MIAMI/SOUTH FLORIDA The twin culinary benefits Taste of the Nation Miami and Taste of the Nation Fort Lauderdale had coexisted for a decade before planners made the decision to merge the events last year. The new event, Taste of the Nation South Florida, proved so successful that a second iteration took place Tuesday in Miami Beach. The move offers plenty of lessons for event planners on measuring the value of events, keeping them fresh, and making hard decisions.
“The [Fort Lauderdale] event was really well run, but the amount of dollars and time that was going into it was not yielding the dollars that we should have, so strategically we thought we would get a bigger bang for our buck by doing one event,” said Allen Susser of Chef Allen Consulting, who was the founding event chairman of all three events. “Combined, we could do a bigger, more fun, more exciting event.”
In some ways, merging the events took the benefit back to its roots: The Miami version started in 1988, and the Fort Lauderdale version was spun off from it. Making a smooth transition back to one event required a thought-out plan, and Susser said the process started about eight months in advance. His team consulted with the event's beneficiary, Share Our Strength, about making the change, and with its blessing went forward.
One of the challenges was creating a separate identity for the merged event. It took on a new name and changed venues to Loews Miami Beach hotel from Turnberry Isle Resort and Club, which gave it a fresh look as well as a larger space to accommodate about 1,000 guests. To entice Broward County residents to make the trip south, Susser's team made sure to include participating restaurants from the area.
Planners also added new elements to the event so guests felt like they were getting an expanded experience. New this year were pop-up stations where six recently opened restaurants served dishes for a half-hour each. Part of the ballroom was set up like a sports bar, with high-definition TVs. There was a boccie ball court and a basketball hoop area where former W.N.B.A. player Ruth Riley would shoot hoops with guests for $1 a shot. This year saw an official after-party, a ticketed event at Lure Fishbar that focused on desserts. This year's event raised close to $100,000.
Susser emphasized good communication with all stakeholders about changes to the event, as well as listening to feedback from the event committee and guests. A third element was taking risks.
“I love change and I think it's important—not change for change's sake, but to keep it fresh and different,” he said.