Early warning: BBQ Fest

It’s the start of a nice, relaxing Easter weekend, but I want to give everyone an early warning: Memphis in May BBQ Fest starts in less than 3 weeks. At BBQ Fest, about 250 teams compete in ribs, shoulder, whole hog, and Patio Porkers. The thing is, due to health regulations, you can’t go in the team booths and eat unless you’re on a team, or are an invited guest. So, now is the time to start gathering invitations.

(Note: As an invited guest, you still have to pay to get in the festival.)

A few tips:

  • Ask around among your friends; find out who you know who is on a BBQ team. Memphis is one of those towns where everyone knows someone. You probably know more team members than you think.
  • Look for people who are wearing BBQ team T-shirts and polos. That’s a sure indication they’re either on a team, or are very close to someone who is.
  • If you’re new to Memphis and have never been to BBQ Fest, use this to your advantage. Team members realize it kind of sucks to be at BBQ Fest when you don’t know anyone on a team; being on the outside looking in is no fun. As a result, many teams tend to be sympathetic to newcomers.
  • When you get invitations, be sure to get the team name. Most of the teams have similar names, some variation of pig, hog, swine, etc. It’s easy to get down to the park and have no idea whose booth you’re invited to. Write the name down or put it in your phone.
  • If possible, get their booth number as well. If you have an iPhone or Droid, the Memphis in May app will let you look up the team, find the booth number and get an approximate location in Tom Lee Park.
  • Let them know that you understand it’s expensive to run a team (budgets in excess of $20,000 are normal for the large teams), and if they have a tip jar you’d be happy to stick a few dollars in.
  • Be appreciative. Ask nicely, and be grateful if an invitation is extended. Don’t act like it’s your God-given right to come in. Being a douchebag is not a good strategy to get in booths.
  • Don’t ask if you can bring 8 other people with you. That’s unreasonable. One person, sure. Two, maybe. But don’t expect to ride up with your entire posse and be welcome.
  • Ask if they use any kind of system to denote invited guests – wristbands, cards, etc. – and arrange to get one.
  • If you go to Music Fest, that’s a good opportunity to network for BBQ Fest, because of the sheer number of people you’ll see there.
  • If you ask and are told no, be understanding. As a member of a team, I hate telling potential guests no, but sometimes I have to. We can’t allow more people in than the capacity set by the fire marshal, and it’s not fair for me to let 75 invited guests in when my teammates only have a few guests each.
  • Find out what dates and times are best for you to stop by. Many teams have a “sponsor night” when they have to limit guest access.

(Edit: A frequent guest of my team’s booth just reminded me that wearing a tube top is an excellent strategy for gathering booth invites.)

The early bird gets the worm. Start early, and you won’t get caught in a mad scramble to get in booths when BBQ Fest opens to the public.

If you want more info about BBQ Fest, you can get details here.