Festivals and food policies

Over the last few weeks I have become increasingly aware that UK festivals are starting to impose restrictions on what refreshments ticket holders are able to bring into the event.

Old news you might think, restrictions on alcohol and glass packaging have been around for some time….but no…these are 100% restrictions on ANY food OR drink (including bottles of water) being taken into the festival arenas, and restrictions on what can be taken into campsites.

Heaven only knows why small scale local “no food or drink can be taken into the festival arena” festivals feel the need to impose such draconian rules – do they think they are Coach “No food/Drink allowed into the concert area” ella or something?

How does this relate to ill health? For starters, refresh your memory of the Equality Act 2010

1. Will the security staff have the relevant skills, knowledge and training to enable them to identify, and make a judgement, on sight of the following:

  • A person suffering from diabetes who needs to carry certain types of food with them?
  • A person suffering dehydration who needs to keep their hydration levels up?
  • Someone who is lactose intolerant and needs to bring in some lactose free milk for their tea / coffee?
  • Someone who is coeliac and needs to bring in gluten free food?
  • Someone who has severe food allergies and needs to keep their food free from allergens such as nuts?
  • Someone with heart disease and who needs to be on a low fat diet?

2. If I am considered disabled, and I am refused entry to a festival arena because of, for example, the gluten free rolls I want to bring in to an arena for the burger I would like to buy, will the company be falling foul of the Equality Act?

Then consider health and safety…

3. I believe those festivals that confiscate water from patrons to have not carried out an effective risk assessment on this policy. The risks from dehydration, dirty hands (not all water is for drinking, it is also used to wash hands after using the appalling toilets) and dirty cuts from falls are greater than….. what? What is the realistic risk from a bottle of water? Well there isn’t a risk, it is cynical marketing ploy. If the company doesn’t let you bring your own refreshments into the arena, they can charge a premium to the vendors there…. I imagine it goes like this…”we’ve got a policy that people aren’t allowed to bring in anything to drink or eat and so you’ll make loads of money, that’s why we charge you more”

Then think about your customers needs – the customers that you are meant to serve…

4. I love festival food – hot fresh chips with plenty of salt and vinegar slathered with tomato sauce, warm doughnuts with creamy hot chocolate and cheese crepes – yum yum yum! But after approximately 2 hours of this type of food I get uncomfortable symptoms of Crohn’s as my body struggled to digest all this fat, cream, sugar and salt.

5. So I look for the ‘healthy’ alternative and I am delighted to find the all the traders selling Jamaican, Indian and Indonesian food, but no…..Hot spicy food, Crohn’s and chemical toilets – No thank you.

6. So I have a jacket potato, which means I won’t starve. But I don’t want to only eat jacket potatoes all weekend.

Why is this type of policy a bad idea?

A. The first thing to realise is that I have money to spend and I have choice. I will choose to visit festivals that meet MY needs and choices. In the context of health I call this my ‘Poorly pound’ (ooh I’ll copyright that one ©). I will prioritise the following:

  • Good quality, clean toilets, and plenty of them
  • A reputation for a variety of food including more healthy choices
  • Not having to explain myself to people who do not have any right to know about my medical history – this is how I will feel at a festival that has these restrictions

B. The second thing to realise is that it is unlikely to impact the bottom line in the way that you think. I want the freedom to bring my bottle of water and my snacks in, and I will purchase additional food and drink as well. By not giving me choice I will not buy your tickets and you are missing out on the poorly pound from me and the healthy pound from my family. You will save money on security staff who have better things to do than to look through people’s bags enforcing a silly policy. Oh, you don’t need my money? Did you sell out already? No we are in a recession and everyone is tightening belts. You do need my money.

C. It causes bad feeling. Your event should be remembered for the fantastic atmosphere, brilliant line up and helpful staff. It should not be remembered for the jobsworth security staff who took away the carton of juice from a toddler, the skips of perfectly good confiscated food greeting visitors at the entrance and every single patron grumbling that the only possible reason this ridiculous policy exists is because it is a cynical attempt by the event marketeers to extract more money from vendors. “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it (Franklin)”

D. It goes against festival spirit – customers have a well developed radar and growing distaste for festivals which are run heavily in favour of marketing and events companies – and with a limited budget they will seek out the more authentic experiences – i.e. not yours. This is linked to reputation above.

Fortunately there are some festivals that have a much more sensible approach, and will therefore benefit from my ‘poorly pound’ such as Latitude “Food for personal consumption is permitted onsite including in the arena”.

Lets look at some excuses:

  1. It is a health and saftey risk – I am the queen of health risk assessment – I live my life making decisions based on risk, whether it be to assume that dish does not contain mushrooms or weighing up the odds of surviving surgery. I write many risk assessments for my work. The risk associated with me not having fluid and food are greater than the risks of me having them on my person.
  2. It is standard practice – No it is not. Latitude, V and Leeds don’t feel the need to have this policy, for example.
  3. Vendors want us to have this policy – No vendors want you to create a good value event that meets the needs of customers.  They want high levels of footfall and generally happy punters. They are happy to pay for premium spaces, but not at the expense of customers who then dig their heels in and refuse to buy from anyone at all.

So what have I missed?


3 responses to “Festivals and food policies

  1. As you well know i’m a bit of a festival veteran having been to many large, medium and smaller festies since 1997 and as a healthy vegetarian throughout that time i’ve also found the whole food /drink issue one that has altered over the years.

    In the recent years there have been much more restrictions at festivals regarding food & drink, now i personally treat festivals as mini holidays and have always taken camping stoves and plenty of food so that my partner and i have a good hearty breakfast before entering the fetival grounds for the day.

    It’s quite comical when you’re cooking up a full english (vege and non vege) when all others around ou are rolling around hungover and drooling at the sound and smells wafting from your camp! (one year there was an epic steak and eggs breakfast that actually got a round of applause!)

    I think in the lifecycle of a festival they often start out as family friendly and small sized with relaxed policies regarding issues as you’ve discussed but as they grow and evolve the policies and policing has to change with them to adhere to strict planning policies that are in place around live music events. I believe it’s also to do with environmental impact laws perhaps inlight of the impact of disease such as foot and mouth etc.

    Anyway besides the point i think it’s quite ridiculous that festivals go from being an affordable mini holiday to an overly expensive experience that becomes to expensive for those who previously would have loved going.

    If you factor in £200 for a ticket when you add in booking fees, transaction fees, car parking and camping costs (what does the ticket actually cover???). Then you have to eat for 3-4 days and buy drinks and pay to use sensible choice toilets! (the composting ones often charge £1 – £2 to cover theeir extra keeping clean costs). You’re looking at £40 a day per person as a minimum.

    Last year at Secret Garden Party a glass of Pimms and Lemonade was about £8.00, a beeer was approximately £4.50, a bottle of water (50cl) was £2.00.

    If you wanted to eat out the cheapest thing to eat that wasn’t chips was probably the old faithful jacket spud which would have been £6 with just cheese.

    Hence in this day and age as festivals do evolve into the more commercial and expensive ventures they inevitably turn into how can the average joe afford to go to them?

  2. Also i remembered at Glasto you should look at the Wateraid website as they often give out free water to people at the front of the main stages as it’s often difficult to get out of the pit! so they do a stirling job keeping people hydrated!

  3. I should also add that with ever increasing types of food available that more diets are catered for at the more arty festivals such as Glasto and Secret Garden, you could get things such as gluten free, meat free, vegan, raw, locally produced and more andmore varieties of ‘standard food’. So if you’re willing to opt ofr a more arty festival you’ll be catereed for, you may not see Lady Gaga or the chilli peppers but you’ll be able to eat at least!

    However i still get annoyed at the massive costs involved!

    Anyway i could rant for hours on the subject of ‘Festivals they’re not what they used to be blah blah blah’ but i shalln’t as that would make me sound old!

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