Taste of Chicago, the city’s annual summer culinary festival, lost $1.3 million last year, according to city officials on Wednesday.
And the results of the 2012 festival have left at least one local restaurant reconsidering whether to take part again.
“We’ve gotten better at budgeting ourselves and tightening it as much as possible so we’re not taking as large of a loss. But, in the end, I can’t see any way where we can profit off of this,” said Chris McDonald, general manager of Timothy O’Toole’s Pub in Streeterville, in a telephone interview Wednesday.
McDonald said the costs associated with setting up a food stand inside Taste--along with an additional $3,000 application fee--make the choice to join the festival again difficult.
Timothy O'Toole's has been at Taste since 2009, but he said the bar’s owners have yet to decide whether to take part this year.
City officials interviewed Wednesday pointed to advertising as a benefit for local restaurants that participate in the festival.
“Everybody’s got the address of their restaurant, they’ve got wonderful signage,” said Cindy Gatziolif, a spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.
“People are sampling something. North Siders are sampling South Side restaurants, South Siders are sampling North Side restaurants. It’s an opportunity to be seen by a million people.”
But, according to McDonald, it is difficult to track how much revenue is generated by participating in Taste.
“We’re not exactly sure if the marketing aspect is worth it,” he said, adding that Timothy O’Toole’s has lost “quite of bit of money” by joining Taste. He did not provide specific numbers, however.
Nearly 40 restaurants participated in the 2012 Taste. And some of those restaurateurs said in phone interviews Wednesday they did see benefits from the festival’s public exposure.
“We do some of the interviews, we do some of the talk shows talking about Taste. And you probably just couldn’t buy that type of advertising along those lines,” said Charlie Robinson, President and CEO of Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs, which--he added--has taken part in Taste for the past 27 years.
City restaurants have until March 1st to turn in their applications for this year’s Taste of Chicago. The festival runs July 10-14.