Establish All Of The Details!!
Before you do anything to promote your event or let anybody know about it, you must first establish all of the details regarding the contest. If you don't, people will have all sorts of questions and will lose interest. Here are the main details that you need to establish:
► Date & Time- First, you must figure out what day the contest will be on, and the time that you will have it. If you are having the contest during a festival or event, the date is already set, so you just have to pick the time. Schedule the contest separate from all of the other events going on because you don't want people to have to choose which event they want to see. If your event is only for a few hours during the day, I suggest that you have the contest towards the end as a big finale. People will stay until the end so that they can watch the eating contest, and then the event can be over after the award ceremony. Then while the eating contest is happening, all of the vendors can start cleaning up their spots. If its a weekend festival, pick a time when their will already be a lot of people there, preferably Friday night or Saturday during the day.
Obviously don't hold the contest very early in the day before allowing a lot of people to get there. If you are a restaurant just wanting to host an eating contest that is not specifically part of a festival/event, the easiest time to pick is when there will already be people there. If you are a sports bar, hold the contest during the halftime of a big game!! It will give your customers some entertainment during the intermission, and more people will want to participate. If you are in a college town or city with a winning team, you may want to host the event during the halftime of an away game. A great time to host a contest is on big sporting event days such as the Super Bowl. Another great day to host a contest is on a particular holiday that celebrates the heritage of your restaurant. If you are an Irish pub, have it on St. Patrick's Day!! If you are a mexican restaurant, have it on Cinco de Mayo!! This is why the Nathan's Hot Dog Contest is on the 4th of July. Pick a date & time that will work okay for everybody, and more people will participate.
► Food- This is one of the easiest decisions, picking which food that you want the eaters to consume. If your event surrounds a type of food, obviously you want to use that particular food in the contest. If your event is called Baconfest, you better use bacon!! If you have a food challenge at your restaurant & you are wanting to host an eating challenge/contest, that makes the decision really easy. Just use your food challenge as the food. Other than that, pick a food that works well for the event. On Super Bowl Sunday, you may want to use an American type of food such as hamburgers. On St. Patrick's Day, use corned beef sandwiches. In some cases, especially contests benefitting a charity, you may want to work with a sponsor. Use the food that you can get donated by a particular food vendor. Most food vendors are very open to these opportunities because its great advertising and it promotes a great image for the company. If your restaurant is particularly known for a menu item, you may want to use that for the contest. Pick a food that tastes great and works well with the environment, & more people will want to eat it!!
► Length Of Contest- Another important detail is how long the contest will last. There are many factors to think about when choosing a contest length. First of all, I don't suggest having a contest that lasts more than 15 minutes. In competitive eating, 12 minutes is a marathon. 15 minutes is an ultra-marathon!! Plus, the crowd is going to start losing interest after 10 minutes. If the contest is too long, spectators will get bored and you don't want that. If you want more competition, the contest needs to be shorter. In many contests, even in IFOCE events, there is 1 or 2 people that have a greater capacity than all the others. After about 5 minutes, those people will start breaking away from the competition at a rapid pace. If the contest is real long, the stronger eaters may even double the totals of the people behind them. In most cases though, he or she will start to ease-up and coast to a victory which just makes the contest more uneventful for all the spectators watching.
Another factor to consider is how much food you have available. If your supply is limited, or the cost of food is expensive, you may want to consider a shorter contest. If the food is cheaper, you can most likely consider a slightly longer contest. Another big factor that most people don't think about is that as the contest goes on longer, there is a higher chance of people throwing up. Most people are not used to eating fast, so they have a higher chance of getting sick. When people start puking, half of the spectators start laughing and the other half gets grossed out. Then the contest turns into a circus, which you definitely don't want. People start pointing fingers and arguments can occur which makes all parties involved look bad. The final factor to think about is prizes. As the length of a contest increases, generally the prizes should increase in value. With a longer contest, winners have to eat & drink more, and they should be rewarded for that. If not, why would they put forth much effort?
► Entrance Fees- One of the minor details to decide is whether to charge people to enter the contest. Generally, I don't recommend charging people to enter an eating contest, especially if the prizes are not very good. If you are going to charge, I definitely don't recommend making the entrance fee expensive. Competitive eating is not like poker where a rookie can just get really lucky & beat an experienced player. For most people, this is only going to be their 1st or 2nd contest and he or she is mostly doing the contest for fun. Its not very fun to pay a bunch of money just to get dominated by somebody who is a lot better and more experienced than you.
If you charge an entrance fee, you most likely won't get that many participants. Small entrance fees are ok in 3 situations. You can have them if the money is going towards the prizes, towards the cost of the food, or is 100% going to a charity beneficiary. They should NOT be to make money. You will make money on all the people watching, eating, and drinking. One good thing about a small entrance fee is that it prevents somebody from simply just getting a free meal. If you are expecting multiple great eaters to attend your contest, and you have a worthy prize, you can consider having a more costly entrance fee. Just don't expect anybody else to really participate though unless its going towards a great charity organization, & he or she would donate anyway towards that particular cause.
As a final note, if somebody is fine with paying the entrance fee, thats probably because he or she is confident that they will make it back as a prize. I did a jalapeno contest that charged an entrance fee, paying $500 to the winner, $300 to 2nd, & $200 to 3rd. You could not signup early, and the first 30 applicants got accepted. I had to travel an hour, and got off work late, so I was late to signup. To get in, I had to pay a guy his entrance fee + $20 so that I could take his spot. I won 1st place, & more than made my money back!!
► Contest Rules- To make the contest run smoothly and prevent arguing, you need to establish a strict set of contest rules. If you are new to contests, you may want to use the rules from another contest as a guideline. Here are some examples that I have found that are pretty well-written & definitely show the necessary rules to include: Option 1, Option 2, & Option 3. Those three are pretty extensive though. For a simple example, click here. Those rules are pretty self-explanatory, but I would like to stress 2 rules that you must have.
First, you must have a rule about whether you can dunk the food or not. Will the contest be "picnic style" or one where anything goes? Establish that rule so that nobody cheats. If you are going to allow dunking, please be aware of cheaters leaving an excessive amount of "debris" in their cups. They will purposely leave pieces of food in their cups where nobody can see so that their totals increase.
The other rule that you need to include is a rule about puking. In a compeitive eating contest, its pretty standard that you are not allowed to have a "reversal of fortune" during the contest, but you need to establish rules about once the contest ends. If this rule is not set, and the winner "gets sick" right after the contest ends, A LOT of controversey will start. Therefore, set a time limit that nobody is allowed to puke after the contest. Typically, if somebody is going to get sick, it will happen fairly quickly after the contest. 5 minutes is a pretty good time to set. Anything more is unnecessary.
Finally, one minor rule that you may want to establish is a rule about "chipmunking." This is where people stuff a bunch of food into their mouth in the last seconds of a contest in order to increase their total. To help this, set a specific time that people are allowed to finish swallowing the food in their mouth. Typically the standards are 30-60 seconds. If it takes the person longer to swallow, you must deduct some from their final total. Most of the time, this rule does not come into play. Definitely create a good set of contest rules, and the event will be a lot more fun and will run A LOT smoother.
► Prizes- Finally, to get participants, the most important factor is the prizes available to winners!! If the prizes are good, better competitive eaters are more willing to travel to compete in your event which will make the competition a lot better and more exciting. If you only have small prizes, you may only attract local people. Also, in general, better prizes make everybody more willing to participate. If you don't really have the budget to have great cash prizes, try seeking some sponsors to partner with. In return for sponsoring a cash prize or other prize, you will include them in all the promotions for the contest. If you try hard enough, you should definitely be able to find some interested sponsors.
If you try that option, turn on the marketing side of your brain, and focus on the companies that would be most likely to benefit from the contest. You will have a lot easier time if the contest is benefitting a charity organization or families in need. You don't always have to have a cash prize. Work with sponsors, or consider your budget, and find some items to offer as prizes. I have seen TVs, video game systems, sports memorabilia, vacation trips, gift certificates, and other items awarded as prizes. If you are having a contest during the halftime of a football game, and its not a real tough contest, you may award something as simple as a team jersey.
Get creative!! Creative prizes are often more appealing. One time, I received a toaster sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon, which brands PBR's logo into the toast. While I wish that I had received cash, I thought that prize was pretty unique & cool. If you award great prizes, the contest will end up a lot more exciting, more people will participate, and it will be A LOT easier to promote your event...