Festival Leaves Bitter taste

July 06, 2011

Two weeks ago, I moved to Chicago. Luckily for me, I arrived just in time for for the annual Chicago gastro-festival called The Taste of Chicago. As someone who enjoys food, I was excited to sample the many gems of the Windy City.

I only knew a little about the The Taste itself, but I knew plenty about Chicago's reputation for good food and quality restaurants, so I was expecting something special. In addition to lots of food, previous festivals included musical acts like Elvis Costello and Stevie Wonder, as well as a Fourth of July fireworks display.

Unfortunately, the city decided not to hold fireworks this year, relying instead on those provided at Navy Pier. And as for the music acts, with all due respect to Soul Asylum and Natalie Cole, there wouldn't be any superstar headliners either. Still, this event should be primarily about the food anyway...lots and lots of food.

To be fair, there was lots of food. To get it, however, required spending way more money than would be expected at an event such as this. As a marketer, I could help thinking the vendors were really missing out on a great opportunity.

A festival of food like this is essentially a convention for foodies. The purpose should be to get people to try your food so that they may actually visit your restaurant in the future. This means giving away samples and encouraging people to taste what you offer. However, the pricing system was all wrong here. What ended up happening is had to choose which three or four places they really wanted to try. The only people who seemed to understand the value of mass consumption were the giant companies like Pepsi and Ocean Spray, both companies provided free samples to patrons. Surprisingly, free samples were a novelty at The Taste. Truly bizarre for an event of this nature.

At a food festival, one would think the goal of each visitor is to try as much food as possible. And as a restauranteur, the goal should be to get each person to try as much of your food as possible. However, rather than making it possible to try a little of everything from a stand, most places offered full price meals. Full price meaning 12 tickets, which cost $8. Although each place did offer a cheaper option, usually around four tickets, the cheaper options were limited, and more than one booth offered less enticing options like french fries as their "Taste of" option.

While I am thinking about, nothing says we are ripping off the customer like charging $8 for 12 tickets with a face value on each ticket of 50 cents. For those non-math people out there, 12 tickets at 50 cents each should cost $6.

So how does this happen?

Actually, it is more common than you would think in business, marketing and research. People forget what the end product should be. We see this often, particularly in survey design, where people think about what they want to know without considering what they need to know at the end to answer the question. The same happens in marketing strategies as well. Everyone throws out suggestions that sound good, but no one really sits down to think about whether it will actually help achieve the actual goal in the end.

Whenever your company is considering marketing or promotional opportunities, it is important to first stop and think about what you want to get out of the event. Can the event achieve that goal? What do you have to do to realize that goal? What is a reasonable expectation for this event? If you don't do this, how will you gauge the success of the event?

When thinking about The Taste from a restaurant's perspective, this has to be viewed as a promotional event. Thus, the goal is not to make money. The goal is to get people to try your offerings, remember your name and want more of your food.

If I were a restaurant with a booth, I would be sure to do several things. First, I would make sure that everyone remembered my name. People working the booth should constantly repeat the restaurant's name when serving people. On top of that, I would provide some kind of business card sized takeaway for customers. From personal experience, other than the Thai food I ate, I couldn't remember what I ate from where 10 minutes later.

Secondly, I would offer patrons some incentive to visit my restaurant. The card mentioned above could be some kind of deal or loyalty card. This not only helps with cause one, but also allows for tracking of customer leads developed by engaging customers at The Taste of Chicago. This important when trying to evaluate return on investment. Remember, we can only measure what we track.

Finally, I would need to compare overall expenditures to leads generated compared to other marketing spending to evaluate if the value makes it worth the commitment to participate in The Taste of Chicago.

This is just one example of how to improve the overall value of participating in a food festival. There are obviously other things that can be done, and this is not to say none of the participants are doing something like this--although, I didn't notice anything like this. The point is that ROI is a key part of marketing today, especially in a bad economy where every dollar counts. It is important not to waste opportunities and even more important to establish some metric to evaluate your efforts.


Mayor looking to revamp Taste of Chicago after attendance drops
Mayor Emanuel weighs in on future of Taste of Chicago
Park District head: Taste of Chicago likely lost money
Taste of Chicago Homepage

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Jeff Francis is a marketing geek who would never refer to himself as a guru. He is that weird sort who enjoys watching commercials and analyzing communication strategies. He is also available for hire and would love to hear from you. So, head on over to the contact page and get in touch.

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