Food festival strategy

food truck festival troy 2013 wandering dago crowd

At the festival this in Troy.

By Daniel B.

Saturday was the first Food Truck Festival of NY in Troy, but it was not the first food truck festival ever.

These things happen all over the place all the time, and they come in many shapes and forms. Occasionally, like Tulip Fest, they aren't exclusively food events, but simply have a food component. Other times the festivals may not be focused on trucks but rather a specific ingredient... like bacon.

Events like these can be amazing or they can be agonizing. Sometimes the difference between the two is as simple as having a strategy.

Unless there is a VIP tent that provides table service for an additional fee, lines are always going to be long, and they are usually going to move slowly. The very best way to deal with the lines is through a coordinated group effort. But regardless of whether you are going at it with a team or on your own, preparation is critical.

food truck festival troy 2013 slidin dirty crowd

Do your homework
There is some groundwork you can do in advance of the event. Go online and learn about which vendors will be in attendance. You can generally get a good enough sense of the operators to do some early triage. Some places won't be appealing at all, some will be appealing but are regular sights around the region, while others will be appealing yet hard to try beyond the context of the festival.

It will be the hometown favorites with local name recognition and a positive reputation that will have the longest lines. But the savvy attendee will be adventurous, as this is an opportunity to try something new.

Show up early
By early, I mean before the event officially starts. Sure, they may not be ready to sell you food, but it gives you a chance to check out all the menus from your short list of prospects to see which places are making dishes that you simply must try. And if there is one dish that stands out above all others, for God's sake, make sure to get that first. On Saturday at the festival in Troy, the pork cheeks at ate.o.ate sold out in well under an hour.

food truck festival troy 2013 ate-o-ate reuben fritters
Reuben fritters from ate.o.ate.

If you play your cards right, you could get through two lines in the time that it would take you to get through one -- even half an hour after the event officially begins.

The sun is your enemy
It's going to be crowded. You're going to be hot. Most likely you will get dirty. Dress appropriately. Wear sunscreen. Have a nice cool hat. And drink plenty of water.

Divide and conquer
Instead of standing in six lines, bring five friends (or whatever number) and each of you will stand in just one line each. The trick here is making sure that everyone know they are buying for six hungry people. Two sliders aren't going to cut it. Yes, you may end up spending $50 at a food truck. And yes, it may feel very wrong. But when you meet up with your friends (who also spent $50 at a food truck) you will have a smorgasbord of delights.

If that fails, I would suggest finding new friends who are better at this game.

food truck festival troy 2013 gwenies

Let your instincts guide you
If you are on your own, as I was on Saturday, sometimes you have to yield to fate and let the short line and your instincts guide your path. That led me to Gwenie's Breakfast Wagon for a deliciously greasy pesto, egg, ham and cheese sandwich. And then to ate.o.ate where I could not say no to the reuben fritters. These orbs of corned beef, sauerkraut and swiss cheese, were breaded and deep fried, slathered in Russian dressing and served with a pickle. Holy cow, those were good.

Sadly by the time I made it to How We Roll, the truck that puts high quality comfort food in a deep fried egg roll, they were sold out of everything. But that's how these things go. Not just in the Capital Region, but everywhere. Trucks can only hold so much food, and people have a seemingly unending appetite for good food on wheels.

food truck festival troy 2013 how we roll

Know when to fold 'em
Always leave wanting more. There is little worse than a good time ruined by one last tedious line. Especially if it's the kind that ends in disappointment should a truck run out of the item for which you had been waiting. Or even if you get that one last morsel, it could be the thing that pushes you over the brink from being pleasantly sated to uncomfortably full.
____

Overall, I thought the event this past weekend was fantastic. It was great to see so many people out in the park enjoying the day and proving that there is a strong market for good food from trucks.

I had really wanted to try the avocado fries at Slidin' Dirty and their new rolls supplied by All Good Bakers. But now I'll have to make a special trip to visit them when they are around town. As far as How We Roll goes, I'm hoping the early sell out in Troy will encourage them to make the trip back to New York from Western Mass sometime soon.

When they do, they'll likely be my first stop. Unless ate.o.ate is back from Roxbury as well. Because there's some talent happening in that truck, too.

Daniel B. is the proprietor of the FUSSYlittleBLOG.

Comments

I had hoped to try something from a bunch of trucks, but greatly underestimated the number of people that would attend. Splitting up a group of friends to hit multiple trucks would have worked better if we were early enough to check out the menus before the lines got unmanageable. Plus, It was difficult to split up given that some trucks had double or triple the length lines as others (nearly 2 hours for Slidin Dirty!). All-in-all I left with only one item from one truck (plus a delicious over-sized lemonaid!) but it was a great day to be out, and I'm so happy to have the Troy Farmers Market back outside!

I'll have my game plan ready for next year's fest.

I was surprised how many complaints I saw on social media regarding the lines/wait times. That's par for the course at just about any food-related festival, right? My wife and I went early, not long after it had started, but we still assumed we'd spend the bulk of the time waiting in various lines. There were only so many trucks, they could only take one order at a time, and the event was heavily promoted so lots of people turned out. Unless there's an issue with food running out more or less instantly (like last year's Bacon Festival in Hudson), this Food Truck Festival looked like it was a hit, and I didn't mind waiting in lines because I knew the food would be worth it. What did people expect?

I should add: after the fest, I returned to Albany and hung out in Washington Park for hours. There were lots of people in the park doing tons of different activities... a lot of them were probably hungry and there's a nice big, (currently-)empty paved area in front of the lakehouse ready for a foodtruck or two... *HINT HINT, ALBANY*

I often wonder why so many American's go out dressed like they're about to do yard work.

Great article Daniel! I can't wait to do a food trade with Gwenies when we are at Riverview Center together this week! The Pesto sandwich has my name all over it! Thank you for pointing out that we are FOOD TRUCKS and that we have limited space to carry product! There is no restaurant to run back to if we need to restock something! Maybe someday though! The organizers did a great job promoting the event and the city of Troy was great! Hopefully we won't have to wait another year to do it again!

@James- David Sedaris fan? (I love that line too :)

nobody goes to food festivals anymore, they're too crowded.

Like Paul, I had thought this would be a great opportunity to try a bunch of different things from different vendors that I wouldn't normally try. Not their fault, but once we got there at about 4 pm (going early was not an option), it was clear that it would be hours before we got through a single line, baking in the sun and observing public drunkenness. We couldn't even find a place to get a drink and hang out without waiting for ages, so we bailed. On the plus side: got to enjoy the Pig Pit in Cohoes, which I don't think had a truck at the fest.

went at noon, with a toddler in tow, picked the shortest line and was gifted with the Reuben fritters from ate o ate. The toddler rocked out to the great band and we all enjoyed the sun.

Rehashed the event today with friends and came up with the same game plan as you outlined above.

Oh food cart gods....please please please let this happen again! sooner than next year.

as a matter of fact...aren't there vacant abandoned building with big open parking lots along Central Ave (Albany straight on to Sch'dy) or Western Ave out Guilderland way that could host a more permanent, or seasonal, weekly version of this .....

see
http://www.cartlandia.com/

"nobody goes to food festivals anymore, they're too crowded." ... I'm just going to let the 'logic' of that sit right there....

In other news, it looks like one of your pictures caught the CRFoodies in action! Josie, stuffing her face ;) and Brian, paying for his wares. I do hope these trucks pay us a revisit. The Duck Confit Eggroll from "How We Roll" had a whole lotta flavor going on.

I do agree that a game plan would be best next time. Thanks for the tips! I hadn't thought of arriving early to view the menus. This would have been especially helpful with Wandering Dago whose festival menu was different from their normal menu.

Our original plan was to visit the festival, the farmer's market, then the festival again. Almost needless to say ... we didn't get a second chance at the festival. That's the nature of the beast though! So I'm glad that we did go early enough to hit 2 trucks.

I hope this event returns. Gourmet food truck. All in one place? Yes please!

@Josie: The "nobody goes there" line is an old Yogi Berra joke.

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