Florida’s largest food festival is set to make its return to the sands of Miami Beach later this month as the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF) kicks off its 21st year on Thursday, February 24. The four-day festival is just eight months after its 2021 iteration, which saw a slew of new safety measures and limited capacities put in place due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
SOBEWFF was one of the first large-scale national events to return after the wave of COVID-19 shutdowns that the world saw over the past two years, and its founder and director, Lee Brian Schrager, says that its return went “10 times” better than anticipated, which has him very optimistic about this year’s event.
“I think because we delivered last year in terms of safety and security, we’re having an outstanding year right now,” said Schrager. “I really think people who were not ready in May are now back, and people who came in May told their friends ‘Hey, it was not a mad house. They said they were going to do, and safety was clearly the priority.’”
But as people start venturing out to large-scale events again, health and safety still remains on the forefront of organizers minds. Guests of the multi-day food and wine event can still expect all of the safety protocols enacted last year like a contactless ticketing system, temperature checks, COVID-19 sniffing dogs, capacity restrictions, cleaning, sanitization, limiting physical contact, masking requirements, and one-way traffic flow inside the events.
“Safety is a priority. Comfort is a priority. We listened to people and the talent and found out what made them feel comfortable and safe,” said Schrager.
However, guests can also expect more attendees this year as the festival is loosening its capacity restrictions from 2021. Schrager noted that the festival lost millions in revenue last year due to its large decrease in guest capacity in order for it to safely happen, but he realized it was necessary for the success for the future of the festival.
“We knew if we didn’t come back we probably weren’t going to come back,” adding that the festival would run the risk of losing continuity and sponsors if it didn't make a return in 2021, “but we’re not trying to ‘make up’ for that loss by any means this year.”
Large marquee events like Burger Bash will still be broken into two sessions in order to ensure proper social distancing, and this year there are more smaller and mid-sized events than ever before including more than 30 seated dinners, and nearly 20 master classes and wine seminars, in addition to the signature walk around outdoor tasting events. Plenty of A-list names have also been added to the weekend’s lineup to host events including Adam Levine, Kate Hudson, Eva Longoria, with a few others still set to be announced.
“Last year was a big learning curve for us, but we’re coming back better than ever,” said Schrager.