Calling Their Bluff

Amanda Nally has some free advice for anyone thinking of running a beer festival.

When your thoughts turn to the emergency evacuation plan, that’s a hint there are too many people in the venue.

The Bluff Oyster and (sometimes) Southern Food Festival is the major fund-raising event for a largely decile 1 township and I’m all for that. It’s also one of the most appalling events I’ve been to in recent years.

Wedged between a tent and a rubbish bin to avoid a milling maelstrom destined to find neither food nor drink; I pondered the emergency evacuation plan and thought about what makes a good event. Nor was I alone, in either my musings or the comparative oasis of rubbish alley.

For event organisers a full house, no injuries and no arrests pretty much ticks all the boxes – which is why you’ll hear quite a bit about how successful this particular festival was. As a ticket holder, my expectations are somewhat different.


People consume oxygen and exude carbon dioxide (and sometimes other gaseous aromas) ventilation is not just a good idea it’s critical. Anyone who has ever laughed at a MAX LOADING sign in an elevator knows you never, ever want to be at the max loading.


Cater for ALL the people you invited. You’re not just ruining things for the ones you overlooked but for everyone whose lap they’ll sit on; whose drinks they’ll elbow from other people’s hands; and those kind souls who will try to help find their non-existent seats.


I accept there’s no winning on this one. Try to provide different temperate zones within your venue – islands of hot and cold – if it’s an outdoor event there will be as many people angling for shade and cool as positioning themselves for full sun.


People must be able to get in, and claustrophobics out, AT ALL TIMES. Smart planners include emergency lanes so organisers can move freely throughout the event. Also make it really clear about where to pick up tickets and get money so no time is wasted in the wrong queue. And remember, once a queue forms, counter and eye level signage will be become invisible.


The only reason the bubonic plague was spread by rats was it was still a barter economy. Money is dirty, filthy and disease ridden. Far too much time is wasted handing over cash so speed up the flow by removing it from critical points. If cash is a medium, operators must accept EFTPOS. Pay bands are great and so are food and beverage chits, provided people can easily get refunds for unspent funds or tickets. It’s a good idea for the ticket price to include at least one free drink or meal which will disperse people quickly throughout the whole venue.

Tickets & Pass Outs

Yes definitely, and when a person takes a pass it should not be treated as an invitation to sell more tickets. What if they make like a terminator and come back?


A tricky one at festivals where the main attraction is food or beverages – some people will have bought their own entertainment and won’t have much interest in yours; while others will be disappointed if they can’t see and hear what’s going on. Think like temperature and create islands.


Check out the price-time-quality pyramid of the Project Manager handbook and pick any two of the following … good quality, speedily dispensed, economically priced. If you’re only managing one there will be grumbles, if none, expect to be dealing a lot of pass outs. And if there is alcohol, substantial food should also be available for the duration of the event.

Beer & Other Beverages

See food.
Under the glorious rule of the country’s LAPs it can be difficult to buy a drink for your partner, and sometimes even impossible to buy a round for your group which is clogging events with queues. High time for smart organisers to make like popcorn sellers at a baseball game and bring drinks to the people, it’s a model called HOSPITALITY.

Tables & Chairs

Having secured food and drink, patrons want to consume them. The best festivals I’ve attended allow you to fill a tasting tray, then retreat to dining area to imbibe way from jolting elbows. Add a distant corner for introverts to recharge in and it’s even better.


Half the population who can pop out the back and find a fence don’t take this nearly seriously enough. For the other half, this is enough to make us STOP CONSUMING. Seriously. Where toilet facilities are filthy, distant or nonexistent we’ll drink a) nothing b) a single glass of red wine. And when someone in the party isn’t having fun, the party won’t last long.


Consider wheelchairs, zimmer frames and prams. And if the organisers won’t consider them then seriously consider taking one or other into the event with you. Great as a table, for seating, creating a focal point for your group, or for facilitating movement through a crowd.

If you missed the Bluff Oyster and (sometimes) Southern Food Festival why not plan your own awesome Southland Seafood Festival to fit your budget, your timetable and your beverage preferences?

  • Oyster Cove – at the end of SH 1 – delivers stunning views over Foveaux Strait from behind glass – choose a seafood snack platter that includes Paua teamed with some local craft beers and wines – comes with access to full table service, and clean toilets.
  • Oyster and Chips on the beach … washed down by a little something from the Bluff Bottle Store or Four Square off-Licence. There’s a reasonably serviced public loo in the main street.
  • Oyster and Chips at the pub (also on the main street), with a salad on the side, washed down by a little something from the mainstream bar.
  • The Oyster Pie – world famous in NZ – from Stella’s Café and Bakery in Bluff.

Still after an authentic festival experience? Dress in a Michelin man suit and half-fill an opaque plastic cup with Speights Oyster Stout … put a dozen raw oysters on a paper plate … add some spare change to the plate … then while carrying the plate and cup, get into a lift with the maximum allowable number of people. Ask them to talk amongst themselves as they slowly move around jostling you while you consume the beer and oysters and try to put the change in your wallet before removing your coat while humming to the elevator music.

Back to The Pursuit of Hoppiness: Spring 2016

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