Update (August 29): Foodfest organizer Eva Hu spoke to Eater — her comments have been added to the story below.
A new food event, Foodfest MTL, touched down over the weekend, with a focus on showcasing many of the city’s Asian restaurants — but not everybody walked away full or satisfied from the festival.
An Eater tipster noted that there were very long wait times just to get access to the festival site, at the Village au Pied-du-Courant, just east of the Village. Commenters on the festival’s Facebook event complained of wait times as long as four hours during the two days of Foodfest to get in (there were reportedly smaller lines at individual food vendor kiosks).
Before the event kicked off on Saturday (the second of two days), manager of the festival’s volunteer team Michelle Vo posted a video to the event apologizing to those who had to wait a long time on the Friday, admitting that the size of the venue was a problem, and warning that line-ups would likely happen again that afternoon and evening. A Facebook post later on that day declared the site a “full house”.
Some commenters appeared to take issue with the organizers’ communication — while (contrary to some commenters’ claims) they did post videos and statuses warning of line-ups,,although these weren’t clear about exactly how long the line-ups and wait times were. Some commenters and Vo also came to the festival’s defence, highlighting that the huge crowds were completely unexpected.
The event was free to access, with customers able to purchase food from 22 individual vendors, including NDG ice cream store Ca Lem, Thai restaurant Pamika, and Korean restaurant Ganadara.
Foodfest’s organizers changed the event location just a week beforehand, to accommodate the large number of possible attendees — it was originally meant to take place at St-Henri bar and outdoor space Riverside before being moved to the larger riverfront site of Village Au Pied-du-Courant.
Given it was the first installment of Foodfest, it seems the organizers were caught off-guard by the masses that descended on the festival — some 7,400 people clicked “attending” on Facebook, with another 25,000 marking themselves as “interested” in the event. While it’s notoriously difficult to guess how many people will attend an event based off flaky people bookmarking it on social media, this may have been a warning sign in retrospect.
That said, the festival was in its first year, so renting a mega-space (Olympic Stadium, anybody?) was likely not an option — and even if it was, it would be a risk, since there was no ticketing and no way to know how many people would attend.
Speaking to Eater, co-founder Eva Hu said that Village Au Pied-du-Courant had a rough capacity of 20,000 for the whole weekend — 10,000 people per day, with 3,000 in the site at any one time (with the assumption that people would spend a few hours at the festival, but not all day).
Given the Facebook RSVPs, Hu said organizers believed that there would be enough room for people.
“We tried to be as forthcoming as possible to everyone coming in but at the same time it was very hard to predict exactly how many would show up.”
“I knew it would be popular because we haven’t had it before, night markets are very popular in Toronto and Vancouver, as well as in Asia in general.”
According to Hu, if the event had taken place at Riverside, they would have only been able to serve half the number of people.
“It was a good prediction to hike up the number of people who were coming.”
All up, Hu says the Foodfest organizers have learned a few lessons for a second installment of the event next year.
“We’re going to make sure the system of picking up and buying is clearer on each booth, we’re going to make sure restaurants have enough stock, to have more supplies than to not have enough.”
“We’re posting today [Tuesday] to apologize … we’re going to try to do as much as possible for the next event to do better.”
In the words of one commenter, Foodfest was a “victim of its own success” — it seems that everything was in place to make the festival run smoothly, had a more manageable number of people showed up.
Correction — an earlier version of this article referred to Michelle Vo as an organizer of the festival; she was a manager with Foodfest MTL.