Summer food festivals have been a fixture in American culture for years. From the Taste of Chicago to the Alabama Crawfish Festival , food festivals large and small have kept growing and expanding, even through recent economic turbulence.
Tens of thousands of restaurants participate in these festivals across the country. Participation often means closing down their establishment and spending a significant amount of money setting up and serving food at the festival. But the general attitude is that the cost and loss of revenue is definitely worth it.
That’s because you simply cannot beat the exposure and customer engagement any restaurant gets at a food festival. Potential customers are much more likely to experiment with new types of cuisine and new restaurant brand names in the festive atmosphere, making a local food festival an important avenue to gaining new customers for young establishments. For the more experienced restaurants at a festival, reinforcing your brand in the community is a priceless commodity, and nothing communicates stability than customers seeing you year after year at the local food festival.
Restaurants in large metropolitan areas should choose the food festivals they attend more carefully than those in smaller communities. Obviously, they’ll have more choices, and a big city restaurant should look for the festival that is most likely to cater to the type of person you want in your restaurant. In small cities and rural areas, it’s much less about market segmentation and a lot more about making an appearance. Just showing up at the local food festival communicates your involvement in the community.
In an age when it seems like all marketing gurus talk about is engaging customers through social media on the internet, food festivals provide a unique opportunity to engage customers face-to-face in a positive and friendly atmosphere. Don’t expect to make any money at your local food festival. But do expect to recognize the same smiling faces you see there in your restaurant in the months afterwards.
For a complete list of food festivals in your area, check out this food festival guide.