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How to Shut Down a Major City Strip for a Single-Day Food and Wine Fest

We spoke with the production team behind the Las Olas Wine & Food Festival to talk strategy—along with all the food, beverage, and activation highlights.

The one-night-only Las Olas Wine & Food Festival Tasting Pavilion took over five city blocks and several side streets. A production management team of 40, along with various activation partners who brought the sponsorships and experiences to life, were given just 24 hours by the City of Fort Lauderdale to build, execute, and break down the festival.
The one-night-only Las Olas Wine & Food Festival Tasting Pavilion took over five city blocks and several side streets. A production management team of 40, along with various activation partners who brought the sponsorships and experiences to life, were given just 24 hours by the City of Fort Lauderdale to build, execute, and break down the festival.
Photo: Robert Hacman Photography

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA.—On April 19, the one-night-only 28th annual Las Olas Wine & Food Festival invited 2,850 of Fort Lauderdale’s food and drink enthusiasts to indulge at the five-hour event to raise an estimated $415,000 for event host American Lung Association. The private event sprawled five blocks and several side streets of the famed Las Olas Boulevard, inviting 100 different vendors to the private event on a very public street.

This year’s festival included an upgraded VIP experience, which invited ticket holders to a one-and-a-half-hour private kickoff reception a few blocks off site to taste, imbibe, pose for photos, and collect exclusive swag beginning at 5:30 p.m. At 7 p.m., the VIP crowd entered the open-air Tasting Pavilion for 30 minutes of early access. This included an invitation to the debut of the Wine Garden by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, a pop-up wine bar experience with premium pours from well-known wineries like Caymus Vineyards, The Prisoner Wine Company, Belle Glos, Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, Chateau Ste. Michelle, and more. At 8:30 p.m., the premium pours transitioned to standard, and the space opened to all ticket holders. 

For an extra fee, VIP ticket holders were invited to a private reception at Riverside Hotel, presented by FPL and Amerant Bank, and granted access to the Tasting Pavilion 30 minutes early.For an extra fee, VIP ticket holders were invited to a private reception at Riverside Hotel, presented by FPL and Amerant Bank, and granted access to the Tasting Pavilion 30 minutes early.Photo: Robert Hacman Photography

Within the Tasting Pavilion, it was business as usual—the best restaurants from Las Olas to Fort Lauderdale Beach and surrounding areas treated guests to a variety of sweet and savory bites, while a plethora of wine, beer, and spirits brands served an endless array of potent potables. Guests posed in photo booths, collected swag, and danced in the illuminated streets enjoying a few hours of bliss.

Unlike other South Florida food and wine festivals, this one is a private event that takes place on a bustling public city strip. Plus, with it being just a one-night event, producers have to be extremely strategic and quick with their allotted 24 hours to build, execute, and break down the event before handing Las Olas back to the city. To get the inside scoop, we chatted with Valerie Roy, director of marketing and client services for CI Management, the event management agency at the helm of the festival. 

Park City, Utah’s High West Distillery invited guests to a whiskey lounge with Western mountain vibes. The build-out included a wood-paneled bar serving whiskey cocktails, along with matching wooden lounge furniture and high-top tables, as well as a live band for entertainment.Park City, Utah’s High West Distillery invited guests to a whiskey lounge with Western mountain vibes. The build-out included a wood-paneled bar serving whiskey cocktails, along with matching wooden lounge furniture and high-top tables, as well as a live band for entertainment.Photo: Robert Hacman Photography

What is the permitting process like? How involved is the City of Fort Lauderdale? 
The City of Fort Lauderdale’s Special Event Department does a great job of organizing event reviews with a representative from each department present—all together—so we can cover all areas of the event and municipalities at once and communicate jointly. There is open communication between departments throughout the entire process, which helps an event producer ensure that everyone from the municipality is on the same page. 

Our team at CI Management permits festivals and public events in multiple municipalities throughout the year, and when the departments can work together, it truly assists behind the scenes ensuring the public spaces are being well-kept and the event production plan can smoothly be executed from the guidelines set by the city. 

Tito’s Handmade Vodka attracted guests with its 360-degree photo booth.Tito’s Handmade Vodka attracted guests with its 360-degree photo booth.Photo: Robert Hacman Photography

What are the most important things to keep in mind when producing a private/ticketed event in a public place, versus a private event in a private place or a public event in a public place?
When producing any event, no matter public or private, the most important rule is to respect the site as if it is your own home. No matter how small or big the event site is, you have to continually make sure that your team and all the vendors you are bringing know the importance of protecting the elements. How you received your event site is how it needs to be given back, so you can continue to come back each and every year. 

A key to private vs. public events is the need to ensure safety, security, environmental factors, ADA, and proper load-in and load-out instructional guidelines to follow—plus, good communication with vendors leading into the event so everyone understands pre-, during, and post-event guidelines. With a private event, you can manage the vendors and use trusted sources to create the event. 

When it comes to a large festival build, we stress that communication is key. Overcommunicate and always ensure your production lead day of communicates directly with the vendor’s day-of representative, in addition to the rest of the team, so everyone is connected and information does not get lost. 

Tito's also served Cafecito-inspired espresso martinis from a mobile bar.Tito's also served Cafecito-inspired espresso martinis from a mobile bar.Photo: Robert Hacman Photography

You told me that the city hands over the footprint at 4 a.m. day of, and you hand it back by 4 a.m. the following morning. What are the biggest production challenges faced in such a quick turnover?
The biggest challenge is keeping each production team, sponsor, vendor, and all the hundreds of production team members involved, on time, and motivated throughout the entire process. The event is a long 14-hour build across five city blocks, and then a three-and-a-half-hour public ticketed event with 2,500-plus guests—not including the one-and-a-half-hour VIP kickoff at the event’s host hotel, the Riverside Hotel.

Once the event guests are cleared out, there’s a five-hour breakdown to return the street. Usually, when we produce larger festivals, we have a multiday load-in that allows for various production vendors and partners to work at their pace, but for Las Olas Wine & Food Festival, it is all systems go for a 24-hour project and requires more hands and motivation to keep on time and on pace for a smooth event day. 

Papa’s Pilar Rum encouraged guests to share their stories with a photo and quote from the brand’s inspirational figurehead, Ernest Hemingway.Papa’s Pilar Rum encouraged guests to share their stories with a photo and quote from the brand’s inspirational figurehead, Ernest Hemingway.Photo: Robert Hacman Photography

Twenty-eight years into this festival, what’s happening behind the scenes to make it all work?
There is a specific process in place that, if followed in the correct order and timeline, the production will work as efficiently as possible. The production requires us to move from one end to another with all vendors (tents, power, tables, chairs, equipment, etc.) in place working in unison because the trucks lead, and then once the tents go up, no vehicle traffic can move through and only the side streets can be used to load in by handcart. 

There have definitely been years at the beginning where the timeline got thrown off, but the goal of a good production team is to have vendors on standby, extra hands, quick thinking, knowing who to call, and backup batteries for your cellphones. Have the front-of-house team ready to host while the back-of-house team makes it happen.

Indian food delivery service Kulinary Rhapsody prepared chicken tikka masala for guests at the VIP private reception.Indian food delivery service Kulinary Rhapsody prepared chicken tikka masala for guests at the VIP private reception.Photo: Robert Hacman Photography

Even while the fest goes on, the restaurants and shops along Las Olas continue to operate. How is the relationship with the event team and these permanent fixtures during the event? 
Our clients at American Lung Association have a long-standing relationship with The Las Olas Company, a great sponsor and partner of the event that manages the shops on the Boulevard. There are meetings throughout the year to continually see how the festival can incorporate and promote the shops and stores during the event. 

The event brings an additional 2,500-plus people to the Boulevard that might not come normally, so with this, it’s an additional opportunity for exposure for the shops while the guests are there for the night. There are many restaurants and sponsors along Las Olas that participate in the event, as they see the value of being in front of attendees outside of their storefronts for the evening.

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s Abiaka Wood Fire Grill prepared succulent grilled shrimp with warm tomatoes.Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s Abiaka Wood Fire Grill prepared succulent grilled shrimp with warm tomatoes.Photo: Robert Hacman Photography

We have also added mid-block reentry points with added security along each of the event blocks, where, with the flash of their wristband, attendees have the ability to enter and leave our tasting pavilions both at the ends of the street and the middle to take a moment to pause all the delicious wine and food and shop and enjoy the storefronts and then enter back into the pavilions at their leisure. 

With multiple ways to enter and exit the gated event parameters, does the security team ever find it difficult to monitor nonticketed sneak-ins? 
This was a big challenge when we were brought on to produce the event many years ago because, at the end of the day, the event is long and the streets are narrow, and while we want to gate the entire event, we want guests to thoroughly enjoy the experience and not feel too close to each other.

Monitoring entrances and exits is always a difficult task in high-traffic events no matter where we are, but there are different ways to manage the process to help. Each main entrance/exit point has multiple security guards, there are pre-event security meetings, wristband guidelines, and proper color distinctions to ensure easy-to-spot guests are properly ticketed and those who pay get to sip, sample, and indulge in all the incredible restaurants and national wine and spirits partners being showcased. 

We use neon-colored wristbands and different badges for best visibility at night, and each year, the color grid changes. All attendees also receive a wine glass/lanyard around their neck for added recognition.

Hilton’s Q Club served up hearty oxtail empanadas.Hilton’s Q Club served up hearty oxtail empanadas.Photo: Robert Hacman Photography

You said this festival takes a full year to plan and execute. What is the debriefing process like for the event team and how do you ensure you capture immediate solutions and future opportunities for growth following the event to harness into the coming year? 
While the event is being built and during the event night, we are already planning for the next year. Even during the event, we take notes to see how we can continue to grow and smooth out any kinks or production issues. As soon as the event is over, it is important to recap with the guests of the event, the clients, the sponsors, the partners, the host venue, and in this case, City of Fort Lauderdale, Las Olas Association, and Las Olas Company for Las Olas Boulevard. 

Most importantly, the restaurant partners complete a feedback survey, phone calls, and further communication while it is fresh in everyone’s head to ensure we are staying up with any needs of the event in case any issues were experienced, but also to hear what people did and did not enjoy. 

This helps ensure all restaurant partners are able to use the event as a marketing experience as they should, without any issues, and the support that the sponsors need to ensure they are getting their worth in their sponsorships from a branding perspective, that activation needs are met, and their guest experiences are what they were promised. 

What more can be done? What can be done better? What was great? What needed work? Where else can we find ways to raise money for the hosting beneficiary? There are always places to improve.

Keep scrolling to check out the best dishes and sips, notable brand build-outs, and more from the 2024 Las Olas Wine & Food Festival...

La Mexicana Taco Bar created bulk nonalcoholic spicy margaritas to cater to the mocktail crowd using distilled Seedlip Garden 108.La Mexicana Taco Bar created bulk nonalcoholic spicy margaritas to cater to the mocktail crowd using distilled Seedlip Garden 108.Photo: Robert Hacman Photography

The Wine Garden enjoyed its debut at this year’s festival. VIP guests were granted access to premium pours from 7 to 8:30 p.m. before general admission ticket holders could taste more standard pours for the final two hours of the event.The Wine Garden enjoyed its debut at this year’s festival. VIP guests were granted access to premium pours from 7 to 8:30 p.m. before general admission ticket holders could taste more standard pours for the final two hours of the event.Photo: Robert Hacman Photography

Cadillac showcased a variety of vehicles and invited guests to share their contact information in exchange for branded wine cups.Cadillac showcased a variety of vehicles and invited guests to share their contact information in exchange for branded wine cups.Photo: Robert Hacman Photography

Casamigos' oversize photo frame encouraged guests to pose for photos as they entered the Tasting Pavilion.Casamigos' oversize photo frame encouraged guests to pose for photos as they entered the Tasting Pavilion.Photo: Robert Hacman Photography

Wild Sea Las Olas made freshly seared scallops on top of Lorraine potatoes with mustard cream.Wild Sea Las Olas made freshly seared scallops on top of Lorraine potatoes with mustard cream.Photo: Robert Hacman Photography

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