Thinking of running your own food and drink festival? Hats off to you, we say! 🎩
Whether you’re a wine connoisseur, craft beer enthusiast, or all-out foodie (perhaps all of the above?) – running a festival to celebrate your favourite fare can be a rewarding and profitable experience. It can also provide the perfect opportunity to raise money for charity, so if you’re looking for a very fun (read: tasty) way to do a good deed, you’re in the right place.
Here, we chat to two successful food and drink festival creators to find out all about how to run an event like this as smoothly as possible. They are:
Cheltenham Wine Festival
The Cheltenham Wine Festival is an annual event that’s been going strong for seven years. It’s organised by the Rotary Club of Cheltenham North and all proceeds go to charity. It’s held at Pittville Pump Room in Cheltenham features around 24 wine exhibitors made up of retailers (distributors) and vineyards (producers), plus a few lovely foodie bits and bobs too, like cheese and charcuterie. Nice!
English Wine and Food Festival
The English Wine and Food Festival sees vineyards in The Thames & Chilterns Region join forces with local producers of artisan foods to bring award-winning local English wines and mouth-watering locally produced artisan food to the great British public. It takes place in a beautiful market town in Berkshire – this year across Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th June. Count us in!
Now, let’s get stuck in...
Here are eight crucial things to know about running your very own food and drink festival 👇
You’ll need a team of passionate people
It’s so important to have plenty of hands on deck when it comes to organising something with as many spinning plates as a food and drink festival.
Steve from Cheltenham Wine Festival says: “On the day of the event we have about 30 club members and their partners volunteering to help out with various tasks including checking tickets, handing out wrist-bands, tasting catalogues, tasting glasses, hemp bags and pens, selling raffle tickets, ensuring that exhibitors are kept supplied with ice and water and collecting glasses at the end of the session.”
Speaking about one of the main challenges it faces, Denise from English Wine and Food Festival sums things up in a word: “Manpower. This year we struggled to get volunteers for car parking etc. but did eventually succeed. Time taken for set up and breakdown was also challenging with a limited number of people.”
With all this in mind, we’d say recruiting an army of passionate, committed folk should be well up high on your organisational list!
Planning should start at least six months in advance – for both ticket sales & organisation
It’s really important to get planning early on – a lot goes into running a food and drink festival, and things can end up taking longer than you think to organise. Getting your online ticketing service set up early on also helps with sales, giving you plenty of time to reach customers, old and new.
Steve says: “Our advice to event organisers would be to start early; things always take longer than you expect [...] Our planning normally starts in March for an October event, although we book the venue a year ahead. First tasks are to set up ticketing on Ticket Tailor and update our website to enable potential ticket purchasers to register an interest.
We like to start selling tickets in April and will email previous attendees to let them know that they can book for the current year, which normally generates a burst of early sales. We also contact the previous year’s exhibitors at an early stage to ask if they wish to exhibit again.”
Top tip: Did you know it’s super easy to sell tickets directly from your website using Ticket Tailor? Check out these useful guides for more info👇
Denise says: “We start monthly Planning meetings by Zoom in January following a format we’ve used before to cover all aspects, for an event at the end of June. We conduct site meetings at least three times.”
You can’t plan absolutely everything in advance, though.
Steve explains: “Whilst an early start helps to establish a good base for both ticket sales and exhibitors, inevitably there is an amount of last-minute activity in both areas, although tickets will normally sell out at least two weeks before the event and have, on a couple of occasions, sold out well before then.”
There will be hitches – you just have to roll with them
It’s impossible to know that everything will run totally smoothly when organising something as intricate as a food and wine festival. Hitches will happen, but it’s all about working around them and focusing on the positives.
Steve says: “Having been going for some years now we have a list of tasks and requirements that we can work to but there are always hitches at some point.
The 2020 event was especially troublesome as, along with most other events in the country, it had to be cancelled due to COVID. Ticket purchasers and exhibitors were given the option of having their money refunded, carrying it forward to the 2021 event or donating their money to our charitable fund. Interestingly over 80 tickets were held over to the 2021 event, which gave a big boost to early ticket sales for that year. The logistics around the cancellation were challenging and very time-consuming but it was gratifying to see how support seemed greater than ever for the 2021 festival.”
It’s important to consider any other big or conflicting events going on when picking your dates
One unexpected hitch might be more to do with other festivals than your own. Clashing events (dates-wise) could lower the turnout for your festival, and could also make suppliers more expensive.
Denise says: “The jubilee weekend was two weekends prior to ours and we feel that people were a bit ‘Festivaled-out’. It was also Glastonbury weekend so we paid top price for toilets and generators from local suppliers.”
With this in mind – it’s always wise to carefully consider which events are going on around the time you want to host yours. Shifting it from one weekend to the next might make a huge difference.
It’s worthwhile being considerate of your exhibitors
When you’re running a food and drink festival, it can be easy to get excited and book anyone and everyone who’s interested in exhibiting at your event. But it pays to be a little more selective than this, as Steve explains:
“We took the decision not to have national retailers as exhibitors [at our events], as we felt that this would undermine the offerings of the more ‘boutique’ suppliers who do exhibit with us. We get very good feedback to the effect that we are helpful to and considerate of our exhibitors. I don’t think that we adopted a policy to do this but it came naturally to try to ensure that the exhibitors are happy and have what they need. Ultimately, we’re looking to build a long-term relationship with them.”
There might be a bit of trial-and-error with ticket pricing
Food and drink festivals can be a bit more complicated when it comes to ticketing strategies and pricing than, say, music festivals. You’re not just charging for entry; there are other considerations – like wine tasting – to think about too. So you might end up needing to play around with your ticketing structure a little. And it might be the case that you simply have to learn by trial-and-error.
Denise says: “Based on last year’s feedback and customer type, [this year] we offered an ‘entry only’ ticket at £5 for non-drinkers and designated drivers, and an ‘entry + wine tastings ticket’ at £15 for the rest. We’re unlikely to do this again since we sold far too many ‘entry only’ tickets on the day despite some vigorous upselling at the gate! Pre-buying customers were more interested in the £15 ticket and we expected the same on the day.”
If there’s wine involved – you’ll probably need more ice than you think!
Don’t forget about all those little bits and bobs that can easily get overlooked, but at the same time have the potential to make or break a day!
Steve says: “A final tip for potential wine festival organisers; have plenty of ice available. We order 300kg [for just under 500 attendees]. We can get left with a good amount but if it is a warm day it is amazing how much you get through in keeping the whites and rosés chilled.”
It’s important to set the tone of your event and stick to it
Whether it’s through the way you communicate or the venue you pick, it’s really important to think carefully about how you’ll set the tone for your event (and what that tone is). Do you want it to be cheap and cheerful with large numbers, or more intimate and exclusive with limited entry and pricier tickets?
Denise says: “We’ve learned, after this year especially, to select a venue that reflects the type of customer we want to attract, for example, a vineyard rather than a farm shop that happens to have a vineyard.
We’ve also learned it’s important to be very clear in our event publicity and communication that this is an English WINE and Food Festival rather than a FOOD and Wine Festival. In the future we’ll limit the amount of food on offer to underline this communication. We might alter the name of the event too (maybe just ‘English Wine Festival’). And next year, we’ll go for a limited entry strategy at a more intimate vineyard venue and charge more to attract the type of customer we want. We tried to meet the needs of too many people this year.”
We hope these insider tips and tricks have given you the confidence you need to put your dreams of running a food and drink festival into action!
Special thanks to Denise at English Wine and Food Festival and Steve at Cheltenham Wine Festival for all the brilliant advice. Bottom’s up! 🥂
Hungry more for more content? Boost your food and drink festival ticket sales by checking out this guide to word-of-mouth marketing >