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Long lines and no tequila?! Houston Margarita Festival leaves sour taste

Houston Margarita Fest, crowd, venue, Discovery Green, October 2012
Two things at Houston Margarita Festival that no one complained about: The bands and salsa dancers onstage. Houston Margarita Fest/Facebook
Houston Margarita Fest, sign, ticket costs, October 2012
Prices, lines and a lack of variety infuriated festival-goers. Houston Margarita Fest/Facebook
Houston Margarita Fest, sign
From the Houston Margarita Fest Facebook page: "We have NOT run out of tequila! Enjoy, everyone!" Facebook comments told a different story. Houston Margarita Fest/Facebook

It looks like the organizers behind the first-ever Houston Margarita Festival weren't ready for the sold-out crowd of 5,000 that descended on Discovery Green on Saturday. The event's Facebook page was overrun with complaints about long lines, high prices, lack of seating and vendors running out of everything from food to ice to tequila.

A sampling:

  • "It was a horrible experience! We were the first to get in, and it was still awful! No VIP areas were set up, margarita machines were not all frozen yet, designated drivers only had water-there wasn't even sodas, and the water wasn't even cold. There was no shade provided in the hot Houston sun! Not a gold enough variety of margaritas or food! We won't be going again next year..."
  • "Three friends and I purchased VIP tickets at $64 each for the Houston Margarita Festival, which supposedly included admission, VIP tents, a variety of margarita flavors at a discounted price, a buffet, and unlimited chips and salsa. We arrived at the event at 3:30 pm, only to be asked to stand in a very long line for our VIP entrance, while people without tickets, or with general admission tickets, were getting in immediately. After speaking with 3 different staff members, we received our bands and made our way in. There was no designation as to where the VIP area was located, the drink lines were ridiculously long, and they only had 2 flavors of margaritas. We then asked about the location of the VIP area, and when we made our way there, there was not enough seating, not enough tents, absolutely NO margaritas or food. We were able to get some chips, but they had even run out of salsa. This was one of the most unorganized & poorly managed events we had ever attended & feel ripped off having spent so much money for this “experience”. Needless to say, we didn't stay long and have no intention of attending again or recommending it to anyone else."
  • "A group of us went around 6:30 and ended up leaving shortly after. The lines were WAY too long and not organized. After standing in line forever, we were told the PREMIUM margaritas were on the other side. So after standing in those lines forever, we were told they were out of almost everything, even Bud Light. The few margaritas they did have were not frozen at all. We ended up giving our drink tickets away and going to Midtown instead. We were very disappointed!!"
  • "I had a good time, but I agree with everyone else. If you're gonna make people buy tickets, sell them on line and have more booths! We literally stood in each line for about 30 minutes! On the line to get our tickets and the drink tickets we had a girl tell us they were going to split the lines and they never did! Have a larger variety of drinks. And space out the booths more! It was ok for the first year, but if you guys plan on having this become an annual event, be better prepared!"
  • "Even VIP had problems. The section ran out of food and more for people who paid $60!!!!"
  • "The festival was very unorganized, over priced, and the margaritas were disgusting. It was watery and gross. The lines were ridiculous to get tickets & drinks. You didn't know which line sold what. It was not spaced out so people were everywhere. The thought of a margarita festival is great but this one was terrible."

Tickets for entry to the first-time event started at $10 with online discounts and went up to $60 for access to the VIP section. In addition to the cost of entry, drinks started at $4 for cans of Budweiser and Bud Light and went up to $8 for premium margaritas.

A friend tells CultureMap that someone standing in all the lines — the line to get into the festival, the line to purchase drink tickets, and the lines for margaritas — could have easily spent hours before getting a drink, with many of the lines stretching 50 to 100 people long.

Though she said all her margaritas had a good balance of ice and tequila, by 6 p.m. apparently the stories of vendors running out of tequila were prevalent enough that the festival organizers felt it necessary to post that there was, in fact, still tequila on hand. Others complained that both margaritas and beers were served warm and not properly frozen.

Instead of responding to the ticket-holders or issuing refunds, Houston Margarita Festival deleted the posts and shut down third-party posting on Facebook (although this didn't stop disgruntled festivalgoers from taking their issues to the comments section). The organizers finally acknowledged the issues somewhat on Sunday night via Facebook:

"Thanks to all who were in attendance yesterday at the festival. We had a great turnout and appreciate the support. We received great feedback from guests who thoroughly enjoyed themselves. We are aware of some logistical issues and have read your suggestions and will be implementing them along with other processes in order to make 2013 bigger and better. Thanks again for your support and we hope to see you next year."

CultureMap reached out to organizers for comment but phone calls were not immediately returned.

Some have compared the experience to 2011's disastrous Houston Beer Festival, which oversold the venue by 8,000 and ran out of beer hours before closing. With other first-time festivals including 2011's Haute Wheels Food Truck Festival fielding similar issues with sell-out crowds, lines and heat, maybe it's time that festival organizers learn how to properly plan for such high demand and big crowds.

Or maybe Houstonians should adopt the philosophy of savvy tech users — no matter how great the product sounds, wait for the second version — that's when they've worked all the issues out.

Did you go to the Margarita Festival? What did you think?


UPDATE: Houston Margarita Festival officials contacted CultureMap, noting that 8,000 people attended the inaugural event and that funds were raised for a variety of nonprofit organizations. In a statement they said, "We are aware of frustrations and disappointments from some festival goers regarding the VIP section, lines and food/drink selections (among other things) and regret any festival attendee's experience that was less outstanding. 

"We have heard and noted all of the suggestions provided from attendees through Facebook, Twitter and to volunteers at the Festival. It was not their intent to remove any feedback on Facebook and apologize for accidently doing so; I can assure you that those who commented, their suggestions have been heard and we would love to hear more from them about their experience and what the festival organizers can do to make next year better."

Festival goers are invited to Double Cross Lounge (114 Gray St), Hearsay Houston (218 Travis St) or Distillery (2520 Houston Ave.) Wednesday, Oct. 17, or Thursday, Oct. 18, from 5-7 p.m. to enjoy their first drink on the Houston Margarita Festival. 

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