Only a ‘Taste’ of ‘Taste of Chicago’: Part 1

Sorry, Rahm, but your political batting average doesn’t seem to be going up these days. Being an architecture buff, I can’t say I liked the idea of using the city’s architecture for the purpose of advertising, essentially turning the city into a giant billboard. I didn’t like it at all. I know Chicago needs to make money, and right now, we’re having some trouble making it. If Chicago needs an advertisement, though, I’d suggest thinking a little less literally. You can’t slap ‘em all up on our bridge houses.

One of the best advertisements this city has isn’t one you can just put on the side of some building.

It was (and yes, I am using the past tense deliberately) the Taste of Chicago.

Or – for short – the “Taste.”

The model for the event is one copied many times over, and now most major cities host their own “Taste of” events, following suit. Why? Because it works. These events not only help promote local restaurant businesses, but unify them with the community in which they sit. Now, sure, your tourists can get their obligatory hot dog and pizza slice, but for folks native to Chicago, it’s a rare chance to become familiar with restaurants outside their immediate neighborhood.

Chicagoans are a color-inside-the-lines folk when it comes to the communities in which they grow up. For me? My folks raised me on thin crust from Palermo’s on 95th Street in Oak Lawn. You practically could draw a map of the city based on the brand and style of pizza people prefer. That all said, the locals are just a little bit biased, and a whole lot accustomed to their pizza.

Disney’s EPCOT has a “Seven Seas” of Countries. Here in Chicago, we’ve Seven Seas’-worth of pizza.

Disney’s EPCOT has a “Seven Seas” of Countries. Here in Chicago, we’ve Seven Seas’-worth of pizza.

But at the Taste? It’s as if a pizza peace treaty is in place, if only for ten days. You’ll see a South Sider with a slice of Lou Malnati’s, and a North Sider with some Home Run Inn thin crust. It gets people here to open up to foods they wouldn’t have ever tried, otherwise. And for people visiting from out-of town, what better a way could there be to sample the best of Chicago’s restaurants and foods? They’re all smack-dab in the heart of the Loop, right alongside the lake, oh-so-conveniently grouped in tents next to another.

Now, sure, the vendors and restaurants serving food there make some money. But some are there more for the publicity, and the advertisement that comes with being part of such an event. I don’t care who you are, there’s no way you could Groupon your way to an audience like the one the Taste provides (better yet, the folks at the Taste will actually pay FULL PRICE for your food). You would think the city would recognize just how important those 10 days could become to a Taste vendor, moreover, one looking to make a name for itself and impact as large and diverse a customer base as possible.

And these are exactly the benefits that may be impacted by the mayor’s recent decision to change the “Taste.” Come back soon for the second half of this blog, where we’ll look more closely into the mayor’s past decisions and how they’ve impacted the Taste of Chicago.

Have you ever been to the Taste of Chicago? If so, in what ways do you think the event could be improved? If not, what has kept you from going?

Image credit to Peter Fuchs and zero7068.

Eric Labanauskas

Eric is a data entry specialist and contributing writer for the QLP Blog Squad. He is a city boy with a country heart, with an appetite for anything chicken-fried. He has studied as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, performed across the country as Buddy Holly in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," and can tie a bow tie by himself without the aid of a mirror. 1950's rock 'n roll is his soundtrack, especially while on road-trips with his lovely girlfriend. Suffice it to say, he is also the owner of some good cocktail party stories from his many experiences. You can also connect with Eric on Google+.


  1. Candice J.

    I LOVE the Taste of Chicago! Granted I hate the massive crowds at time the food more than makes up for it. I’ve been going ever since I was a little girl with my family every year. There may not be a lot of things we always do outside of holidays, but hell going to the taste every year is like a holiday in my family. Its such a tradition that now that my daughter is a toddler we plan to take her every year as well. I love the Taste just the way it is. From the food, to the music, and even the crowds. Its a great time, with great food, and usually great weather. I don’t support them changing it AT ALL! It’s been working great since i can remember so what’s the point of changing it now.

    • Candice J.

      By the way, i grew up on the West Side of Chicago in an area known as K-Town. I am a Home Run Inn girl TO THE HEART! That is so true that you can tell a Chicago’er and where they grew up by the kind of pizza they like. And for Chicago its pretty serious when it comes to pizza. You know what you like and everything else almost seems non-existent except for at the Taste. Then its a one-day pass for a pizza free for all! Gotta love it!

      • Eric

        Amen, Candice!

        South Sider, here. Home Run Inn or Connie’s Pizza (most of the time, the former of the two) and Rainbow Cones. Always gotta have a Rainbow Cone.

        I’ve always liked the Taste because it’s a great way to introduce your friends or family from out of town to the city of Chicago. Usually they’ll visit on the holiday, and it’s a nice excuse to relieve oneself of BBQ-grill duty for an afternoon.

        Respect points for actually knowing – more importantly, liking – Home Run Inn’s pie. Haven’t had one in ages and those frozen grocery store ones just aren’t the same!

  2. Alex Brodsky

    I’ve been to The Taste, and I must say I wasn’t a huge fan. I love food, especially greasy, fatty, awesome Chicago food.

    That being said, I absolutely detest crowds. Especially on hot summer days where I’m surrounded by thousands of sweaty people who reek like they forgot to put on deodorant.

    I would much rather test the variety Chicago has to offer through Yelp and a journey of experimentation to another part of the city. What you say about Chicagoans sticking to their own area/part of town is 100% spot-on.

    • Eric

      I didn’t even mention it, but about those crowds:

      They used to set up the tents so they sat in the middle of the street. This created a traffic flow: closest to the tent for those ordering food, the middle of the street for those passing by, and the curb for those who wanted to sit down and not have to balance a turkey leg for a quarter-mile.

      Then they changed the orientation, placing the tents along the curbs, forcing ALL the foot traffic into one, big, cluster#$%^ mess pattern in the middle. I remember having to use my BBQ turkey leg for self-defense one year in those crowds. Ridiculous.

      As far as branching outside of one’s neighborhood in concerned, really, it’s one of the most important components of the Taste. Have I ever driven an hour out of my way for a meal? Yes. Yes, I have. Often? No, but that’s still business that otherwise wouldn’t be had if I wasn’t hooked on something.

      And, for the record: why can’t sleeve be mandatory?!?! You wouldn’t go to dinner in that raggedy-old tank top, folks. Don’t go sauntering around the city in it.

  3. Jen

    I’ve never been to the Taste Of Chicago, and I don’t have an interest in going. It’s in July (when it’s super hot), it’s outside (where there are lots of bugs and sunburns), and there are masses of sweaty hot people stuck together (literally stuck together from the sticky heat and humidity). YUCK! Count me out. The only good thing about the Taste would be the readily available tents of delicious food, but for me, it’s totally not worth suffering in the heat and crowds.

    Of course, I don’t support the mayor’s choice in any way to cut it short, because people like it, but it’s just not my thing and the decision wouldn’t effect me in the slightest.

    Sorry if I’ve rained on any ones parade :/ it’s just my opinion.

    • Eric

      There’re ways around it, if you’re up to it, Jen. It’s usually best to find someome with some experience, have them show you to the really interesting tents, and spend a limited amount of time doing the stuff that really matters. I, personally, can’t deal with droves of people for a very long time. The METRA ride down there is usually more than enough!

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    I get that Chicago needs to scale back their budget, but cutting an event that brings so much revenue into local restaurants, shops, bars, and hotels just seems like the wrong way to go about it.

    • Eric

      The word of Mandy.



  5. Rachel

    I’ve never been to the Taste, and honestly I’ve mostly heard bad things about how it’s run and how hot and crowded it gets. BUT, I think it’d be fun to go try all the different foods. And while I might not enjoy the crowds, I’m sure the vendors do, as it means more people discovering their products and more potential customers for the future.

    From that article you link to, it sounds like the Taste has been losing money and attendees for the last few years … it’ll be interesting to see if changes to the event will help or hurt it. Looking forward to your take on the matter in part 2, Eric! 🙂

    • Eric

      Well, the less there is to do, in turn, the less turnout you’re likely to have. I’m baffled at the fact they’ve cut and minimized things like musical acts. Without activities to fill the time inbetween visiting food vendors, likely, people will spend less time at the event, and in turn, spend less money while they’re there.

      Far as sampling the most bang for your buck? I always suggest to go with a group, buy the “Taste” portions, and split them amongst yourselves. You can sample a lot more than you would buying the full-sized portions.

  6. amy

    I went to the ‘Taste’ about 2 years ago and wasn’t really impressed. While the food was good, it was also very expensive. What really got to me though were the crowds. Ugh. It was so hot the day I went that I really didn’t end up enjoying it.

    I don’t think cramming all the crowds into a shortened time period is the way to go either. Seems counterproductive to me. Can’t wait for part 2!

    • Eric

      If visitors weren’t accustomed to the usual, 10-day duration, it may be a different story. Tourists may not affect any change, but then again, if they expect the event to be there while they’re visiting on the July 4th weekend, they’ll be in for surprise when they find a completely empty Grant Park.

      You can’t physically fit as many people in to five days as you would ten, bottom line. Which forces those planning to visit to come within that smaller timeframe, and, as a result, likely cram more people in that one would deem a comfortable amount.

  7. Jill Tooley

    This saddens me for some reason. I’ve only been to the Taste once or twice, but it was always a blast! The past few years, the traffic was so bad that I didn’t even bother making plans to go again. I can’t even imagine how crowded and screwed up it’s going to be without those extra 5 days! I understand the need to cut down on spending, but this doesn’t seem like the most logical way to do it. If they had a halfway-decent music act or two and 10 full days to work with, they probably could’ve raked in some cash for Chicago…but then again, I’m not terribly savvy on marketing/budgeting for an entire city, especially not one as vast as ours.

    P.S. The idea of a “pizza treaty” both amuses me and makes me hungry. If there’s any kind of treaty I could support, it’s one that could potentially fill me with delicious, fattening deep-dish pizza! 😉

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