It had become something of an annual tradition. Tickets for the Tower Bridge dinner went on sale last year. Many grumbled about the price and complained that the centerpiece of the Farm-to-Fork Festival seemed elitist. Scores of others raced to snap up tickets, which sold out in seconds. Those who came up empty suggested the fix was in.
Responding to feedback – and a chorus of complaints from those who missed out – the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau announced Tuesday a change in format for what has become one of the hottest tickets in town. Those interested in attending the Sept. 25 dinner will have a full eight days to enter their names in a lottery.
After the names are drawn, winners will be notified they have 24 hours to purchase tickets for $199, up from $175 for the first three years. Tickets will be limited to two per person, down from four in previous years.
This year, in an effort to highlight the contributions of farmers, the bridge dinner will be led by a team of chefs, each of whom will be paired with two local farmers.
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While the lottery idea may ease the frustrations for many, it’s not all good news. Unless you’re cozy with a corporate sponsor, your odds of actually landing tickets this year are likely worse. There will be significantly fewer tickets available to the general public – from 250 tickets in 2015 to 110 this year.
The rest of the 740 tickets have been purchased by sponsors, who pay $625 per ticket and have the chance to buy large blocks of tickets. Proceeds from the dinner help fund numerous free events at the festival.
“First and foremost, it is a fundraiser. It helps to pay for the free festival the day before, which last year had about 50,000 people attend,” said Mike Testa, chief operating officer of the convention bureau. “It also helps provide some of the funding for the food drive that we do with the Sacramento Food Bank. The other reason we do it is it serves as a platform for the farmers and chefs in this market to showcase not only what grows here but how it’s prepared here.”
Testa added, “Like any event with limited capacity, there are people who are not able to get tickets, and we’ve certainly heard that every year that we’ve done the event. There are folks who feel the process is rigged. ... In an effort to be as transparent as possible, we’ve gone down this road.”
At 5 p.m. Tuesday, the new ticket protocol went live, meaning people can begin entering for the drawing by logging in online at farmtofork.com. There is no cost for entering. Deadline for entry is midnight on July 21. After the drawing, winners will be emailed a code that will allow them to purchase two tickets. If they fail to do so within 24 hours, the next person on the wait list will have an opportunity.
“We sat down and said, ‘We can’t continue to do this. We get too much bad publicity,’” said Stephen Hammond, president and chief executive officer of the convention bureau. “I think this is much more transparent. People, whether they get the tickets or not, at least they will feel their name is in a pool and there is a system that gives them an opportunity to end up with tickets. The way that we did it before didn’t have that feeling when it was all said and done.”