When you combine intense competition with a messy aftermath, you get a sporting event unlike any other. Eating competitions are exciting… and gross. Most of us know about the legendary Nathan’s hot dog eating contest that takes over Coney Island every 4th of July. But eating competitions serve as the main event at local and regional events all over the country all summer along.
What can you do to make your next food competition even more interesting? Seems like a tall order. Read on for a few tips.
1. Get creative with your contest
From Nathan’s, organized by Major League Eating, competitive eating’s governing body, to numerous state fairs, hot dogs are served and consumed in eating competitions all over this fair land. And why not? Hot dogs are one of America’s signature foods, ranking right up there with apple pie. If you’re looking for something a bit different, consider planning a contest that revolves around a local specialty item. Perhaps there’s a vegetable that’s found only in your area, or a delicacy that put your town on the map. Every part of the country has at least one. A local food can intrigue competitors and spectators alike, especially if it is fairly obscure outside of the region.
2. Choose your guest speaker wisely
Sure, anyone can grab a microphone and tell competitors to dig in. But can they make the crowd want to stick around to see who wins? When it comes to selecting a host or guest speaker for your food competition, find someone who feels at ease in front of the mic and can interview contestants while on stage. A little play-by-play folded in with the action never hurt, either. George Shea, chairman and co-founder of MLE, has been known to tell jokes during the food competitions.
3. Add a celebrity component
While you likely won’t get an A-list movie star to stop by and participate in a special celebrities-only eating contest, you may be able to get local celebrities to participate. Cast that net far and wide when inviting special guests, and consider tapping local newscasters, current or former sports stars living in the area, and even notable members of the community. At the Regina Farmers’ Market in Regina, Saskatchewan, local celebrities were a big component of last year’s food challenges. And, really, who wouldn’t want to see a few local politicians get messy from devouring a plate or two of food? It’s all in good fun, of course.
4. Up the ante for prizes
How do you reward someone who gobbled up dishes of ice cream or snarfed down hot dogs in record time? Gone are the days when bragging rights would be considered a sufficient prize. Many eating contests hand out cash prizes for those finishing among the top of the heap, and those can be significant. For instance, Major League Eating-sanctioned event, The Native Grill & Wings World Wing Eating Championship, held in April in Scottsdale, Arizona, had a total cash purse of $10,000. Smaller eating contests typically offer a smaller total cash purse, but may also throw in publicity and immortality via the local wall of fame — or at least in a Facebook post.
When planning a food competition of any nature, safety should alway be top of mind. (MLE has an EMT on site for every event it hosts.) Don’t be afraid to tinker with your food eating competition every year, either, to keep it fresh and new for returning competitors and spectators alike.
Megan Horst-Hatch is a runner, reader, baker, gardener, knitter, and other words that end in “-er.” She is also the president of Megan Writes, LLC. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.