Tips for Organizing Community Food Festivals

Given that the Taste of Chicago first began in 1980, the planners for the Taste have extensive experience with planning a community food festival. The Mayor's Office of Special Events manages the program and oversees planning and execution. Its management team offers the following tips for those who may be creating a similar festival for the first time or expanding programming elements for an existing festival.

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Festival General Managers Tips

The general manager is the person who manages the various festival elements. Mary Slowik, general manager for the Taste of Chicago, offers the following suggestions:

  • Identify your audience and determine if they want a festival.
  • If a similar program already exists, avoid duplication.
  • Gain buy-in where you want to hold the event.
  • Vary the programming for a general audience event.
  • Make sure the space can accommodate the crowds.
  • Make sure vendors can handle attendee volumes.
  • Create a budget and get bids from reputable companies.
  • If this is your first time planning the event, hire an outside festival vendor.
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Festival Operations Managers Tips

The operations manager oversees site preparation, stage, and production, event support, and security. John Truck, operations manager for the Taste of Chicago for the last 19 years, advises the following:

  • Festivals require working with people, so be prepared to stay dynamic and fluid.
  • More sure you get a good equipment at a good price.
  • Make sure you rent structurally sold staging and scaffolding.
  • Get bids and check the histories of all vendors, including references.
  • Keep the standards high and make sure everything stays under control.
  • Meet with vendors daily during the program to manage work crews.
  • Be true to your word and vendors, performers and food people will come back and work with you.
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Festival Sponsorship Management Tips

The sponsorship manager is the person who works to obtain marketing dollars to support the event. Christine Jacob, sponsorship manager for the Taste, offers the following advice:

  • Research comparable events elsewhere and replicate their successes.
  • Target sponsors to offer cash, goods and advertising value.
  • Create a presenting sponsor category.
  • Create major sponsorship categories (i.e., auto, financial, beverage, media, etc.).
  • Create sponsor categories for each of the programming areas.
  • Do not allow sponsors to roam on-site during the event.
  • Identify sponsor requirements early such as electricity, water, etc., and notify the operations team to determine ​the best locations.
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Festival Concert/Talent Management Tips

The talent manager is the person who negotiates to bring performers to a festival. Jenenne Brown Mosely, talent manager for the Taste of Chicago, offers the following tips:

  • Know your budget: big-name artists can cost between $500,000 and $1 million for 60 to 90 minutes.
  • Do not overspend on a single artist for ​multiple day events.
  • Work closely with your media sponsor(s) to help offset expenses.
  • Negotiate with artists who may already be in the area around your event.
  • Let the talent know if you are offering their concert as a free show (may reduce fee).
  • Partner with sponsors such as airlines and hotels to offset artist expenses.
  • Secure a great name for your opening, middle and final days.
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Marketing Management Festival Tips

The marketing manager is the person who manages all communications related to a festival. Cindy Gatziolis, marketing manager for the Taste, suggests the following:

  • Media partners will help you reduce your need for advertising expenses.
  • Incorporate festival into existing advertising, public relations, and marketing campaigns.
  • The event brochure print production schedule will help drive festival planning deadlines.
  • Create individual press releases on every production element for the festival.