Octoberfest Stays Current

Technology Makes it Easy to Navigate the Mile of Fun

Pleasing a crowd of 100,000 people may seem like an impossible task, but that is the aim of the tireless Octoberfest committee. When so much is at stake for the more than 100 local non – profit organizations that benefit from food and beverage sales, it’s important to plan a great event.

Leading this mighty project is the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce’s Susan Vanden Heuvel, Director of Events and Sponsorships, and Octoberfest Executive Director. She is happy with the event’s focus. “It’s really about giving back to the community and that’s what the history will show you as well,” says Vanden Heuvel. “It’s not only about the beer that day, a minimum of $50,000 a year goes back out into the community in the form of grants. The non – profit food vendors that are on the avenue that day, when you are buying that brat or pulled pork sandwich, you are investing in what that non – profit is doing. The combined revenue that those non – profit booths take in is about 80 – 90,000 each year. For some of them, that’s their only fundraiser for the year. They’re making 5 – 6,000 cleared, so it’s extremely important. I get a lot of contacts from food vendors who travel the festival circuit who want in on the event, the only way they can do that is that they give a portion of their proceeds to a local non – profit. It can’t be my mom’s church over in Bemidji, Minnesota. It has to be within a thirty – mile radius so that we are keeping it local. That’s very important to our local non – profit community.”

Also important is the need to keep attendees informed before and during Octoberfest. Need a map? Interested in a specific kind of edible treat? Uncertain which band plays next? Find it all on Vanden Heuvel explains that the committee has pushed the website in the direction of responsive design. “The nice thing about it is, if you’re on the east end of college avenue and you really want to get to the country stage by a certain time, and you say ‘I really need to have a cream puff before I get there.’ We have seven food categories. You can type that in or select them in a drop down, and it comes up in a Google map and it will tell you what block you can find a cream puff in. That’s driven toward the use the day of the event.”

Getting the word out to people from all over the area and beyond is easier than ever now, thanks to social media. “We set everything up on Hootsuite. We have three people that work on that, and they set it up so that we have a lot of push notifications going out like an hour before. We have close to 11,000 fans on Facebook; we have quite the following on Facebook. About six weeks before the event our Facebook page just kind of blows up with people, and we encourage our food vendors to post their location and let everyone know where they’re going to be; we tell our bands to do it; the arts and crafts area.”

Vanden Heuvel is quick to pass along the credit for Octoberfest to folks who also put countless hours into planning and maintaining this famous event. “We have a 12 – member committee. I tell people when they want to be on the Octoberfest committee that it’s not a committee that you just show up once a month and offer your advice. It is a working committee. They put in a lot of time. Some of our committee members have been with us for 30 years. They’re that passionate about the event and what it does for the community. It’s working very closely with every single department of the city of Appleton. We have a map that’s as long as this table so that we know everything that’s going to happen. We have our chain of command. Even last year when the whole open carry weapon thing came up we had a plan in place to deal with that. We make sure we’re all in communication and we know who is doing what.”

And much of the responsibility for communication falls on the block captains. “A block captain is our eyes and ears on the street that day. They have a map of the block that they’re working on. They’re asked to assist the food vendors during set up. Once the festival is set up and running, they keep an eye out for any mischievous activity going on or if there is a lost child, and they know the chain of command and whom they radio the information to.”

When you step up for that beer at Octoberfest, you’ll most likely be served by a group of employees from a local business, coming together like a team for a good time and a good cause. “More and more companies are staffing the entire bar for the day,” says Vanden Heuvel. “Fox Communities Credit Union, Faith Technologies. It’s kind of an employee morale builder and they have a lot of fun doing it.”

Vanden Heuvel marvels at the transformation she witnesses each year down on the Ave as the pre – dawn activities lead to a well – orchestrated explosion of food and festivities. “The one thing that amazes me is when I’m back down here at 4:30a.m. and all the vendors come down…and it’s like watching a village that gets built and when you watch that happening all these food booths are put together within a matter of hours and then you start smelling the food being cooked and then you see the early birds come in before it gets busy.” She stays until 8pm that night, making sure things get buttoned up. “It’s amazing to me to see what we do in 14 to 16 hours.” With the support of the Appleton city departments, the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce is able to make an old – world tradition serve the needs of a multicultural community in a day of celebration at the end of summer. There’s really nothing quite like it.

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