After nearly two months of eager anticipation and outright salivating at the prospect of a weekend spent eating poutine – Ottawa’s first poutinefest came and went last weekend and we managed to get a sum total of ONE POUTINE APIECE! With wait times between one and two hours – for a simple serving of fries, curds, and gravy! – It was frustrating and offputting to put it mildly.
Moving beyond “mildly,” I’d be more inclined to call it insulting. We tried three times to get a feed of poutine, each time we were rebuffed by the unforgivably long line-ups.
What made it worse was that we had, in advance, made the mistake of buying a “poutine pass” – a sheet of 5 tickets good for one small poutine each. Not the best deal considering the passes weren’t even valid everywhere; the Sparks street restaurants THAT WERE LISTED AS BEING PART OF THE FESTIVAL wouldn’t accept them! In theory, the poutine pass is a smart idea – enabling the holder to sample poutine from 5 separate vendors. But in practice, you’d have to wait in line at least 5 hours (probably closer to 7 or 8!) in order to get the full effect.
We weren’t even willing to wait ONE hour, given it was the middle of November and cold (even despite the unseasonably warm weather).
There was no excuse for the lines, especially considering the same organizers put on TWO successful rib-fest events earlier in the year. A good turnout was never in question! But a good turnout does not a success make, and while I’m sure the organizers are happy with the crowds, they better not rest on their laurels. If they do this event again next year, improvements better be evident, or we’ll be decrying the event as an embarrassment.
You get a year to learn from your mistakes.
There have got to be ways to speed things up. Insist vendors hire more staff, for a start, and bring in additional deep friers. Keeping up with demand had to be difficult for the little chip stands that only seemed to accommodate about 2-3 staff each. It’s possible they were making the best of a bad situation – and I suppose that’s fine given this was the first year. But if they don’t recognize such a simple shortcoming for next year, there’s no excuse. They’ve got to triple the staff at each booth, which would be more in line with the way the rib-fest booths are run. Either that or triple the number of vendors.
The other thing they should do is cut back on the menus presented by each vendor. This is poutinefest, not the cavalcade of deep fried foods. Pogos, hot dogs – anything not actually made up entirely of french fries, curds, and gravy, really – should be barred from the event. Possible exceptions for poutine with different topping, but frankly, they should be streamlining to get as much classic poutine out to customers as possible. If you want to have a food-truck rally, great. But don’t call it “poutinefest.”
We’ll be watching closely next year to see if things improve. If no changes are evident, we’ll be boycotting future events. There are plenty of restaurants in town that serve as good or better poutine… in under 10 minutes!