If you’re a fan of Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, the giant annual barbecue festival in New York’s Madison Square Park, then you probably noticed something unusual this year. In and among the smoky air and 17 purveyors of barbecue at the feast this past weekend, the lines were significantly shorter than in previous years.The queue for one of the most popular barbecue purveyors, Texas’ Salt Lick BBQ, was only 10 minutes long, despite the fact that it snaked down the block. But there was a probable reason behind the seemingly thin crowds: no FastPass this year. In the past, the purchase of a Big Piggin’ VIP FastPass got you access to VIP areas and allowed you to skip the lines. As any theme park fanatic will tell you, FastPass makes regular standby lines move slower, creating a long ‘cue queue for those who won’t dish out $275 to skip the line.
“The crowd was a little off this year, not sure if it was due to promotion, change of the date, or no fast pass, but I'm thinking a little of each,” said John Wheeler, pitmaster at Memphis Barbecue Co. in Mississippi. “This is just an observation from a poor boy from Mississippi; New Yorkers really love the block party, and a little change is OK, but you change too much too fast, they gonna let you know about it. Unfortunately, they let them know about it with their turn out.”
Tasting Table's Kat Kinsman was enjoying the much shorter lines, but Serious Eats founder Ed Levine was not too keen on festival changes.
— Kat Kinsman (@kittenwithawhip) June 14, 2015
the bbq block party was not the same under its new ownership. No soul, no energy, no feeling of spontaneity. Bring back the funk. Really.
— edlevine (@edlevine) June 15, 2015
Even though the crowds seemed smaller, the profits were the same, according to Tim Love, Iron Chef champion, pitmaster at Woodshed Smokehouse, and new head honcho at Big Apple Barbecue. The festival was founded by Union Square Hospitality Group's Danny Meyer, but he sold the event this year to Tim Love and C3 Presents, the Austin-based company that produces Lollapalooza in Chicago, the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Austin Food + Wine Festival, Chicago Food + Wine Festival, and the Music City Food & Wine Festival in Nashville. Prices also went up this year, from $9 a plate to $10 a plate.
"The increased number of payment stations at each pit, together with the elimination of the FastPass, enabled each crew to service their guests faster and more effectively,” Tim Love told The Daily Meal. “This created minimal wait times and the opportunity for attendees to experience more styles of barbecue throughout the park.”
In years past the Big Apple Barbecue produced frustrating, hour-long lines, so this year's new planning strategy might have been a major success for the city's biggest food and swine festival.