Hundreds of great things can be said about food challenges, but like every great thing in life, there are also a few possible negative drawbacks which you should be aware of before actually starting the food challenge at your restaurant. If you are aware of the possible negative occurrences that can happen during a food challenge, you can then take the proper precautions to make sure those things don’t happen. If they do happen, you will have already prepared for the situation so you will be able to be proactive rather than reactive, and the possible negative effects will be very minimal, which will make the problem nonexistent. Here are possible situations that can occur during the challenge and/or because you have a challenge, along with how to prepare for them:

People may “get sick” – There are many names for “getting sick” such as vomiting, puking, throwing up, spewing, hurling, barfing, and sometimes it’s even referred to as a “reversal of fortune” at eating contests. Whatever you want to call it, a person “getting sick” is gross to watch for all parties involved. People may laugh, and it may be funny on YouTube videos, but you don’t want it happening at your restaurant. If you create a large quantity challenge or even a speed challenge, the chances that a few people will “get sick” during the challenge are very high because the human body wasn’t made to eat massive amounts of food at one time or even to eat food extra fast (It wasn’t made to run marathons either). Challengers throwing up are most common during spicy challenges though because most stomachs cannot handle food that spicy. A person throwing up is one thing, but having to see the actual “throw up” is a whole different story, and customers definitely don’t want to see it. The good thing is that this is the most simple issue to fix. Place a bucket or trash can near the eating challenger(s)!! It’s amazing how many restaurant owners complain about this problem, but they don’t think to put a trash can near them. Many restaurants have a “cleaning fee clause” listed under the challenge rules saying they will charge challengers extra if they do throw up inside the restaurant, but I’ve never heard of a person actually being charged. Please place a trash can near the challenger(s) and the chances of a negative situation occurring in your restaurant then become extremely minimal at most, and nothing to worry about.

The challenge may get messy – It definitely depends on the type of food challenge that you have, but some food challenges can get messy, and it may become a little hard for some people to watch. I always try to eat very clean and have as many “manners” as possible, but there are still some challenges that do get messy no matter what I do. Even if you don’t allow dunking, some challenges can become hard for regular customers to watch. The challenges most susceptible to being messy are burritos and foods that are really saucy. If foods meant to be eaten by hand are covered in sauce, then sauce will more than likely drip on to the tray, get all over the eater’s hands, and it will also show up on the eater’s drink. Even really saucy pizzas can tend to get messy. As the challenge host, there are multiple things that you can do to minimize the messiness and “grossness” of the challenge. First, don’t create a messy challenge covered with sauce. If you cover your sandwich in mayonaise, chili, BBQ sauce, ketchup, or marinara (red sauce), then it will get messy. If you don’t want that to happen, don’t cover the challenge with sauce. It’s not rocket science. Also, I always laugh when I ask for a towel or napkins, and the restaurant brings out a few tiny napkins. If you have a messy challenge, provide a towel or at least large paper towels so that the eater can wipe his or her hands and face. Also, if you have a speed challenge requiring the eater to eat really fast, that may get a little messy too. The faster a person tries to eat, the sloppier he or she tends to be. If you don’t want a messy challenge, don’t set a really hard to beat time limit. It depends on the situation, but it may even be ok to require the eater to eat with a utensil (spoon, fork, or spork). If you think about this while designing your challenge, you won’t have problems later on with people complaining about it being hard to watch. Sometimes it is not the eater’s fault, but yes sometimes it is too, but you as the host can take the necessary steps to minimize the occurrences so that everything goes well for everyone involved.

People may try to cheat – This happens more often if there is an actual monetary prize such as cash money or gift certificates, but there is obviously a chance that one or two challengers may attempt to cheat so that they can beat the challenge and win the prize. Cheaters (people that hide uneaten food) are typically not too hard to prevent and/or catch if you take the right precautions beforehand. The easiest thing to do is simply place the challenger in a busy area so that your other customers can watch the challenge take place. If strangers are watching from almost all angles, it’s a lot less likely that a person will even think about hiding food or anything else illegal. The next precaution is to have the restaurant staff, particularly the person in charge of keeping the official challenge time, keep an eye on the challenger(s). If a professional eater is taking the challenge, many people will be watching because he or see will be eating very fast, so you won’t even have to worry. Normal challengers don’t eat extremely fast, so if a waitress notices that a significant amount of food is gone after a very short amount of time, somebody should investigate. The other precaution to take is to simply not tempt the challenger(s). Set an empty trash can nearby rather than one with food in it. Have the person or team eat at a table rather than a booth which is easier to hide food at because of all the blind spots. Also, make sure the challenger(s) doesn’t have any bags or clothes nearby that would be easy to hide food in or under. If an eating challenger is caught cheating, he or she should be disqualified immediately and charged full price for the meal. Also, post a picture via social media of the hidden food (you could possibly get in trouble legally if you post their name and/or photo) and warn other customers that they will be caught if they try to cheat. People will get a laugh out of that and will definitely be on your side. Cheaters are rare, and since 2010 I’ve only heard of a few stories, and none that really caused problems, but you should still be cautious during certain situations.

People may complain about you having a challenge – The severity of this issue really depends on the type of community you are located in, but more than likely you will have a few people complain about you having a food challenge. The biggest arguments are that food challenges promote obesity, they are gluttonous, they are wasteful, or that they simply aren’t healthy. 95% of these complaints are via social media, especially as comments under food challenge photos, videos, and articles, because ignorant people tend to feel strong and powerful while typing on their computer, tablet, or smart phone. The most irritating comment which is posted the most is “Meanwhile in Africa…” Particularly in the United States, people feel that “freedom of speech” means they have the freedom to comment on everything whether they are truly educated about the particular topic or not. For whoever operates your restaurant’s social media, especially Facebook, the best thing to do is to completely ignore the comment. More than likely, one of your supporters will take care of the situation and let that person know how wrong they are for commenting. I always respond to comments like these no matter where the comment is posted. Some of my “Facebook friends” even tag me on posts just to see what witty response I come up with. As the restaurant though, it is best to stay out of these types of battles. People go to your restaurant for your food and not for your opinion. Customers already know your stance on the matter because you have the challenge. If a customer is brave enough to complain in person though, which typically does not happen, you will have to “put out that fire.” To help yourself respond to these types of complaints, please read the Are Food Challenges Healthy?, Are Food Challenges Wasteful?, Are Food Challenges Gluttonous?, Do Food Challenges Promote Obesity?, and Meanwhile In Africa: A Totally Ignorant Phrase articles. Feel free to read the The Dangers Of Competitive Eating article too. Comments to a person verbally are just to that person. Your comments to a person online are public for everyone to see. One comment online to the wrong person can spark a war, and you don’t want that kind of attention, so avoid it altogether by ignoring their ignorance. Do not delete the comments either because that is a form of a response which can spark a war. It is completely impossible to make everyone happy, so don’t let the few “haters” ruin the fun for everyone else, but make sure not to get into battles that you don’t have to. If you  think commenting is a bad idea, then it probably is, so please don’t!!

If you set a large prize, know that somebody might win it – As an eater myself, there is nothing more irritating than when a challenger beats a food challenge and then the restaurant tries to avoid paying out the advertised prize. This situation typically only occurs when there is a large prize involved, usually cash money. If you as a restaurant owner advertise a large prize such as $500 American dollars, know that there is a possibility that somebody will win the challenge, so you need to be prepared in case somebody follows the challenge rules and wins. You owe them just like they would owe you if they had lost. Please see the definition of a professional eater under the Food Challenges 101 section, if you have not already. The term “professional eater” does not mean “anybody that is able to beat your challenge.” If you feel the need to have a “professional eater clause” restricting professional eaters from taking your challenge, please let me (Randy Santel – the owner and creator of this website) know about it so that I can add it to the challenge description. To an eater, a “professional eater clause” states “I want the advertisement that comes with having a cash prize for winning my challenge, but I don’t want anyone to actually win it because I’m too cheap and I’m not good enough at marketing to turn the situation into a very positive one for everybody involved including myself as the restaurant owner,” and therefore we as moral human beings can avoid your restaurant entirely. Small minds don’t make BIG money. promotes restaurants with positive attitudes and great character that deserve success. If a person wins your challenge and prize, your immediate reaction should be to celebrate, and announce the accomplishment to all social media and local news media outlets to see who will cover the story. Contact us too and we will be happy to share the story via our social media and celebrate the victory, especially if that particular winner is a member of the community. Any restaurant deemed guilty of avoiding to pay out a prize to a deserving eater will not be promoted on this website, and will be blacklisted. Just like cheating, I have only heard a small handful of stories about restaurants completely avoiding a payout to a deserving eater, and they were all stories involving prizes worth $200 American dollars or more. The solution to this issue is to not establish a prize that you cannot afford to pay out. Also, solve any possible issues before the challenge begins. Once the challenge starts, the challenge is on and both parties are tied to the previously established challenge rules. If the competitive eater lies to you the owner, then the eater is now at fault so you are no longer liable.

On the other side of the coin, does not support cheating eaters either. If your restaurant has a cash money or high value prize, it is perfectly ok to stipulate that an eater may only win once or 1 time per year. This situation is also rare, but it does happen particularly if a restaurant has multiple locations in some completely different areas, where an eater attempts to defeat a challenge a second time just to win the prize again. Some eaters even give fake names or wear “disguises” to avoid being caught. If you only allow people to win your prize once, it is smart to document the winner’s names (from a legal ID) and keep them on file which is perfectly ok to do, especially if you don’t have a Wall Of Fame. If you catch an eater cheating, please let us know that too so that we can make sure that eater is not promoted on our website or social media, or future events.

These 5 situations are the main complaints brought up as arguments by restaurants who don’t have a food challenge or no longer have a food challenge anymore, and they are not great arguments. As you can see, these 5 situations are easily avoidable or recoverable from. Please remember that not all people that attempt food challenges are disrespectful and have bad manners. Customers like that are very rare. The same situation applies for eaters too. If an eater attempts 100 food challenges, he or she will have a bad experience at one or 3 of the restaurants simply because the restaurant(s) operates very unprofessionally. Not all restaurants with food challenges are unprofessional though are they? No they are not, so remember that the coin flips both ways, and there are plenty of genuine eaters just looking to have fun. If you are proactive and take proper precautions beforehand, then you can easily minimize the chances of any negative situations occurring. If anything does happen though, you will be ready to quickly take care of the situation with few negative effects resulting.

Thanks for reading about things to consider before starting a food challenge and using!!

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