A Guide To Food Festival Organisers

01 Aug

I’m sure this listing and suggestions will provide much food for thought. Hopefully this will provide improvements for the future. Our team is always in regular contact and conversation with our Best Of Welsh & Borders, BOW, producers. Usually the topics are boringly, and annoyingly the same, year after year and do of course relate to festivals as these are so important to our producers and to showcase our fabulous Welsh produce. Yet going over the same ground is not productive and it shows issues are not being addressed, which is not what either side needs. Now one producer has taken the time and the trouble, bitten the bullet, and put some thoughts down for me and for all those involved in the world of Welsh food.

So here we go on things a festival organiser may like to think about!

Before the event

1. When sending out invitations and literature for your festival to prospective producers, try and make it friendly. OK, there have to be rules, but do not pounce on them straight away! Some festival application forms read more like a rule book than an invitation!

2. Please try and include the date of the festival on the literature, and a return address.  This may sound silly, but quite often this vital information is missing! You know when the festival is planned and your address, but the producer may not!

3. Include the selection criteria. Are you looking within a certain area for producers? What will you do if you have 15 producers of cup cakes returning their forms?

4. How many people will be allowed to cook fresh products? Experience shows that 10% of your total stall allocation is about right, which means that those producers can make a living. This rough ratio goes for each type of produce too.

5. Include plans on how and where you are going to advertise. From the producers’ point of view, they may have the best products in the world, but if only a few people come to the festival because no one knew it was happening, this can be the end of the producers business. They are there to make money to keep their businesses viable and of course it has cost them money to be there.

6. Set a realistic stall fee. By charging a lot, you will only get the larger end of the producers, missing out on some artisan and unique products.

7. If you have to, ask for a deposit of the stall fee. Asking for the full amount months before the festival, especially in a producers’ quiet period (January to April) puts a huge stress on the producers’ cash flow. Bear in mind that producers could be looking to attend a number of festivals, and paying fees can amount to £1,000’s at a lean time of the year. This may be why you are getting enquiries for stall space a few weeks before the festival. Producers are not trying to be awkward; they sometimes just cannot afford the fees!

8. Tell the producer when the fee will be cashed. Some festivals cash the cheques when they arrive and some months later, causing cash flow problems and grovelling meetings with bank managers – those that still have one!

9. When selecting prospective stall holders, check them out! Do they really produce what they are selling, or are they buying it in at the local “cash and carry” and tarting it up for resale?  Are they registered with the EHO?  This also covers you for Trading Standards.

10. When you have made your selection, try and send a message to the producer welcoming them to the festival, and informing them that further information will be sent before the festival date.

11. A map of the stall location is vital, at least a week before the festival if possible. We all know the best places and the worst places and it helps if we can stock our stalls to reflect our site. This not only helps negate any loss, it also means fewer products will be thrown away. Bear in mind a meat producer has probably taken an animal or two to the abattoir a couple of weeks before the festival in order for the meat to be prepared at the right time. Bakers and the like also need to get an idea of how much fresh food to prepare.

12. If the site of a producers stall is not level, tell the producer, so they can bring blocks to level their table and not constantly be catching goods slipping off the end of the table.

13. Now advertise, advertise, advertise. Social media is cheap. Ask the local paper for an ‘advertorial’. Use the local free newspapers and journals. Advertise on the tourism web sites. Issue a press release, or maybe two, to get momentum going. Tweet, Facebook, anything to get your message out there!

14.  Have a web site, with location, list of producers, even a competition! Link this to Twitter, Facebook etc. Research has shown most people use the web to find information before other media.

15. Get the local community involved, maybe a theme for the shop windows, with a prize.  Visitors to the festival will then have a better overall experience. 16. Signs as you drive in should be bold, and visible from any direction. Why not ask the local primary school to paint signs?

On the Day

17. On the day of the festival, and I know you will be running round sorting out problems, but try and have someone to greet the producer, preferably with a smile, and make sure that they know where their stall is. Have the pitches clearly marked. Very often, the stalls have ‘crept’ and the end stall ends up with 2 foot instead of 3 metres.

18. If generators are allowed, please check that they are quiet, as requested. Standing two feet from a next door traders’ noisy smelly generator does not enhance a producer experience, or appeal to their customers.

19. Make sure the main festival generator is up to the job. So many festivals are slightly marred by the sound of gnashing of teeth when the ice cream is melting because the generator has failed for the 3rd time. Yes, I know you ask for the power needs and some do not tell the truth. But do allow for the odd untruth!

20. If at all possible, do not face meat and chocolate stalls directly into the sun; it’s commonsense really, but often ignored or forgotten.

21. Make sure there is a loo within short dashing distance! Some stalls are manned by just one person, who has to have a very strong bladder at some festivals!

22. If you are providing stalls, please could the canvas be clean? Usually products are beautifully presented, then marred by being surrounded by something that looks like it has been playing rugby!

23. It would be lovely if occasionally the Chefs found the produce to cook actually at the festival! Why not email the list of producers attending to them so that give some thought to waht they might cook? It would also be pleasant if the Chefs and the VIP who opens the festival actually walked round and met some of the producers, but this very rarely happens.

24. Music really enhances a festival. But if you are having live music, make sure it is not too loud, so that customers do not have to shout their orders and producers do not have to lip read. It should be background music until trading has ended, not the main event! For those who do not have live music, hire a PA system and play gentle music over this. It is surprising how this pulls the whole festival together and creates a great atmosphere. But if you are playing a tape, please have more than 3 tunes recorded, unless you want producers to be zombies by the end of the day!

25. Most festivals have a ‘best stall’ prize, which is a good idea. Yet I have yet to attend a festival where there is a ‘best customer service’ prize, but a quick walk round, and looking at customer faces, seeing where customers are smiling or laughing, would be a good idea.

26. Have somewhere for customers to sit and eat, chat and watch the festival, not too near the live music!

27. Have plenty of litter bins and it helps if someone just walks round picking up the odd bits. Utilise local scouts and guides maybe.

28. A feedback form is commonly asked to be filled for the grant aid, but how about making your own feedback form asking for constructive ideas for the future festivals. Producers are festival experts, attending a range of sizes and types of festivals – tap into this expertise, you may come up with a winning idea.

Now please remember this has been written from a professional producers’ point of view. So in the interest of fair play I’d love feedback or a similar list from the festival organisers’ point of view, that would be welcome; after all, we both need each other to make a successful festival.

If any organisers would like to give their comments – I shall certainly post it for you. You have no need to name your festival if you’d prefer not to and trust me this will not happen!!

We are all supposed to be working together, but sadly it is not always the case. Could this be a way to help each other and reduce hassle on both sides? Let’s hope so…….



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  1. Rob Earls

    August 3, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Some very useful ideas here. I’m involved in organising a new food festival in Swansea, The Welsh Menu Live, and it’s very nice to see this from a producers point of view.

  2. trader girl

    August 3, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    If this had been written by wag it would have been a waste of time – again. Because this has been written by a producer and maybe kath, I’m not sure, it makes total sense, very relevant points and ones organisers should listen and learn from.
    Pity this producer wasn’t working part-time for Miller because then they’d have got paid for it. You can bet it will be taken by them and wag if they care about food festivals. What a great idea. Look out for this in Miller’s next wag report.
    well done for making this effort and to this site for putting it out there – well done both parties.
    I’m just sorry there’s no money in it for you, only for Miller

  3. producer

    August 6, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    If organisers read and learn from this we should get some better food festivals
    This work is a job that wag should have undertaken and given to all organisers that they are funding
    I don’t see this as a job you or your producers should have had to do but it is much needed if anything is to improve. But also agree with other views that Miller should have come up with something similar last year after all is said and done, Miller are the ones being paid by wag
    well done and hope it gets well read and then acted upon

  4. trader

    August 10, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    well done for someone putting this up
    if organisers read and action it we’ll be happier than we have been

  5. Food on the Wye Festival

    August 10, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    This is really handy for us, we are organising a new food festival ‘food on the wye’ in September in Rhayader and welcome these tips.

  6. admin

    August 13, 2012 at 8:13 am

    Suggestions aree from a professional producer – frustrated that many organisers appear to lose sight of what food festivals are for – supporting food producers, they are the main event, or at leat should be!!!!
    This is a job wag food should have done when they first started funding festival, but they have never bothered…………………..

  7. FiftyShadesofTrade

    August 19, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Hi there (especially to “Food On the Wye” and Rob from “The Welsh Menu Live” – a big “croeso” from us Porducers/Traders, and wishing you the very best – and wonderful, unseasonal sunny weather, for your events!) –

    Congratulations to whoever wrote such an excellent, knowledgeable and much-needed set of simple-but-vital guidlines: if all Festival organisers followed these life would be so much better for traders, organisers and (most importantly!!) our valued Customers, alike.

    There are some really important points made here that also cover some crucial legal issues (I would also add something about handwash sinks/sanitiser, fire extinguishers etc i.e. whether they will be provided or whether a trader must certify they will bring their own). However I’m sure we could all add our ha’penny’s worth – not that we earn many these days, sadly – and would just end up with something resembling War and Peace (so long as it’s not Fifty Shades of Grey – which it would be if wag had a hand in it, lol).

    Regarding “On the Day” point 20 – to meat and chocolate stalls I’d also add things like cheese and ice cream as direct sunlight can be fatal to such products.

    Also it’s worth putting things like candy floss stalls or those selling pungent/robust savoury foods (for example Chinese or Thai dishes containing ingredients such as Nam Pla) downwind and at a discreet distance from stalls whose trade is likely to be adversely affected by such foods – after all nobody wants candyfloss coating their chunk of cheese, or the flavour of fish sauce and garlic in their strawberries and cream!

    Oh yes and a further plea, this time regarding “On the Day” point 24 – if it’s a Christmas Fair please-oh-please if you MUST play only “seasonal music” make sure you have a very varied selection to prevent producers and punters alike from turning into zombies….and which preferably DOESN’T include that abominably depressing shouty number by Slade, that is if you don’t want to see some apparently sane traders turning into homicidal meat-cleaver wielding maniacs by the end of the day. Just sayin’. 😉

  8. producer

    August 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    this should be sent to every festival that the WG are funding this year. In reality it should have been wag or miller company that came up with this idea not this site.
    and that list is what miller company should be checking against
    if funding is coming out of Welsh food budget, then focus should be on food, not tourism, not giving towns a helping hand to run their fetes, but for food and that should mean WELSH food producers first
    why is this so difficult for our food department to understand and then to get policies to work for our benefit?

  9. John Nash

    August 28, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Very useful ideas which I hope we can take on board. Would be nice to go to a food festival that had no problems, maybe one run by the producers themselves.

  10. Hugh

    August 20, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    This is a really helpful article…thanks for writing it and thanks for for posting it too.

    I’m looking to start a local food festival in the South East of England and this has helped me to clarify some of our ideas. Hopefully we can avoid some of the more common pitfalls, and give a better experience to producers and consumers alike

  11. Parrot

    August 20, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    My pleasure – here to help
    Just remember that the Welsh Government sets it’s own criteria each year that food festival organisers have to adhere to. You might things a little different in the south east.
    Anyway hope it is useful