Monday, October 19, 2009

Advisor Insights: Putting on a 'Taste of' Event in your Commercial District

'The other day I had the opportunity to attend the Union Square Partnership's Harvest-in-the-Square Event. Union Square Partnership is a business improvement district in Manhattan well-known for its critical mass of wonderful world-renown eateries. Now in it's 14th year, Harvest-in-the-Square is the Partnership's marquee fundraising event that showcases more than 50 participants who provide ticket holders with small 'tastes' from their restaurants or bars. Proceeds from the event benefit neighborhood programs and the beautification of Union Square Park. With some of the city's most highly regarded food and drink purveyors in participation, event tickets begin at $125 dollars for general admission and $400 for VIP tickets. Not everyone can charge tickets that high...but it does show that people will pay for the privilege of eating great food...

The event not only helps with fund raising, it also helps to further differentiate the district as a foodie destination - and is very much in keeping with a district branding strategy that has served Union Square so well over the past decade.

In my community of Jackson Heights, Queens - also know as a foodie-destination among those seeking authentic ethnic food, we put on the Jackon Heights Film and Food Festival (now it it 4th year and going on this weekend, October 24th! Check out our website at for more info.) and so I was particularly excited to see the mechanics of this event in action. Every year our event team learns a thing or two that helps improve the event, a program of the Jackson Heights Community Journal, in a way that better meets the objectives our sponsors and participating restaurants.

Here were a few good ideas that I took away from this event that I'd like us to incorporate next year:
  • Each participant chose only one or two select dishes for sampling. This made preparation and serving MUCH easier for the restaurants. The chosen dish, or in some cases drink, was described in mouth-watering detail right on the restaurant signage. The signage also helped ticket holders figure out what they wanted to try more easily than asking the server.
  • Small single bite plates were prepared for the taking and laid out attractively on serving tables. This meant that tickets holders did not have to wait in line to be served. It was a very efficient method of serving food that also helped to ensure simple rationing.
  • Each table had very tall attract harvest decorations that lent an nice elegance to the festivities.
  • There were two sit down eating areas and some standing tables - but for the most part the tastes were only a bite or two - so sitting was not required.
  • There was a red carpet for the arrival of VIP' very New York! That and the roving tv cameras
  • There was lots of support staff (easily identified by their colored t-shirts) on hand to ensure that people were not walking around with empty plates if they had trouble finding a garbage right away.
  • And finally, pick only the best...the food vendors at this event were only those known for high quality.
There is obviously so much more needed to put on a great food tasting event...but as always, the devil is in the keeping an eye on quality and planning an event that works for both you and your vendors is critical.

1 comment:

  1. Larisa, we are delighted you could attend, and thank you for the kudos! We do try hard to make Harvest in the Square USP's signature event -- one that, as you say, markets our restaurants, brands the district and raises much-needed funds for Union Square Park.

    A couple of other thoughts came to mind that may be of interest to your readers:

    1. Keep an overall event menu in mind when planning with restaurants. Ideally you will have a mix of beverages, appetizers, mains and desserts. Try to vary the meat selection, and don't forget about your vegetarian constituents!

    2. Be creative with your sponsorships. One day food events are notoriously hard to pitch sponsors since their exposure is much less than, say, a multi-day festival or publication sent to thousands. Try to negotiate in-kind deals with companies that provide the basics you'll need -- media/advertising, location, tents, cookware, sounds stage, tables and charis -- you get the picture.

    3. Have fun! Music can add the perfect backdrop to your event, and many times can be procured for free or much less than you'd anticipate. There is almost always a local band with a PA system ready to play family-friendly tunes to help out a good cause and gain a little notoriety for themselves.

    4. Finally, provide an opportunity for meaningful vendor feedback. Of course there will always be a need to troubleshoot during the event, but providing a forum for vendors to meet beforehand to ask questions/manage expectations proves invaluable. Finding an available time for busy restaurateurs to meet can be tricky, so we put together a "chef's breakfast" hosted by that year's restaurant event chair to go over event details and calm nerves.

    I look forward to seeing Jackson Heights' food tasting event this year and wish everyone the best of luck in their own endeavors.

    William Kelley
    Union Square Partnership