This weekend I attended two events with the South Beach Food and Wine Festival, the Fit and Fun Family event at Jungle Island and the Lucky Chopsticks: An Asian Night Market on the beach outside the Ritz South Beach. I’ve attended food festivals like this for years, mostly though as a journalist, food competition judge or speaker. This was one of the first times I went as a regular patron and I have to say it wasn’t the same.
We got to the Fit and Fun Family event Saturday right after the event started around 10:15am. We were shocked when we got there to see about 500 people (at least) in line to get in. This was an event with kids, so imagine hundreds of kids waiting in a line that long. We asked what was going on and were told that the festival people only had two ticket scanners so buckle in for a long wait. It took about 30 minutes before we got in and then it was a scramble to make it to the venue where Restaurant Impossible’s Robert Irvine was speaking. We snagged one of the last seats and luckily Irvine kept his 45 minute presentation rather entertaining. The other big shocker here though was that even though this was a “food festival,” the food consisted of a McDonald’s booth, a Barilla pasta tent, Kind Bars and a few other offerings. Definitely NOT food festival material, but we let it slide because this was geared toward kids.
Fast forward to Sunday night’s Asian market. We got to the event and the line was super long again. Luckily I did have a pass that allowed us to skip the line. Inside the event lines were also already forming (see a pattern here), lots and lots of lines. Since this was Asian I figured there would be a decent offering of vegetarian food, but I was wrong. There were maybe 3 or 4 little bites that I could eat. As for the all the other people there? I couldn’t help but think they paid $150 (some less thanks to Groupon) to stand in line and wait for a one or two bites of something? So that is $300 a couple. The event was sold out so obviously there are lots of people who think this is a great idea, but for $300 they could have feasted at the best restaurants South Beach has to offer. Guess what we actually did leave the event after a short time and went to eat at a restaurant. We were still very hungry!
As for the daytime event on Sunday? The Grand Tasting is $225 per person ($450 a couple). I went to it last year for free, but skipped it this year because there is no way I’d pay $450 to attend it. I know a lot of people that went this year and the feeling was mixed. Someone I know who attended for free said it wasn’t great, but then some people I know who paid thought it was fun (but $$$ isn’t a big issue for them).
So what’s the verdict? I don’t think the events are worth it at those steep prices. The NYC Vegetarian Food Festival is a fraction of the price so that is definitely still on the to do list, but don’t look for me to pay those BIG prices anytime soon.