… Which allowed the doors to open for another Dark & Delicious at 6:00 p.m., only one minute later. Why? Because we had just successfully passed the food safety licensing requirements of Alameda County. It wasn’t ever official, until that very minute.

Yeah, Dark & Delicious 2015 is going down in history as the steepest learning curve in my 40+ years of event planning. Let’s just say, as you get older, don’t expect things to get easier. Each year you live, the rules and regulation have matured right along with you.

Warning… if you’re having a wine and food event in the future, you’d darn well better read this blog; or this, too, could happen to you.

The US has always had laws for safe food handling; probably right after wagon trains crossed the great divide of settling the west, coming from the east coast.  No harm, no foul on today’s regulations. We’ve come a long way, baby… as the saying goes… since wagon train chow was whatever it was with no one standing over anyone’s shoulder.

Now… Lately, there’s been a tremendous crack down on rules and regulations, with tickets being handed out all over the place, I just heard… And, I’ve been completely out of that loop. But, not anymore.

I’m completely prepared for getting my ABC liquor license; which, for the first year, was also a tremendous learning curve.

Nothing, I mean NOTHING, like I’ve just been through, has ever made me jump through hoops of this proportion.

During the event, I’d point to this barrel hoop sculpture (photo above) and say, “See those hoops? I’ve just jumped through all of them, and it only cost me $3,000.”

Start with a license fine penalty, because I began my process late in the game. I’ve never had to get a food license before (or so I thought) and was told within a week of the event that I needed one. What?

For me, it would have taken 30 days to prepare under proper conditions. I have a ton of all the other details I have to do each year for Dark & Delicious, with many of them being the exact week before. Some of them definitely fell through the cracks this year, because the food safety license took over my life, waking and sleeping. (I’m now sighing and raising my eyebrows in wonder.)

I had one winemaker say to me, and it’s true, “We only got our food partner two days before the event. So, I don’t know how you pulled it all off.”

This is because the winery and food partner had been traveling all around together for other events, and this one was their recent fourth. It had to be figured out if it could even happen or not. It happened in the final hour.

I had someone else tell me, who travels the nation, that “This was the most rigorous investigation, based on the food safety requirements, that I’ve ever experienced in ALL of the US.”

We also had six food partners bail, because they didn’t have time for the paperwork. One couldn’t come up with a safety permit for doing business with the product she was going to be serving.

That’s the complicated news. And it really was the “complicated news” for those who were used to Dark & Delicious having an abundance of food. I’m sure we’re going to be the talk of the town for a long time, as having “altered” that usual expectation. The quality and quantity of food items has been our hallmark.

The good news?

  • I passed the final inspection, at 5:59 p.m., so the doors could actually open at 6:00 p.m. as advertised and planned.
  • I now know that I can pass ANY other inspection in food safety, anywhere in the world.
  • The inspector became my new best friend, because she made our event so food safe that no one should have walked away with any food issues.
    • She was very kind and fair in the process, but would never be again if I overlook anything.
    • She – thankfully – chalked it off to my naivety and willingness to jump through those hoops (above).
  • Most people were still satisfied, and able to rise above it all, because really… we’ve always called it a wine and food event, not a food and wine event. When you’ve got handy dandy wine to drown your sorrows, right on the spot, disappointed feelings can be tempered.

Am I rethinking my business model… You bet I am. People are telling me that I’m too close to the sting to make any judgments at this time… So, I’m sitting here, letting everyone know, who might want to go through this system that I just experienced, get yourself to a class offered by the Alameda County Environmental Health Department… Because:

  • You’ll live to regret it, if you didn’t.
  • As an event planner, you can’t be too prepared.
  • After having taken their class, you can determine if it’s going to be worth your while (or not) to bring in any food partners.
  • You’ll be rest assured that you can pass an inspection, not just before your event begins.
  • NO one will be issued tickets for not having all bases covered, because you’ve covered them all.

Tomorrow, I’m going to share the hoops. For today, I’ve issued some considerations.

This all reminds me of my days as a Girl Scout Day Camp director. When I went to the council headquarters, as all day camp directors in the state of Maine gather for each year’s planning, I was taught by the best with this warning:

You’d better make sure you cover all of your bases, because if anything happens and you didn’t cover yourself, you are going to be held liable. This for a volunteer job… I could lose my home for a volunteer job? Yeah, I got with the paperwork program quickly… Anyone planning any event needs to be prepared for handling everyone’s rules and regulations, and it’s nearly a full time job.

On Tuesday: How to legally set up for a wine and food event, focusing on your environmental health permit process.