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Behind the Scenes at Taste of Arlington

Taste of Arlington

What does it take to plan an event with 50,000 attendees and dozens of restaurants, vendors and entertainers?

For the four-person team behind Taste of Arlington, planning this year’s event started the day after last year’s event.

“It’s a year-long project,” said Tina Leone, CEO of the Ballston Business Improvement District, which organizes the annual event. “It starts off like a tsunami, very calm, then it explodes. We’re a four person team and we have many other projects going on. The stress level definitely rises, but we always pull it off, every year.”

“You immediately start to renew the sponsors,” Catherine Roper, the BID’s Chief Marketing Officer, said of the early planning. “When planning something of this magnitude you have to work smart. So we form a lot of strategic alliances, partnerships with folks.”

Those partnerships — with organizations from TV and radio stations to local professional sports teams to this very website — have helped the event to grow from around 10,000 attendees when the BID took over its planning to the nearly 50,000 attendees expected this year.

“It’s one thing to plan something and execute it well but you need the people to come,” said Roper.

This year the BID is also partnering with the Arlington Food Assistance Center. AFAC is helping the BID recruit some 450 volunteers for the event. In return the BID has committed to donating at least $25,000 in proceeds from Taste of Arlington to AFAC.

In years past, the setup on Wilson Blvd took place from midnight to 6 a.m. on the morning of the event. With the growth of the event — it now takes place up over several blocks — the BID decided to start the setup on Wilson Blvd the day before.

“This year we get to set up on Saturday and get the tents up in the daylight,” said Roper. “When you’re dealing with something outside, you have to bring everything to the streets [and] you have to make sure you have energy to make everyone happy.”

The expanded layout means that long food lines and jam-packed streets are mostly a thing of the past.

“We expanded the footprint and fortunately [attendees] don’t all come at one time, it’s over seven hours,” said Leone. “It never feels overcrowded, we’ve made improvements to the layout of restaurants. You can now buy tickets online so we don’t have to worry about” long ticket lines anymore.

The day of the event, hundred of volunteers help to make the event happen while the core team makes sure everything runs smoothly.

“We train our volunteers very well, they know what they’re going to be doing that day, they know the map,” said Roper. “We couldn’t do this without our volunteers. It’s crazy, there’s a lot of energy, but it’s all for a good cause.”

Taste of Arlington is taking place this Sunday, May 15 from noon to 7 p.m. This year it will feature a 400-foot “street pub” plus an expanded, family-friendly KidZone and a lineup of eight bands on two stages. Tickets are still available online.

Don’t miss ARLnow.com’s “tasting table” with our friends Sarah Fraser and Samy K, amid the main restaurant row at Taste. See the four dishes we selected for the tasting table here, here, here and here.

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