West Wales Food Festival

16 May

National Botanical Gardens, NBG, was the venue and as I opted out last year, I made a point of visiting yesterday. My first stop was for a welcome cup of coffee at the café by the entrance. Not a good start as it took 20 minutes to get served and the lady in charge of the coffee machine couldn’t supply a mocha coffee as it wasn’t on her list. The fact that she was so slow producing coffees didn’t help either. She was obviously feeling under pressure, but that was no excuse for her sharpness with customers – many of them elderly – it’s hardly a great welcome to the NBG. But what really upset me, was seeing one of those elderly lady’s purchase a piece of pottery for £10.00, she paid at the counter and neither of the two assistants could be bothered to offer her a bag, let alone wrap her purchase in tissue paper. Thankfully someone stepped in before I had to and she was then offered a bag. Let’s just leave that scenario with further training needed and memo to all staff, that without customers you will not have a job unless ‘someone’ finds further funding to keep you going!!! 

I’d picked up a programme in the entrance hall and listened to people muttering about having to pay £8.50 each to visit the food fair. I too couldn’t believe it, as last year I was told it entrance was free. Why was this changed and why weren’t the traders told of this before NBG took their money? £17.00 for a couple to come in to a food festival is not on! I don’t accept that people can also view the gardens; the fact is if they just wish to attend and support the food festival then entrance should be free. My suggestion is that NBG make entrance free and use the opportunity to recruit members or they let traders attend for free. I talked to a few traders who had no idea people were being charged and horrified when told how much. They were understandably upset about the poor attendance and blamed NBG for a lack of marketing & advertising and unfairness in not telling them that visitors this year were being charged – it’s quite simply not fair.

I talked to a trader who was outside the main food marquee and doing hot food, he’d asked how many outside caterers there were going to be and was told the same as last year. Fair enough if that was true but it wasn’t and the entrance fee also hit sales. Traders understand in this climate that sales will be down but looking at 10-15% but this company was down 70% on last year and NBG must take on board a lot of that responsibility. The hot food people also felt out of things as they were sited at the back and there were just not enough tables and chairs for the public to use and eat their produce or just have a coffee from Preseli coffee – which was superb, entrance café please take notes!!! You must also bear in mind that as well as the entrance café, there’s also NBG food in the Glass House as well as the NBG’s restaurant – the restaurant had a full page advert in the free programme, but the food traders only warranted a half page note in the programme as did the craft people. There wasn’t a list of which food producers were attending either so I think that appears to show how much value NBG seem to put on the food producers, which is really not a lot. From an outsider’s point of view the focus seemed to be on the activity/cookery demo programme which took up three pages of the programme and was certainly very busy with lots for the children too.

My timing was good enough to catch Steve Terry in action and I’ve not seen him working since I was invited to judge on Great British Menu TV programme and had to visit his restaurant The Hardwicke, Abergavenny. Well I do get some tough jobs, dear reader, but they have to be done!!! Steve continues to be one of Wales’ most talented chefs. He had a great way with the audience and really got them involved. My only gripe would be that I’d have loved to see him and all chefs at demos – use the food from the producers that are attending. In fairness Steve did mention quite a few local companies he used and why he used them – but there are still lots more to do on this side. Steve was followed by chef Gareth Johns another star in the Welsh Culinary Crown. I’d love to have seen in the programme a brief CV on the chefs as well.

The craft people who were positioned in the Glass House were playing the tradestanders game of ‘spot-the-punter’. There was hardly anyone there when I went around, but having said that, and I know it’s not easy to do, it does help if traders try not to give the impression they are bored and at least acknowledged the visitors that were there, and a smile and hello is always a good start.

We’d emailed through to NBG on Thursday asking for a list of food producers attending but sad to say our email was deleted and of course we didn’t get our list – so that’s not a helpful attitude, seems to sum up a lot of what is happening at NBG.

End Of Event Report:

Must try harder & must do better. Communicate with your tradestanders and tell them the truth.


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  1. Jon

    May 17, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    my wife and I went but walked away after being told £17.00 for both of us to go into a festival to buy food. What a rip-off and a waste of our petrol
    Last year we didn’t have to pay

  2. cider boy

    May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    they shouldn’t have charged people to go in it was really unfair for the producers who wanted and needed a good turnout. If the cookery demos etc. are more imortant than the tradestands than why are you charging the traders so much to attend? You had some big-name chefs there and of course people will sit and watch them, which means they are not tasting and buying from the tradestands. You’re out of order Botanical Gardens.

  3. Local Food Lover

    May 18, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    I’m pleased I wasn’t the only one who refused to pay £8.50 to go to a food festival. What a rip-off. I was very cross – there were 3 of us and we wanted to have a light lunch there and see some stalls. To spend over £25.00 is scandalous and I shall never go to the Gardens again. They don’t deserve my support so they’ll not get it again!!!
    I felt sorry for the producers it wasn’t fair for them either.

  4. Disappointed Trader

    May 20, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    As a trader, I too was very disappointed by the lack of sales which seemed to be mainly due to the entrance fee. Had I been a member of the public, I too would have been reluctant to have paid so much to get in. Did I make any money? No. We paid £85 to attend. We only make £1 on each sale so we had to sell 85 items to make the fee back. How many did we sell over the event? 138. We made £53 for two days of sales, and doesnt count our costs of gas to make our products at home and the time involved (50-60 hours). So £26.50 per day – minimum wage? Thanks NBG. I believe the Gardens are very important and need support, but if this is the way they are going, we just wont survive on these profit levels to continue supporting them.

  5. Cheesed Off

    May 25, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    it dreadful that gardens made people pay to go to a food festival
    we walked away and we’ll not go back ever to that place.
    At least Dick Turpin wore a mask

  6. parent

    May 27, 2011 at 11:15 am

    my family also walked away not prepared to pay such a huge fee to go and buy food
    pity the gardens didn’t have free entry then the traders would have had a better time.
    we will not bother going again and we are local to the gardens