The EventBuzz Podcast: Event planner shares advice on hosting food events during COVID

The EventBuzz Podcast: Event planner shares advice on hosting food events during COVID

Podcast speakers: Savannah McIntosh, the Purplepass Marketing Director and event organizer, Sandi Cottrell. Jump to links and video notes below. 

 

The EventBuzz podcast: Taste of Little Italy

presented by Purplepass

 

Podcast Transcript: Purplepass + Taste of Little Italy

 

Savannah (Purplepass):  

Welcome to our podcast series, EventBuzz by Purplepass, where we talk all about the latest event trends, planning advice, and ultimately, a space where we can dive in and get all the tips and tricks from event planners out there currently tackling the industry.

We are going to be talking about hosting events centered around food and navigating all the current health concerns and regulations in order to continue hosting events that local businesses depend on.

We're talking about one of the top tourist destinations in San Diego, California, Little Italy.

A brief into, Little Italy. It's a quaint area filled with little cafes, restaurants, pubs, and just so much culture. It's definitely my go to for farmers markets and date nights. I love it. And a Little Italy Association does a wide range of good for the community such as restoration projects and park cleanups.

So I'm obviously really excited to be talking to you about Little Italy, because it's just one of my favorite spots, but I'm gonna go ahead and let you do the talking, Sandi, whenever you're ready.

Thanks for joining us today, by the way.

Sandi (Little Italy):   

Well, thank you for inviting us.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, um, let's just start with a brief intro of your role with Little Italy and the events coming up, as well as anything else you might want to add about the association and what they do.

 

Sandi:

So the Little Italy Association is a public benefit corporation, basically a nonprofit, that sole purpose is to beautification, cleanliness, restoration of the beautiful neighborhood of Little Italy and like he said, it is the dining destination in San Diego. What was once a very Italian neighborhood still has its Italian flair for sure, with all the public gardens and such. But as a dining scene, I think we have what three top chef contestants in the neighborhood and some of the most highly acclaimed restaurants. And the variety is incredible from Italian to Japanese to one of the most popular vegan restaurants in the country.

So it's really fun to be a part of the neighborhood. We started an event called Taste of Little Italy 12 years ago. And it has always been an event that is one where you pick up a passport, and then you go to about 25 different restaurants in a night and get a taste from each one. And so we'll talk a little bit more about what we've done to morph this event, but we're pretty excited about it coming up so soon this weekend, October 4.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, I know. And yeah, back to what you're saying about the foods like, whenever I think of Little Italy,  literally like everything's amazing, but like the dessert just because I love sweets. It's just so good. I like the variation. It's so good.

 

Sandi:

Cannolis. Tiramisu. I know, I know, my office, of course, is in Little Italy. So, definitely going to lunch there.

 

Savannah: 

So yeah, like you said, you have the Taste of Little Italy. Take-Out edition coming up. So tell me a little bit more about that, um, how it's going to be different from like any past events that you've done before?

 

Sandi:

Well, is not really what I would call an actual event. It's more of a dining experience. Because what happens is people check in at a central location, they are given a really nice branded tote, insulated tote to keep their food hot and cold. And then they walk or drive to six different restaurants each night. So we've got a couple of appetizers, couple entrees in there and a beverage each night. Plus, we're happy to have San Pellegrino as our sponsor, so they're kicking in some bottles of water.

So by the time people have gone to the different restaurants and picked up their course of the meal, then they're able to drive away and take it home, go to a park and have a picnic. But it's not an event where people would gather. 

 

Savannah:

Yeah, I mean, I guess anything where we could do something I get excited. I'm like, oh, an event. But you're right.

 

Sandi:

That's not a good word in San Diego at this time. 

 

Savannah:

No, unfortunately. But I mean, it's something to do and keep us from going crazy.

 

Sandi:

Bringing that word to a whole new level. So we came up with this idea. And we have been so excited about the restaurants and the way they've stepped up and come up with beautiful menu items. If you look at the this happens five nights. So it starts on Sunday and it goes all the way through Thursday. And what ticket buyers do is they can go to the page, look at the menu for each night figure out which restaurants they like which day, we even have a vegetarian night and then they can choose from there. And if you look at the different menus, it's really hard to decide because they all look so capitalizing.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, I bet.

So I mean you touched on it a little just now, but I wanted to ask you like, regarding the safety guidelines and what you're kind of, the changes you've had to make to comply with everything, to be able to do at least some things like close to an event during COVID, what are like the biggest changes you had to kind of put in place or be creative about?

 

Sandi:

I guess first, I would have to say is that the restaurants themselves have had to undergo so many different guidelines. And it's different, obviously, from county to county, but the San Diego County Health Department is very thorough and very strict, and restaurants have been closed down that haven't been following the distancing and mask wearing guidelines.

So the restaurants themselves are already practicing safe reopening standards.

In terms of the way we are operating, everyone will be required to wear a mask while participating. We'll have Plexiglas at our check in area, we have hand sanitizer available and masks if somebody forgets their mask, we have masks for people. So we've pretty well thought through every single detail. I've been taking part since June in a group called the San Diego Event Coalition. And we wrote a 38 page guideline of safe event operations so that when events are approved to happen again, the city and the county are going to require event planners to follow these guidelines.

They're on our website, and I can give you the link towards the end so you can post it. But you can see these guidelines that cover everything from how to check in a volunteer to what you do if you have a stage once music is allowed, which is not right now. And so we've pretty much covered every procedure.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, that'd be awesome. I'll definitely share that I'm sure a lot of people would like to see that just to get an idea of like, how it's going to be. But um, yeah, and then just for other event planners listening out there like trying to follow their own communities, regulations and what not during this time, especially like food handling, but I know that's the restaurant side of it. But did you have any like other tips you would like to tell them while they're like trying to navigate all this?

 

Sandi:

Well, San Diego counties, there are no guidelines at this point for food, like a food vendor at an event, let's say like a normal street fair or something like that. That's not allowed to happen right now. So the only food guidelines are the ones that have been put out there for the restaurants. And then farmers markets have a separate set actually, that is quite different. So at this point, there's no food event guidelines, there are guidelines for you know temperature taking, checking people in all those sorts of things. But there's nothing yet for food. But the restaurants, like I say have their own protocols that they've been following, quite successfully for several months, Little Italy adopted curbside dining, where they're putting, you know, tables and chairs out in the parking places in front of the restaurants. So luckily, a lot of the restaurants in Little Italy were able to expand their footprint so they can serve more people outdoors.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, like patio dining. I've seen that. And like I mentioned, I was actually really curious. The farmers markets, is Little Italy still doing them? Or...

 

Sandi:

The farmers markets were only closed for a short time, I don't know, it was about a month, maybe in the early stages of the pandemic. And then because they are grocery, they're considered essential services because they provide food. And their standards are very strict. Only one way traffic going in going out. That was 15 feet apart in terms of separation between booths. They've lowered that now to I believe eight feet between boots. Think they can have only, I forget how many people there's a limited number of people at least in Little Italy that they're able to have on each block at any given time. So they have to hold people at the entrance and count them in and out. So it's pretty strict. And you're not allowed to go into a booth, you point, you know, and people have the food up towards the front. And so it's really sort of reshape the way farmers markets are done.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, just because that little Italy's farmers markets are, get pretty big. A lot of people.

 

Sandi:

Yes, probably one of the most popular, if not the most popular one on the city. And there is just such a great range of products there, it's incredible.

 

Savannah:

Oh, yeah, I definitely love it look forward to that all the time. And then for, for these events or not events, I keep saying that, but for, like the changes and doing like, the, like the event you have coming up the Take-Out Edition...how have you been letting customers know about these changes, in a way that gives them a peace of mind that they might need to participate in activities again, like, what is your been your strategy, like kind of being like, okay, we're doing this in marketing terms?

 

Sandi:

Because it is something new and there are a few more steps to it than what we have traditionally done as taste of literally, our materials, at least when you go into one of our newsletters or online ticketing sites sort of walk you through, first you check in and you get this bag, and then you'll be doing this...because people are a little confused, I think initially by the process until they read that.

So we've really been pushing out a lot of electronic communications, we've partnered with a couple of outlets to do sponsored blasts for us and Little Italy Association has a huge social media following. So we have been obviously promoting heavily there. So pretty much using every channel that's available.

We don't have a budget for a big print advertising campaign on this. So we have to pretty much rely on digital. And then some TV from public relations aspect as well. There have been a good amount of articles and television appearances as well.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, and just going through your website, I learned a lot, because I saw you guys have a lot of different alerts posted. So I think that's also a great way for people to kind of alert their users of changes just simply by putting it all over their website. And you guys did a great job by that.

 

Sandi:

Little Italy is very close knit community too. So when we have something like this, a lot of the attendees are people that live in the neighborhood and attend all of the committee meetings and such too. So word of mouth is great for us.

 

Savannah:

Oh, yeah, word of mouth. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing form. For sure. I think that was it. I just wanted to kind of like, talk to you about the event and like how you guys have been doing but, um, yeah, I would definitely encourage anyone in San Diego or visiting to check out Little Italy when they can, and especially this upcoming event. Because the food is amazing as you can tell by my enthusiasm. I don't know how you work there, I would be eating out all the time.

Yeah, I'm really excited to see how it goes too.

 
Sandi:

And since this is going out to a lot of event planners, if you have an event coalition in your area, if there's something like our group that you can get involved in, that you can write letters to your Congress and your state legislators, we need to get event professionals either back to work, or financially supported.

And so we're really encouraging activism about this because it's over 12 million people nationwide. And most of them are out of work. So we have an uphill battle on our hands.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, we do. And then you have the events that are linked to these business like local businesses that depend on them like all these all these restaurants.

 

Sandi:

Yeah, and my, my other hat is we produce Fine Art Festivals. So our concern for the artists who have had nowhere to show their work is also something that is very much in the forefront of our mind.

 

Savannah:

Oh, yeah, the Artwalk? Yeah, it's hard. I mean, definitely the artists can sell online and Instagram and there's all these different platforms but it's it's a different experience being in person and actually having that, that platform.

 

Sandi:

Yeah. Art online is difficult to really see you know, there have been so many times because of we look at art online all day every day. There have been many times when I've seen the piece in person that I've only seen online in the past. And I'm very surprised at how different it might be whether good or bad. It's just it is a challenging sale to make online I must say. 

We have no choice at this point but to reconfigure, rework, so, but we appreciate you spending time talking with us and we hope everybody will get their tickets to Taste of Little Italy. 

 

Savannah:

Yes and I will link everything with and wherever the video is. There'll be links right below it, so everyone does not have an excuse not to get their tickets. Okay. 

 



Video notes and links

Taste of Little Italy: 

Taste of Little Italy: Take-Out Edition (Oct. 4th - Oct. 8th)

Little Italy Association 

Social handles for all Little Italy Association media: LittleItalySD (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)

 

San Diego Event Coalition

Essential Considerations for Safely Reopening Outdoor Community Events in San Diego

San Diego County Health Department guidelines

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