Sunday, January 15, 2012

How NOT To Run a Food Truck Festival: A Lesson in Planning

The January 14 Street Eats Festival at Salt River Fields had all the promise of a great family and foodie event. Unfortunately, it fell short in several areas, as evidenced by Yelper's reviews (here and here), news site reader comments, local news reports and my own on-site observations.*

What I liked...
  • Ample parking.
  • Beautiful grassy field. As venues go, this was a great place to be outside.
  • Music. As we headed toward our first food truck, I was boppin' to the live vocals of an Elvis sound-alike.
  • Julie Ray of Tucson Food Trucks holds the Street Eats festival vendor map. Photo by Kim M. Bayne of Street Food Files.Variety of food trucks and cuisines. Yes, this is what they publicized and this is why we came.
  • Food truck vendors who...
    • planned ahead by scheduling food deliveries from the outside at selected times
    • handed out free samples while customers waited in those long, long lines
  • Thank goodness.
    • Rows of clean portable toilets with hand sanitizer. Granted, that's a typical outdoor event amenity, but at least I didn't have to worry about simple things, like taking care of bodily functions.
    • Cleaning crew. I noticed someone with a trash picker stick and a bucket, keeping the ground tidy. Then again, it's probably on that list of things an event organizer should do anyway.

Missed Opportunities
What I would have liked, too...
  • More food-related merchandise in the booth area, less crapola. Tie-dyed t-shirts? I didn't come all the way out here to buy something I can get at every other festival. Yuck. So much for sticking to a theme.
  • Roaming beverage and snack vendors. Yes, I could have asked folks to hold my place in the food truck line and run over to a side table to stand in another line to buy a bottle of soda. To be honest, I longed to be greeted by a beer keg on a golf cart, like the one seen at Tucson's Tanque Verde Swap Meet.
  • Roaming entertainers. Families had a few options for keeping kids occupied, but not if they were stuck waiting in those crazy lines. How about tweeting a month prior with a call to Phoenix-area family-friendly buskers? A balloon twister would have made a killing.
  • More seating and shaded areas. I couldn't figure out if a few food trucks brought their own tables and chairs or if those items were put out by the event organizers. I didn't ask and it didn't matter. There was not enough seating for even a small fraction of the crowd. Some standing-only tables around the field and a few tented seating areas would have been nice.

Major Fails
What should have never happened...
  • No apparent cap on ticket sales. Did the organizers really need to run a GroupOn deal? The event was obviously "over-sold" on many levels, which resulted in...
  • The event was obviously "over-sold" on many levels.
  • Ridiculously long lines. Yeah, I know...I'm repeating myself. Okay, I get it. Go to a huge public event and this is what you should expect. Meanwhile, I keep thinking that everyone should be able to eat eventually. (deep sigh)
  • Inconsistency reigned. December press claimed, "Each truck will offer sample-size and full-size portions of their specialties." Nope, I don't think so. Every food truck had a different idea. The sample-sized portions we were able to buy at Jamburrito were tasty and we were glad we ordered multiples. I got the impression the organizers did a poor job of briefing food truck owners completely, if at all, or even getting any sort of agreement on what would be offered.
  • "Nickel-and-dime-me" vibe. What exactly did attendees get for the $10 entry fee?

Worst Case Attendee Scenario
Thank goodness this did not happen to me...
  • Arrive at about one or two o'clock.
  • Pay $5 for parking.
  • Wait in line to buy a $10 admission for each person in your group.
  • Wait in line for 45 minutes to get fed then...
  • Watch in frustration as your chosen food truck announces it has run out of food and is closing your line.
  • Look around desperately for another line, knowing you won't get any food for at least another 45 minutes, if at all.
Now that would have sucked, which, apparently, it did for many attendees and their hungry families. Sorry, event organizers. Better luck next time year.
Twitter posts about Scottsdale Street Eats Food Truck Festival 2011

Additional Reading

*Note: Julie Glaser Ray (Tucson Food Trucks), Jennifer Nodal Vasko and Kim M. Bayne (Street Food Files) carpooled from Tucson to the Street Eats Food Truck Festival in Scottsdale, Arizona. At the event, they met up with David Aguirre (Dinnerware Artspace). The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of SFF writer/editor Kim M. Bayne.