10 Things You Need to Know About Food Festivals (and How to Survive Them)

By: Lindsay Damast

Around the Cooking Channel and Food Network offices, everyone is gearing up for this weekend's 7th annual New York City Wine & Food Festival, beginning tonight. For four days, NYC will be taken over by food industry innovators cooking, speaking and feeding folks at nearly 100 different events across the city. Our brazen editors will branch out, attempting to cover as much ground as possible to report back to you hungry Devour and FN Dish readers on the festival's happenings.

If you've never been to a food festival, it's important to prepare yourself before diving into the gluttonous, glorious adventure that they can be. I recently had the opportunity to attend  Feast Portland — a three-day food festival celebrating Oregon's unique culinary culture — where I learned the hard way that even food editors have finite stomachs. And so, too, do you — so read on as I reveal 10 food festival truths to help you navigate the bottomless bites to come.

1. Wear Comfortable Shoes ...

Many of the events are large-scale, walk-around tastings with chef-appointed tables lining the perimeter of the venue. You'll generally be walking and standing for the duration of the event, and waiting in a long line at each table to taste the chefs' offerings. But the waiting is well worth it: The food is killer and, more importantly, 100% of ticket proceeds go toward charitable organizations like Share Our Strength.

2. ... And an Elastic Waistband ...

Thankfully, the lines move quickly. The food, which is plentiful and rich, is served on small plates in tasting-size portions. So while you might not feel like you’ve had a proper meal, noshing on small bites, you’ll end up eating a lot more than you’ve realized. So pick and choose what you eat — and what you finish (if you don't love it, don't) — accordingly.

3. ... And a Well-Ventilated Outfit

This might vary depending on season and location, but these venues get seriously crowded. Combine that with all the grills/stovetops cooking up a storm and we're talking sweat city.

4. Check Your Cynicism at the Door

That chef you admire/watch on TV/have a crush on? He or she will really be at the event, and you'll truly have the opportunity to say hello. But think fast! There's a long line of people behind you clamoring for those abundant eats.

5. Develop a Strategy

Survey the scene before diving in. You probably don't want to bounce from meat to doughnuts and back. Plot your course and don't let the length of the lines sway you.

6. Relish the Moment

It can be easy to get swept from line to line, shoving food into your face just so you can ditch your small plate and move on to the next table. Don’t rush. Take the time to enjoy this incredible food being served to you by superstar chefs.

7. Designate a Driver — or Don't Drive at All

The booze is as free-flowing as the food at these events, whether it be from local wineries and breweries or the tipples of creative mixologists. If alcohol features prominently in the event title, expect even more. Speaking of which: Make sure to drink plenty of water.

8. Keep an Open Mind

You may find yourself faced with foie or tackling with the decision to try some tongue. This is the best time to experiment, since you’re tasting only one small bite, at no extra cost to you.

9. Don't Forget Small-Scale Events ...

The walk-around tastings get top billing and feature the flashiest of celebrity chefs, but there are a number of different event types to try. At NYCWFF, there are intimate dinners, where you'll enjoy a coursed sit-down meal and hear prominent figures speak, and seminars, where you can engage with a panel of chefs, restaurateurs and other equally passionate food people.

10. ... Especially the Hands-On Classes

These are the smallest of the small-scale bunch, where you will actively participate in preparation or cooking and learn from top professionals. From the everyday skill (perfecting pour-over brewing) to  more-adventurous forays into things like making pasta and crafting candy from scratch, the knowledge you'll walk away with makes these perhaps the greatest-value events.

Now that you're ready to take on a food festival yourself, check out the lineup at NYC Wine & Food Festival — there are still plenty of tickets to be purchased! Can't make it? Stay tuned for all the festival coverage this weekend on FN Dish and read all the buzz on Twitter by searching hashtag #NYCWFF.

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