St Albans Food and Drink Festival in turmoil

St Albans Food and Drink Festival 2013

St Albans Food and Drink Festival 2013 - Credit: Archant

The St Albans Food and Drink Festival is in crisis after a string of failings in this year’s management.

The popular event, now in its fifth year, is scheduled to run from September 25 to October 6 but has been dogged with problems which have culminated in key restaurants pulling out of the associated awards.

The council introduced sweeping changes to this year’s festival after axing an independent steering group, including introducing a new logo due to copyright issues with the original and bringing in a revised voting process for the Food and Drink Awards.

But despite desperate steps to pull the event back on track, two of the city’s leading restaurants have decided to pull out of the awards completely, claiming the voting system remains flawed and that it has thrown the integrity of the entire event into doubt.

This year’s awards initially used an online survey form for entries, replacing the previous voting system which insisted on email verification to curb multiple entries and eliminate bogus submissions.

The council promised to introduce a revised system this week, but as the Herts Advertiser went to press it was still not up and running.

This week restaurateurs Andrei Lussmann from Lussmanns and Ruth Hurren from Darcys joined Soko Coffee and The Waffle House in pulling out of the awards.

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Past winner Andrei said that although he is still committed to taking part in some events, he will also not feature at the festival finale on October 6.

“At the end of the day it is very sad, but I am not going to waste my time and my customers’ time in asking them to vote for us under a flawed system which is riddled with inconsistencies. It is simply not fit for purpose.

“This is people’s businesses we’re talking about, but these awards have become a farce.”

Previous winner Charlie Powell, owner of Soko Coffee, withdrew after concerns over categories and the selection of nominees, which included a national chain in the bar category and fixed premises entered for street food.

This week council leader Julian Daly headed up an emergency session of past steering group members to address some of the concerns.

Following the meeting, Richard Shwe, head of community services at St Albans district council, said: “We realise that the planning of the food and drink awards and festival could have been better managed and I apologise for this. We have listened to concerns raised about the handling of the food and drink awards and festival this year.

“We have sought to address these where we can by developing a new voting system, which includes user authentication, and re-establishing the steering group to provide general advice. We have also extended the deadline for the public to vote in the awards.”