The weather is perfect, you’re surrounded by fellow food-lovers and there are people behind tables smiling at you while pushing all sorts of great food in your face. Chances are they are very attractive too. Nothing could go wrong, you think, as you frolic from stand to stand at your local farmer's market, plucking pickle-topped toothpicks like flowers from a field. But sometimes there comes a point where all the stimulation takes its toll and things start to get…awkward.
We realize that our appetites are bigger than our wallets, but we still really want to try that cute little round of smoked chorizo without letting it be known we're not buying the whole thing. So we begin to fidget and stutter. Some of us crack under the stress and get greedy or downright rude. Relax, it doesn’t have to be like this.
Brooklyn’s summer weekend market Smorgasburg (which runs this weekend through the end of the fall) is outfitted with over 80 stands featuring some of the city’s most up-and-coming restaurants and brands — not to mention the hyped-up dish du jour, the ramen burger. It's a paradise for those easily seduced by the sample. But as you will find out from these handy tips from Smorgasburg vendors themselves, there is a strategy to keeping your cool in a sea of gratis grub. And not leaving your friendly vendors with a bad taste in their mouths. Because we all know the taste in your mouth is pretty good.
- DON’T try to be stealthy
Word to the wise: unless you’ve brought your invisibility cloak, people are going to notice when you steal that second Dixie cup of gazpacho without saying a word. “My favorite are the creepers,” says Albert Tang of Manhattan-based snack company U-MA-ME Nuts. “The ‘drive-bys,’ the ‘nod-and-leaves.’” Food festivals thrive on the energy from healthy vendor-sampler interactions; this is no place to act all 007. Which brings us to our next point…
- DO show interest
“If you do want a free sample, engage in conversation,” says Hannah Parker of Hannah’s Homemade Pimento Cheese. Hannah’s Homemade offers a clever solution to the non-buyer’s sampling guilt. “People come to Smorgasburg to eat,” she said. “We offer $1 samples so that they can taste without feeling guilty for not buying the whole product.” Hannah’s experiment has yielded results. It turns out guests get chattier once they’ve shelled out a few quarters.
- DON’T be The Terminator
“We get a lot of ‘I’ll be backs,’” says Martina of Monsieur Singh Lassi, who serves up the brand’s push-up mango pops. “Ah yes…the classic exit line,” agreed Duncan Adams of Brooklyn’s Right Tasty gourmet vinaigrettes. If you really do intend on coming back around, that’s one thing. But vendors can usually tell if you have no intention of returning. Unless you can entertain with a killer Schwarzenegger impersonation, leave this hackneyed line on the shelf.
- DO be grateful
So how do you sign off politely if you’re not ready to pull through with a purchase? “You don’t have to stand there awkwardly,” says Alex Abbott Boyd of premium mixer brand Cocktail Crate. “Just say thank you and walk away.” (Note: I was prepared to take this advice and walk away with grace after trying the “Lavender Bloom” variety, but sometimes the sample gets the better of you. I found room in my bank account and now have a full bottle in my fridge waiting patiently to mingle with some gin.)
- DON’T be a pea-brain
Some samplers may have had one too many sips of artisan hard cider and start to get a bit ditzy. Chris Thorn of McClure’s Pickles puts it bluntly: “I can get irritated by stupid questions. Someone once asked me, ‘what’s the difference between this [Bloody Mary Mix] and this [pickles]?’” In most cases, showing curiosity is a DO, but if you can’t distinguish between entirely different colors and consistencies, your friendly vendors may question your psychological wellbeing and doubt whether you ought to be trusted with a toothpick.
- DO be open-minded
“Be adventurous…that’s the whole spirit of trying things,” said KBBK’s Will Donnelly. Vendors are excited to share their product, and you should match their energy by being fearless. Yukimi Momose of MOMO Dressing is confident samplers will be glad they took the risk. “We pull customers and tell them to try it because we are proud of our product. Once they try it, they love it,” she says.
- DON’T get handsy
Serving implements are there for a reason. “The weirdest thing is when people grab into the bowl and then use the spoon, thinking they’re being sanitary,” says U-MA-ME’s Albert. Vendors might try to be lenient when they witness double-dipping —“I try not to be too much of a germ fascist,” says McClure’s Thorn, "but seriously, have some respect for your colleagues’ hard-working immune systems. Keep it clean."
- And definitely DON’T follow these examples:
Act inappropriately, and your face will be forever inducted in the food festival sampler hall of shame.
- Cocktail Crate’s Alexander reports, “I had a woman grab without asking, take a sip, spit it out and tell me I should have warned her it was bad.” Yikes. “I guess the general etiquette is to just be polite.”
- Thorn of McClure’s Pickles experienced a similar incident. “If people don’t like it, they can be pretty upfront about it. I’ve had people tell me to my face ‘this is gross.’”
- Right Tasty’s Josh is no fool. Step out of line, and he’ll serve it right back to you. “’This girl came up to me [and said] ‘I’m actually just really hungry…can I have some bread?’ I ripped of a big chunk, and once she had taken a bite said ‘That will be six bucks.’ Her face just dropped.” He was kidding, but don’t take your vendor’s good nature for granted. Simply taste, smile, ask (intelligent) questions, buy or don’t buy and exit gracefully.
More of our favorite samplings on Food Republic: