On a Sunday afternoon in February, 45,000 chicken wings were consumed by some 2,000 Chicagoans at Bailey Auditorium for the 13th annual Chicago WingFest.
Whether you're a vegetarian, pescaterian, or a meat-aterian, there's still a lot of numbers to crunch and logistics to wrap your head around in planning an event like this and pulling it off with minimal complications. And whether your company is ever likely to attempt holding an event of this magnitude or something much simpler, the fact that WingFest has been going strong for nearly two and a half decades means that the people behind it know how to throw an event and how to keep it from stagnating.
I gave WingFest Event Organizer Matt Kubinski a call to find out what goes into getting all those wings and things into place every year. There's lots of good advice here for budding event planners and for folks thinking of hiring event planners, so strap on your bib and get reading.
What's involved with planning something like WingFest?
Matt Kubinski: It's crazy. You have to think about every little detail right down to the wet napkins, the Wet Ones. Plates. Napkins. Cups. Ice. That sort of thing. The details will kill you. You have to make sure you have a liquor license, that the beer truck is going to be there a certain time. You have to make sure you have a good procedure in place for counting your inventory and product that's going over the bar. For WingFest in particular you have to contact a whole bunch of restaurants and working with the logistics of getting 20 different restaurateurs into the same building on the same day, which can be very challenging.
When it's a long-running event like WingFest, is there more or less work involved with getting stuff into place since it's more of a routine? Or does it not make any difference at all?
Matt Kubinski: I wouldn't say it's less work. I would say we have experience now. We're always trying to do things better, so there's always something new but at this point in the particular venue we're at we're pretty much the same team. It really is a lot smoother. It's never easy, but it can be a lot smoother, if that makes sense.
Absolutely. So, when you have an event that goes on for a couple years like this, how do you look for things to change up while still remaining true to its spirit? Obviously you don't want to become redundant, predictable, or just repeating yourself.
Matt Kubinski: Listen to the people. I think that's the biggest thing to take away from an event. Ask the crowd: "How was it? What would you like to see next year? What could we do better?" They'll tell you. Right now with WingFest, I think the thing that's highest on the list is we need a bigger venue. The demand has outgrown the supply as far as capacity at this particular place. But as I said there's always tons of little tweaks. We definitely talk to the people who go to the event and try to get their opinion on things. I'll try to crowd source it out to Facebook or Twitter and I do a survey of all the restaurants and vendors who are involved to ask how they thought we did and how we could do better. I even debrief like the beer and liquor partners: "How did you feel it was for you guys? Did you get the exposure you were looking for? How were things day-of?"
How do you stay organized? Google Docs? How the heck do you stay on top of what you're supposed to be staying on top of with all this?
Matt Kubinski: I've tried it all, man. I do have a massive spreadsheet. I've put it into Google Doc and last year we did [project management software] Basecamp, which was pretty cool but everybody else I think it just annoyed them. It sends a lot of reminders. But we tried it and we'll keep trying new tools as they become available, but there's still nothing like the tried and true list on a spreadsheet.
Do you have any other advice for aspiring event organizers?
Matt Kubinski: Don't try to do too much. You gotta trust your team. It always helps to double-check everything. Even if you think you're being annoying? Don't worry about it. Triple-check everything. Get a good team. Try to recognize people's talents and let them do what they like doing and don't try to force people to do work they don't enjoy doing. You won't get good work out of people that way.
David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.