How to Food Festival Like a Pro

Words: Shamim de Brún
Images: Press

As the sun-soaked days of August roll onward, food enthusiasts alike are all gearing up for the biggest and best of Ireland’s food festivals: Big Grill. This weekend’s epic gathering promises food, all sorts of it, cooked over fires. And with a lineup including Brad Leone and Bahay we couldn’t be more excited.

But let’s be honest, navigating these culinary extravaganzas can be a mixed bag. From endless lines to scorching temperatures, or more likely in Ireland, relentless drizzle the trials can be real. However, armed with the right tactics, you can hack your way through the Big Grill circuit like a seasoned pro.

Be Early


If you’re the early bird you get to catch the worm and carpé that diem before everyone else slots into place and seizes their own opportunities. If you can get the squad/gange/gaggle of yiz all to arrive promptly then you can divide and conquer Herbert Park before the rest of the crowd even download their tickets. You’ll be on round two by the time the queue awakes and you’ll be in much better form than the late hungry people you and your friends will undoubtedly mock relentlessly while quaffing down a plastic cup of pet nat.

Embrace the Waiting Game

Lines – they’re the festival-goer’s inevitable nemesis. That said I usually enjoy the food I’ve queued for much more than the food I grab from the ‘oh look no queue’ spot. As the ancient saying goes, there’s a queue for a reason.

But if everywhere has a queue then there’s a simple way to see whether a line is worth joining or not – “Look for the happy people.” While queueing might seem like a downer, rest assured that happy patrons often stand in line for a reason. If it feels like a good vibe in a queue it can also come with the added bonus of a little chat. These kinds of chats often lead to insider tips and newly uncovered ‘hidden gems’ that might otherwise go untasted.

If you’re not feeling particularly chatty you can also rely on ye olde eavesdropping and see if it gifts you a little sumtin’ sumtin’.

Scout Like a Pro

The modern festival-goer wields the power of social media to their advantage. Research tagged Instagram posts to identify culinary stars and must-try dishes. Particularly at esteemed events like Big Grill, where only the crème de la crème chefs are imported, this knowledge can elevate your experience. If you haven’t the time for chronic googling and cross-referencing, here are CHAR’s top picks.

Go to the talks – sometimes they give away free food and drinks plus you’ll definitely learn something.

Divide, Conquer, and Buddy Up

Festivals are best enjoyed as a communal endeavour. Organize your group to conquer lines in pairs, enhancing the range of your culinary adventure. While one of yiz queues, the other can explore or grab a libation to help the queuing time pass. Queueing is always more fun when they’re are two of you with a beverage.

For popular vendors with lengthy queues, embrace the buddy system to double your samplings and maximize your gastronomic gains. Do switcheroos if you need to.

When in doubt, make a meal out of the sides. You get to try more vendors before the inevitable fullness comes for you. This tactic allows you to explore a wider array of vendors and taste the creative riffs that often steal the spotlight.

Money Money Money

So inevitably food costs money. Picking things up and passing cash around can be a nightmare. Either agree everyone picks up 2 things to add to the group or if you want to level it up a bit, get a Revolute shared vault for the event. Have everyone put in a certain amount and then people withdraw what they’ve paid from it. That way there is a budget and everyone gets what they need. No one is left feeling like they got two mains and a bottle of wine for the group while ‘yer man who never gets a round’ only contributed one side and got to eat all the bits.

Satiating the Inner Hangry Diva

I have a sneaking suspicion that most people get so up in arms about the queues because they arrive hungry. We’ve all seen those Snickers adds, hunger makes you a diva. So soothe the inner hangry beast within by indulging in a small snack before the festivities begin. Usually, I opt for an aul banana or a cheeky jambon if I’m feeling boisterous. These will keep your spirits high as you queue for your next delight without filling you too much to enjoy the fruits of the festival.

Curation Over Repetition

While it’s tempting to stick to familiar favourites, embrace the essence of food festivals by trying the new. How often are you going to get to try something cooked by Brad Leone? In other words, don’t go to places you go to in real life. Do you LOVE Chimac, then go there for brunch the day after and spend your time queuing for the once-offs. They make better flexes down the pub the following weekend anyway.

The Etiquette of Enjoyment

While you’re definitely there to have the best time possible, remember that for festival staff the weekend can be quite gruelling. Be cool about prices and portions, it’s likely the person serving you has had no control over either. Try not to ask for too many substitutions, it changes the nature of the dish that the chefs have painstakingly designed to a balance of flavour and texture.

Please don’t come with a fake allergy. These are taken very seriously by all concerned when they’re real but the fakers make things longer and harder on everyone. A little consideration goes a long way in creating a harmonious festival atmosphere.

Balance Fanfare and Consideration

Meeting renowned chefs and restaurant owners is a festival highlight. Feel free to chat with the chefs, but don’t linger. By all means, introduce yourself, tell them that you enjoyed their appearance on the Food Network, or mention the best dish you ate in their restaurant but don’t be inconsiderate towards the other people in the queue who want to do the same. If a long line builds up behind you that will fugg people off, and the goal of the chef is to serve as many guests as possible.

With these tried-and-true tactics, you’re now armed with the tools to hack a food festival like a seasoned pro. Let your taste buds roam freely!

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