Work out what it's worth to you
I admit when I fork out for tickets I do tend to think it's a bit pricey - since exhibitors pay to attend as well - but I do pass over the cash, so clearly it's worth it for me. Everyone has different priorities for spending their money, though, so do think about what it's worth to you before you sign on. That said, plan ahead a bit so you can take advantage of the cheaper pre-sales price - but if spending a couple of hours smushed in between people clamouring for a taste of olive oil or yoghurt will only serve to make you grouchy, perhaps it's not your thing!
|Believe it or not, this is before it "got busy"...|
Do check the website beforehand to scope out the deals and see who will be cooking in the demo kitchen, and make a note of any that tick your must-do/must-see list.
This year there were a couple of incredible deals you had to plan ahead for; you could swap your half-empty supermarket peanut butter for a full jar of Pic's Really Good Peanut Butter, and you could also switch out your super-cheap vanilla essence for a fancy bottle of Heilala vanilla extract - yum! I tend to do multiple circuits of the stalls, so yesterday the main mission for the first circuit was doing these swaps - mainly because I thought there was a danger they'd run out, and sure enough, by the second time we passed the Heilala stall they had been cleaned out of vanilla extract. Strategy is important. ;-)
I also recommend taking one or two bags you're comfortable carrying - we have a great calico shopping bag, made by a family member, which takes tons of loot and sits pretty comfortably over a shoulder. Since things like bottles of wine, olive oil, and vanilla extract tend to be in heavy glass bottles, being able to shoulder the weight is important. I also like to have a water bottle on hand - although there are usually a few places where you can get water I prefer to have it when I want it. Heh, it's beginning to sound more like a sporting event than a foodie day out, isn't it?
Knowing when the chefs/cooks you want to see are on gives you a target for a well-needed sit-down, too - I had decided I wanted to see Simon Gault and Simon and Alison Holst, so I rocked up just (and I mean just - I got the last seat!) in time for Mr Gault's show, by which time the seat was almost as appealing as the show. Beware, though - the popular shows will run out of room, so get there ahead of time.
Clearly this doesn't work if everyone does it, but (most) people are lazy, and if the gates open at 10, it won't be super-busy until 11.30 or so - so if the crowds are your nemesis, get in early. Attending the Friday session is another way to avoid crowds, though don't expect it to be empty - just less sardine-like.
Skip the stuff that doesn't matter
Again, different people have different priorities. I can't be bothered with the kitchen appliance stalls, since I have a tiny apartment kitchen and no room for clutter, and both Mr Cake and I are instantly uninterested by anyone touting their product using a microphone, so we steer clear of those. Also, although I love chocolate I didn't bother with the Butler's stall, as I will be going there this week anyway so it seemed like overkill.
Also, I love free stuff as much as the next person - possibly more than the next person - but you get to a point where that tiny cupful of stew is just not worth waiting for. But if a product looks really interesting, or if we want to take advantage of the great show specials, we bide our time - that's just how it is!
Just because everyone else seems to be pushing and shoving doesn't mean you can abandon your manners - and sometimes letting people through will help you get to the front faster. Those front-of-the-queue punters have to get out somehow!
Did you go to The Food Show this year? What was your best bargain buy? Best discovery? Favourite chef? And how do you deal with the crowds?