I have no way of verifying the attendance numbers or if my booth is good. I've stopped doing festivals with Copper Star Coffee because it was a lot of effort and expense with a low revenue reward.

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