Ask The Salty Waitress: Can I Get A Refund On This Terrible Festival Food?

Dear Salty, Some friends and I went to a music festival last weekend. The first night, after we'd been drinking and standing all day, we were starving and tried to order some sandwiches from a BBQ vendor at the festival. There was a long line, and when we got to the front, they told us they were out of most of their food, but could put together mac & cheese topped with some brisket.

All the other vendors also had long lines too, so we said okay and paid $15 for the mac & cheese. It was so, so gross. The mac & cheese didn't have any flavor and the brisket was mostly sauce with just a little bit of weird meat strings in it. I couldn't believe we paid $15 for it. But I paid cash and didn't get a receipt, so I wasn't sure I could have returned it. Could I have? By the way, we ate a really early dinner—from a different vendor—the next day to avoid this.

Thanks, Wants My $15 Back

Hey $15—

Unless you're going to specifically a food event—and even sometimes then—the meals you'll find at summer festivals are a crap shoot. Festival organizers know the food isn't the main draw at a music festival, so it's mostly there to keep you from gnawing your arm off or getting so drunk you pass out in a porta-potty.

Of course it's still expensive, but think about the food at most concerts, sporting events, movie theaters, etc. I paid $9 for a Corona at a street festival last summer. When you get a good, fairly priced meal, it's the exception to the rule. I'm not saying that doesn't suck, but I am suggesting you might lower your expectations a bit. Festival food isn't cooked-from-scratch, farm-to-table stuff. It's 95% starch, made in big batches, sitting out in vats.

Vendors, too, don't always know how much business they'll do. They'd rather run out of food than have extra, because guess who's eating the food cost? They are. If it rains, or the festival isn't sold out, the vendors are stuck with extra food they can't sell. Running out is a way better scenario for them. The responsibility is with the festival organizer to make sure they book enough vendors and give a good estimate of attendance so that even if a stand or two runs out, there are still other options available.

So, like I have with my dating life, temper your expectations. Could you have demanded a refund for the mac-and-cheese? Yeah, sure. I bet the vendors would have given you your money back just to get you off their case. But I think you'd be better off just chalking this up to what it is: overpriced, mediocre food at a festival. Shocking! Next time, do what Aunt Salty does and smuggle in a ham sandwich in your blouse. Works every time.

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