This past weekend was Toronto’s annual Gourmet Food & Wine Expo (GFWE). The event, which takes place each year at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, is positioned to be one of the biggest food and drink events of the year, welcoming over 45,000 Torontonians and tourists over the event’s 4-day run.
For an event so large, with so much promotional marketing and so many big name sponsors, I honestly was not very impressed with the overall execution. The event was severely overcrowded, almost impossible to navigate and certainly did not have the typical atmosphere anyone would expect for anything gourmet.
When Lisa and I first arrived we were excited to get inside to start eating and drinking (we were starving). After navigating our way through the Convention Centre we finally arrived at the event’s entrance and the massive line that came with it. We arrived at 6:00 PM, thinking it was a reasonable time to arrive given that our tickets were for 5:00 PM or later, and assuming the majority of ticket holders would show up later before heading out to a club, bar or party. There were probably about 1,000 people or more in front of us in line and we almost left, worried that we would be waiting for over an hour to get in. Both luckily and surprisingly, the line moved fairly quickly and we were at the front, happy we didn’t ditch our plans.
But all of the people previously in front of us in line were now inside the event. The place was packed; what I had hoped to be a casual stroll through the venue to try a variety of wines and foods ended up being a struggle through the crowds just to see what each booth had to offer. There were also a few booths that I wanted to go back to, but they were hard to relocate in the jungle that was the GFWE. Perhaps next year it would be helpful if there were maps that listed where each of the exhibitors were located.
In terms of service, it was obviously very busy and for the most part the vendors were doing as much as they could to serve customers in a friendly manner; except for some. Clearly the Alcohol & Gaming Commission was not out to play at this event, otherwise some of the vendors probably would have thought twice about drinking while on the job. I get it, it’s a wine tasting event, but that doesn’t mean the staff working it should be more inebriated than the guests. There were more than a few instances where you could tell that some of the staff had been drinking; at one booth I fully witnessed a vendor crack open a Budweiser, pour the contents into his glass and chug without shame!! Totally unprofessional!! Obviously these people do not directly work for GFWE, but there should be a strict policy put into place for these situations.
Now, not everything was terrible; the food was phenomenal. I tried a variety of different dishes including a cheddar, brie and cranberry grilled cheese, vegetable spring rolls, flat bread, cannolis, rice, a variety of Matt & Steve’s Extreme Bean items and a very delicious ‘eco-taco’ from Feel Good Guru.
In theory this event is a great concept and a phenomenal business opportunity for up and coming brands to get their name out in Toronto. A $25 entry fee is fairly reasonable – especially since the summer version of this event, Beerfest, was outdoors but double the price. The idea of selling $1 tickets to be used towards food and drink allows for speedy service without the hustle and wait time for change. Hosting at the Metro Convention Centre rather than somewhere else in the city, such as Exhibition place, is also great because it is easily accessible via Union Station and its many modes of transportation (TTC, GO, VIA).
As for next year, I think I’m going to sit this one out. If you decide to test your luck (and remember this post while doing so), please feel free to let me know if they’ve made any positive changes.
For more about the Gourmet Wine & Food Expo, visit: http://www.foodandwineexpo.ca