This weekend marks the return of the Austin Food & Wine Festival. Like SXSW and ACL, attending Austin's massive food festival works best with a plan.
Eater has done the advance scouting of the schedules, opening and closing times, and sponsor areas, so you can make the best of your experience (and significant ticket investment). Here are some suggestions for Saturday's party at Butler Park below; do check out the Sunday guide, too.
10:30 a.m.: Gates open. While it is tempting to stroll in late, this is the perfect time to take a lap of the park and plan your day. Those sleeping in from Friday's revelry also mean that the 11 a.m. panels are easier to get a seat in than those happening later in the day.
11:00 a.m.: Richard Blais (Hickory Tent). The high-energy Top Chef favorite is promising tacos, tequila, and a preview of his new San Diego restaurant Juniper & Ivy at this demo. A rollicking start to the day.
VIP tip: From 11 to noon, the grand tasting tent is VIP access only. You might not need the full hour given that it stays open all day, but rolling in at 11:30 a.m. is a great way to skip lines and grab the best bites before the crowds come in. Today's featured plates come from The Carillon, LaV, Salt & Time, and The Bonneville. You splurged for the fancy passes, so why not use the access to ask Josh Watkins if you can borrow that Southern Pride Smoker he won last year or banter with Josh Jones and Allison Jenkins about whether they order every staff meal from Kebabalicious and Veracruz?
11:40 a.m.: Fire pit: Stop by for a bite from the rotating cast of Paul Qui, Jason Dady, Andrew Wiseheart, and Jack Gilmore.
12 noon: The Grand Tasting opens to all: If you are at this food festival to actually stuff your face with food, hit the tent the moment it opens and get to feasting. The lines will grow exponentially from here.
12 noon: John Currence (Mesquite Tent). Take a glass of wine with you into the tent and let Oxford, MS chef Currence teach you the basics of canning and preserving your garden fruits and veggies. Perhaps the most useful hour of the festival.
12:45 p.m. (Cocktail nerds): To Mix Or To Mingle (Rodney Strong Tent). Three of Austin's cocktail experts (Nate Wales of La Condesa, Jessica Sanders of drink.well, and Tipsy Texan David Alan) discuss their favorite spirits and what it means to be a bartender. Expect samples and stories.
12:45 p.m. (Food lovers): If you opted for Currence over food rushing, stop into the grand tasting tent for bites and drinks.
1:00 p.m.: Rick Bayless (Alder Tent). As he mentioned in a recent Eater interview, Bayless will focus on pairing wine with Mexican food in this seminar - which should only be useful to about 99.5% of Texas festival attendees.
2:00 p.m.: Another stop at the grand tasting tent, this time for bites from Noble Sandwich, Swift's Attic, Vespaio, and Epicerie Cafe.
2:15 p.m. (Imbibers): The Fine Art Of Tequila (Oak Tent). This seminar has a tequila flight if you feel one is necessary.
VIP tip: If you have the fancy "Savor" pass, stop into the VIP lounge for BBQ dishes from Stiles Switch, Valentina's, and The Hightower. There are also usually some high-end wines and nice coffees in this lounge area. Bonus points here for the restrooms with air conditioning.
2:15 p.m. (Others): Kim Crawford Casa Mariposa lounge. This area has two adult slushies on tap, three New Zealand wines to sample, ping-pong tables, popcorn, snacks, and phone chargers. All of these seem useful.
3:00 p.m.: Graham Elliot (Hickory Tent). Chicago's gregarious Elliot teaches tips and tricks for using spring seasonal ingredients. A bit more learning amidst the gluttony. Chef demos usually don't serve drinks, so grab a fire pit plate and fill your beer or wine glass before sitting down.
3:30 p.m.: David Alan and Justin Elliott (Austin Food & Wine Alliance Tent). On the way out, stop into the Austin Food & Wine Alliance Tent for a cocktail from David Alan and qui's Justin Elliott. They'll be discussing and serving an excellent Balcones Rumble Tepache that was recently crowned the 2014 Official Drink Of Austin.
This guide is one of many paths a fest-goer could take at the event, but should give a great overview of the experience. For more information on the schedule, visit the event site.