A guide to the Wine & Food festival

Thousands of people will descend on the Ottawa Convention Centre this weekend to sip, taste and browse their way through this city’s pre-eminent food and wine show. To maximize your enjoyment, here are 10 things to keep in mind before you head out.

1. Pre-buy your ticket: You can still buy day passes for the Friday show online (and print them from your computer) up to 11:30 a.m. the same day (www.ottawawineandfoodshow.com). There are also tickets available at Sports Experts in the Rideau Centre, and there’ll be some at the door. And you can purchase a day pass online for Sunday right now, too. If you had your heart set on attending Saturday, you may be out of luck for online tickets, which were expected to be sold out by now. But a limited number may be sold at the door on Saturday. Although doors open at noon, you’d be well-advised to line up at least an hour in advance for a last-minute day pass.

2. Where to park: There’s some parking at the convention centre and the Rideau Centre has about 1500 parking spots (you’ll be competing with shoppers during some periods of the show). The main advantage of snagging one of these coveted spots is getting to bypass the mandatory coat check at the show. The downside is that there’ll be a huge demand for parking — and you’ll need a designated driver. Better to take transit or a cab.

3. Bring cash: This show is cash-only, so come prepared. There are ATMs on site, but it’s just another lineup you don’t need.

4. And bring lots: According to the show’s Joan Culliton, people spend an average of $40 to $50 at the show. But of course, what you spend will depend on how long you stay at the festival and how high your tastes run. Remember this: all food and beverages at the show are “bought” with tickets that you purchase inside the event. The tickets cost 50 cents each, and each booth charges anywhere from four to 36 tickets. So a taste of a table wine or beer may run you four tickets — worth $2 — while a premium scotch or vintage port could cost as much as $18 worth of tickets.

5. How many booths you can expect to visit in an hour: As many as 20, says Culliton, who’s been running the show for five years. Not that you should be drinking at all of them! That might include kitchen demonstrations, for example, and food sampling. Downgrade your expectations if the crowds are particularly thick, or if you like to spend time chatting with the knowledgeable folks serving the tasty food and drinks.

6. When to go: If you want to have time to talk to wine makers or chefs manning the booths, go right when the show opens at noon. Friday and Sunday afternoons afford the best opportunities to spend a few hours tasting wine, talking with experts, getting a close-up look at cooking demonstrations. Sunday in particular attracts a fairly eclectic group, including those from the restaurant industry. And you’ll have heard some good tips of what to try by then (check out what people are recommending on Twitter at #ottwinefood). Friday evening, you’ll see a more corporate crowd (and crowd is a good word for it), but it’s usually a fairly well-behaved throng. Saturday night — anytime after 4 p.m. actually — is the busiest time of the show, hands down. That’s when the younger visitors come out in full-force: it’s party time. It can be a lot of fun, but it really is packed, so be prepared.

7. What to wear: Friday’s visitors are usually in business casual wear, and perhaps a bit dressier in the evening. Sunday, come in a cozy sweater — it’s really the most relaxed part of the show. On Saturday night, some people do put on the glitz, but before donning on your best silk sheath and stilettos, consider that you’re likely to be jostled and may be the recipient of some splashed cabernet.

8. Pace yourself: Even better, set yourself a spending (and thus, consuming) limit. It’s easy to get caught up in the fun and over-indulge. At which point, you may be asked to leave. The show’s organizers are warning they’re going to have little tolerance for drunkenness.

9. Don’t be a jerk: No, seriously. Every year, people try to get alcohol servers to give them a big pour. It’s absolutely not allowed. The glass you’re given upon entering the show is etched with a line that delineates the one-ounce mark (for wine) and the three-ounce mark (for beer). Spirits come in half-ounce tastes. Those limits are final. So don’t harass your server for a generous pour.

10. Bring your patience: You’re not the only one who wants a taste of this year’s gold medal wine winners, or a bacon doughnut. If you go knowing that most things will involve a wait, everyone will have a much better time.

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