Food For Thought - March 2017

Edible Events Give Guests a Different Taste of an Attraction

ATTRACTIONS offer true festival atmospheres, but enterprising operators know coasters and carnival games are not always enough to keep guests coming back. Food festivals are popular events to boost attendance and impress guests.

“A food festival creates a totally different vibe in the park,” says Roger Ross, public relations manager for California’s Great America. The Cedar Fair amusement park  introduced its first food festival, “Fiesta Hispana,” in 1999. Spanning two weekends in July, “Fiesta Hispana” capitalizes on the strong Hispanic culture in the Bay Area, serving up a taste of authentic cuisine. The event has been so successful that the park introduced a second food festival, “Taste of Orleans,” featuring traditional New Orleans dishes like gumbo and red beans and rice.

“If [guests] come during normal park operations and for ‘Fiesta Hispana’ and ‘Taste of Orleans,’ they are getting three different tastes of Great America,” Ross says.

Providing a feast of in-park experiences requires a dedicated team. At Cedar Fair’s Kings Island in Mason, Ohio, all departments, from maintenance and security to marketing, are involved in hosting the annual “Food Truck Festival.” After the first-year success of the two-day event, the park added an extra day.

To ensure the “Food Truck Festival” is successful for the park and the 30 food trucks that participate, Kings Island is selective about which food trucks participate, ensuring there is no duplication among trucks or overlap with foods sold in the park.

“We don’t want to be competing with the food trucks,” explains Don Helbig, public relations manager for Kings Island. Helbig admits the logistics are intense but believes the five-plus months of planning is worth it for the uptick in attendance and positive press the festival generates.

DelGrosso’s Park and Laguna Splash in Tipton, Pennsylvania, spends a year planning its “Italian Food and Heritage Festival,” introduced in 1989 to attract guests during the shoulder season. While food is the focus of the festival, Director of Marketing Amy Mearkle notes community is important, too.

“The community is our park clientele and our extended family,” says Mearkle. As part of the event, DelGrosso’s Park invites the local Italian Heritage Society to set up a booth and local churches to sell traditional Italian desserts as fundraisers. Mearkle believes it’s important for the festival to serve foods that promote the Italian heritage the park is built on.

Regardless of the kinds of food served, Ross of California’s Great America believes the success of a food festival is in the execution: “At the end of the day, this is another way to make sure we’re making our guests’ experience great; you have to be all in.”