The Art of the Oyster this past Saturday was widely promoted as a fun-filled night of awesome roasted oysters, live music and arts held at the Columbia County Amphitheater next to the public library.
Event organizers were giddy with excitement over this inaugural event that offered guests a dozen roasted oysters and “all-you-can-eat low country boil” for $25 per person at the gate or $20 in advance.
Kids tickets were $5 each and included entrance into what the county called the “Kid Zone,” which would offer “monitored child care, hot dogs, chips drinks and a special visit from fairytale princesses.”
What more can you ask for in Columbia County, right?
Organizers even came up with a cute little promo, saying, “Can’t shuckin’ wait to see you there!”
Not that’s really living on the edge for Columbia County.
But, unfortunately, the Art of the Oyster didn’t live up to the hype.
In fact, it was a disorganized disaster that left guests hungry, tired, full of complaints and wanting their money back.
“From the start, this was a very poor execution,” one man wrote on the Art of the Oyster’s Facebook page. “Tickets purchased in advanced couldn’t be scanned in a timely manner so they just looked at them and let you go. This was after waiting in line for quite some time. Then went to the next line for food, waited an hour for oysters then they ran out of low country boil. All you can eat, needed to be changed to all you can wait.”
Most people attending the event said the main problem was there was only one food tent available with four servers trying to handle both the low country boil and serving oysters.
“You had over 200 people there,” one man wrote. “Simple math would have told you that four people serving 200 would mean 50 people each. Each person will take about three to four minutes each. 3 X 50 is 150 minutes or 2.5 hours to serve everyone. That’s if the food was available at the correct rate which it was not. If this is the first event, it doesn’t set a great example of what the rest of the season will bring.”
But the complaints didn’t stop there.
“This kinda sucked! We got there at 5:30 and stood in line the entire time for food!” one person wrote. “No all you can eat anything! You were lucky to get the oysters that you paid for.”
Many attendees with small children were even more outraged.
“My 4-year-old wanted to go play so bad and wanted me to go with her but we couldn’t because we were in line,” a woman posted. “She cried because the princesses left and she didn’t get to talk to them. Three hours in line for 12 oysters and 12 pieces of shrimp was not worth it in my opinion. I couldn’t feed her once again because I was in line. By the time we got the oysters it was over. The kids food was gone and everyone was packing up.”
Some parents were appalled that the Kid Zone was described as “monitored child care.”
“The kid’s zone was a joke,” one woman posted. “The ‘adults’ had no control and kids were coming and going as they pleased. I did not feel comfortable leaving my children there unsupervised. We essentially paid $20 a person to visit the park we go to free all of the time. I hope Columbia County can get it together if they want these events to be a success.”
Another attendee totally agreed.
“Same experience – toddlers running in and out of kids zone with no oversight,” they posted. “Hours in line for them to have run out of low country boil with no apologies. Should not have been billed as an arts show.”
Those who did not purchase their $20 tickets in advance were really out of luck.
“We got there early, waited in line, and eventually were told we could not buy the $25 tickets to eat,” one person posted. “But, we were offered $15 tickets that would allow us to enter and watch people eat.”
Wow. A whopping $15 to watch other people eat oysters while toddlers were freely running in and out of the Kid Zone.
Clearly, that would be money well spent, right?
Apparently, many of the problems stemmed from both the low country boil and the oysters being offered under the same tent.
“The wait time for the food was ridiculous,” one woman posted. “There should have been multiple tents for food. It’s never a good idea to have just one tent. Plus, you need to separate the low country boil from the oysters. I heard some people talking in line that they just wanted the low country boil but had to wait due to others waiting on oysters. The low country boil was delicious but the oysters were wayyyy over steamed. They were like little pieces of rubber and one I couldn’t even pry out of the shell. Plus, the advertising said we would receive a dozen oysters, but we were told by the server that we were only getting six to start. If we wanted our other 6, I guess we would have to stand in line for an hour again??”
Some people attending the event simply gave up and went to have dinner somewhere else.
“Absolutely disappointed,” one woman wrote. “We stood in line for over an hour and didn’t even move 5 feet. We ended up going and asking for our money back to go enjoy company and food elsewhere. Can’t believe how poorly planned this event was.”
So what was Columbia County’s response?
They were definitely apologetic, but to the point that it seemed a little desperate.
“First of all, THANK YOU for coming out to our event,” an employee of the county’s community events department posted. “We can’t say enough about how important it is to us that you and so many others decided to spend your Saturday afternoon at our park. Second, we are sincerely sorry for the issues you mentioned in your post. Please believe me when I say that we will fix those problems in the future and that this event taught us a lot. Please give our future events a try- we always do our best to fix issues and to not let history repeat itself. If you would like to discuss this further, please reach out to us at 706.868.3484 and we’d be happy to chat with you.”
Well, when some upset citizens reached out to “chat” with the county, the phone lines were tied up with others giving county employees a piece of their mind.
Clearly, there were a lot of people upset by the handling of this event.
So where does this leave the county?
Well, some of the more independent-minded commissioners have for years said the county should not be in the event business.
Sure, it’s great to organize a fun day for families to get out and enjoy the parks they paid for, but are Columbia County tax dollars really best spent on oyster roasts?
Especially if the event is so poorly organized?
The problem comes when professional, independent organizers try to put on similar events in Columbia County, but the public doesn’t realize it’s not a county organized affair.
The average consumer doesn’t really pay attention to who is behind these festivals. They just pay attention to the location of the event.
Therefore, debacles such as the Art of the Oyster makes private, independent organizers’ jobs that much more challenging in Columbia County.
The Art of the Oyster this weekend was an embarrassment for Columbia County, but it was also a major headache for anyone wanting to host an event on county grounds. Because the public doesn’t understand who is behind each event. Therefore, everyone is painted by the same brush.
That’s no shuckin’ good for anyone.