Feature Article - September 2018
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Eat, Drink & Be Merry

Making a Great Event

By Dave Ramont

From big cities to small towns, it seems like every neighborhood or community these days puts on their own festival, which might feature carnivals, live entertainment, parades, arts and crafts, and, often the most popular attraction, food. There's the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, Calif., and Pierogi Fest in Whiting, Ind. Mattoon, Ill., hosts an annual Bagel Festival and Pullman, Wash., presents the National Lentil Festival. Residents in Lexington, N.C., flock to Barbeque Fest, while seafood reigns at the National Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores, Ala.

Some of these events draw tens of thousands of visitors, while others just look to attract those who may live in and around a certain neighborhood. But they all have one thing in common: To be successful, a lot of foresight and planning goes into the event. From licenses and fees to concessions and sanitation, many factors demand attention in order to avoid problems during the event itself.

While festivals and other events are great ways to bring communities together, they're also potential moneymakers for organizations and municipalities. Food and beverage sales are a big revenue generator, as is selling booth space used for offering crafts or other items. A percentage of sales might also be required from merchants, with typically 10 percent to 20 percent going back to event organizers. Souvenir sales are common, with organizers selling such things as caps, T-shirts and plastic cups. If there are enclosed grounds around the event, an entrance fee might be charged. Five or 10K races tied to an event are popular, with participants paying a modest entry fee. Corporate sponsorship is also a great way to offset costs, and some organizers seek donations of materials, supplies and services in exchange for advertisement.

On the flip side, there are, of course, many costs that must be considered when budgeting for these events. These might include sanitation facilities and garbage removal; traffic control and security; staging, sound and lighting. Since organizers face potential claims from patrons, vendors, entertainers and contractors, Special Events Insurance is highly recommended.

While local government institutions like park districts or chambers of commerce often present events in their towns, in larger markets the various festivals are often presented by private entities that get permission from the municipality and secure their own permits, licenses and insurance.

Austin, Texas, hosts many festivals throughout the year, though the city itself is involved with very few of them in terms of planning and executing. William Manno is the special events program manager in Austin and the administrative manager for the Austin Center for Events (ACE), part of the City Manager's Office. He said that the only event that is actually put on by the city is Austin's New Years' event. "I manage the overall coordination and activities. However, we do hire an event production company to put it all together."

He added that there are about a dozen events that are officially co-sponsored by the city. "For example, Trail of Lights, South by Southwest (music and media festival), July Fourth, etc. By being city co-sponsored, certain fees and costs are waived."

Manno explained that private entities organize the majority of events that take place. "We do not book entertainment or vendors; the event organizers do. ACE is comprised of special event staff from 13 different city departments, and we partner with state agencies and Capitol Metro (mass transit) as needed. We review applications for special events and work with the organizers to ensure they have all the required permits and that the event is held in a safe manner."

He said that while planning for bad weather is primarily on the organizer, they do assist in identifying possible shelter locations. "One of our biggest challenges is trying to find an available date for new events, especially those that request a street closure. We have around 140 street closure events each year and we try and balance fun festivals with maintaining mobility."

Traffic flow, security and safety are certainly big concerns, and local police, fire and EMS are all part of ACE, according to Manno. "ACE meets with scheduled event organizers to review their plans and let them know what is permissible and appropriate."

He added that these days, security is even more crucial. "Events with anticipated attendance of less than 5,000 are recommended to have Austin P.D. bomb dogs screen the area, and events with more than 5,000 expected are required to have this. This is an additional cost to the event organizer."

While festival attendees may have varying interests, the one common denominator seems to be food and beverages, and a wide variety of offerings can help guarantee successful food sales. The Department of Health has many requirements pertaining to the storing, preparing and serving of food, and organizers and concessionaires should become thoroughly familiar with these regulations. These include wastewater disposal, hand-washing facilities, permissible tableware and requirements concerning the construction of concession stands. Many organizers consult with the county sanitary department during planning stages.