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Spring is here, which means that outdoor food & drink festival season is upon us! With that comes the question, how can you make sure you have the best time possible at a festival? Here are 10 tips I’ve learned over the years for getting the most out of a food & wine festival.
1. Pace yourself
Your immediate reaction will be to think, “Only 3 hours? That’s not nearly enough time!” Then an hour later you’ll be sitting on a curb, trying to force down that piece of freshly grilled meat, wondering why you ate so much.You don’t have to eat every food. If there’s something you don’t think you’ll like, you can skip it (or this is a chance to be adventurous & try a bite of something new!). Unless the festival you’re at is poorly run, there will be plenty of food and plenty of drink. Eat enough to be comfortable, then have a few drinks with friends and people-watch until you’re hungry for more. When it comes down to the drinks, some people spit out the wine after they’ve tasted it. I don’t associate with these people, but if that’s how you want to pace yourself, go for it.
2. Wear appropriate attire
Food festivals are not the place for skinny jeans. You don’t have to break out the sweatpants, but be smart and wear that outfit that’s just a bit loose. It won’t be that way for long. And let’s face it, you’re a clumsy slob, so maybe it’s not the best day to wear all white. Go with dark clothes, preferably with a pattern. Some of the wisest advice I’ve received from my dad is to wear red to BBQ restaurants.
3. Wear comfortable shoes
I’ve been to food & wine festivals where there are lots of women wearing high heels. It rarely goes well. You might be walking on grass or other uneven ground. You will be drinking. I’ve seen women fall down steps during a festival before. Unless you’re an absolute pro, stick with comfortable, sensible shoes. On the other end of the spectrum, sandals or flip-flops might not be the best idea either, since you might get your feet stepped on or even worse, someone might drop a glass.
4. If there’s a line, get your food or drink and move away
If there aren’t other people waiting, then by all means talk with the chef, the winemaker, or the brewer. But if you’ve been waiting in line a few minutes, perhaps it’s not the best time to get the entire life story of the animal you’re going to cram into your food hole in two seconds. At the very least, move to the side so the next person can get their food or drink while you chat.
5. Get yourself a wine yoke
Humans are sadly not yet properly evolved for food & wine festivals. You have a plate of food in one hand and a wine glass in the other and now you’ve got no way to get your food to your mouth unless you mash the plate into it. That’s not necessarily a bad idea, but at a classy event, you might not want to do this. Instead, get one of mankind’s most wonderful inventions, the wine yoke. Some festivals even give them out now, but since they’re available for about $5 on Amazon, it’s not a bad idea to have one anyway.
6. Don’t be afraid to wander off on your own
Yeah, you’ve gone to the food festival with your friends. But everyone’s eye will be caught by something different. Don’t feel like you have to follow them all the time, go get what you want. If you’ve loved something, go back and get it again. You deserve it.
7. But pick a convenient meeting spot for when you want to find each other again
Eventually you’ll want a break or you’ll just want to meet up and hear about the food you missed on your first pass so you can track it down yourself. Start the day by scouting out good meetup points. Shade, seats, and convenience to more food & drink are attributes to keep in mind. Meetup points can come naturally too, if you haven’t settled on one at the start. For example, I can consistently find friends near the beer & wine tents. We’re good people like that.
Or you could all wear something crazy & memorable, like the guy I saw wearing a suit jacket covered with PBR logos. Or, with months of preparation, you could grow a wicked mullet like another guy I saw at the same festival.
8. Be nice to everyone working at the festival
Cooking and presenting great food doesn’t come easily, so show your appreciation for everyone working the booths. When you taste something that is incredible, let them know! And when you taste something that is not incredible, that’s ok too, but at least have the decency to walk away before you talk negatively about it or throw it away.
Some food & drink festivals limit the number of tastings you can get of their beer, wine, or spirits. The people serving these drinks are your friends. Treat them as such and you just might find this number being magically increased.
9. Drink lots of water
Water helps with digestion, and helps lower the impact of the alcohol you’re drinking. On a hot, sunny day, it will also keep you from being dehydrated. You will appreciate the water you drank during the festival the next morning (or sooner, depending on how much you’ve enjoyed the festival).
10. Don’t drink & drive afterward
It all comes back to my first food & drink festival tip: pace yourself. Don’t be that guy who is getting carried out of the festival, or puking into a trash can while everyone is trying to dispose of their dirty napkins. A designated driver comes in handy, but since that person will often have to pay full price for a ticket, good luck finding a volunteer (“Hello there, patient pregnant friend, want to go to a food festival?”). Given that Lyft & Uber are now widely available, you have no excuses. Take one with friends and the cost will be low, and nobody will be tempted to drink & drive.
If you’re not yet a member of Lyft, you can sign up here and get a $50 credit. If you’re not yet a member of Uber, you can sign up here and get a $15 credit. Now you really have no excuse.
Whether this is your first food & wine festival, or if you go to one every weekend, now you’re fully armed with tips for getting the most out of your experience. What are some of your other favorite tips for enjoying a festival?