News & Features

City Opens Bids for New Taste of Chicago Management

December 07 2011 - 12:41 PM

TOCThe annual Taste of Chicago festival mostly reminds us why we hate crowds, and just how bad four deep-fried Twinkies make us feel the next day. But as for its mission to showcase the best of Chicago's culinary landscape? It just doesn't deliver. Apparently, it doesn't make it money either, which has prompted Mayor Rahm Emmanuel's administration to open up bidding on contracts to manage the 31-year-old festival. The Sun Times reports that though the Illinois Restaurant Association has held the contract since the festival's inception, Taste has lost about $7 million dollars in the last three years. From charging for admission to classing up the vendors, new ideas are on the table to defibrilate the flatlining festival.

The end-of-June event draws crowds of over 3 million people during its ten day span, making it "the largest free public event in the world," according to Illinois Restaurant Association president Sheila O'Grady. It's also one of the biggest headaches for foodies, who must navigate its clogged walkways and shout over the sounds of musical acts to taste bites from the more than 70 vendors. While admission is free (and would always be that way, if it were up to former mayor Richard M. Daley), the food tickets cost about $8 for a strip of 12, with dishes ranging from 6-10 tickets each.

Despite high attendance, the festival has bled money in the last few years. In 2010, the IRA teamed up with Jam Productions and AEG Live in a proposal to charge a $20 admission fee and up to $65 for tickets to high-profile musical acts. Former mayor Daley rejected the proposal outright, but the change in administration means the idea could fly this year. O'Grady defends the IRA's management of the festival, saying that the organization is still the best candidate for the job. With the floor open to new ideas, and with a new mayor in charge, that claim may be put to the test.