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Cash for tickets system at Taste sours for some, but not all

Dina Rollman with her husband, Eli Rollman, at the Taste of Chicago on Sunday evening. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

In a city that increasingly wraps its arms around the digital age — or at least professes to — some folks attending the last night of the Taste of Chicago on Sunday wondered aloud why an antiquated system of purchasing tickets with cash in order to swap the bits of paper for food hasn’t been replaced with some sort of app.

“I definitely think it’d be a good idea to at least have it as an option,” Keisha Williams, 24, a business management student from Bellwood, said between bites of pizza.

On Sunday evening, the city offered up its tally of eaters who nibbled, noshed and — in some cases inhaled — a massive array of food over the five day event: about 1.4 million hungry people.

That’s a lot of tickets.

“It’s done this way so the city can control the money,” a restaurant industry source said. “If the cash was paid directly to each restaurant with a booth, there’s a chance the restaurant might not report it all to the city.”

“But with the tickets, there’s no value in them, so the restaurants have to exchange the tickets back to the city to get paid,” the source said.

“But the tickets are a real pain for everybody to count. Picture garbage bags full of tickets,” said the source, who noted that both the vendor and the city do their own counts.

Physical tickets at the Taste could one day be supplemented with digital ones people would buy with a credit card on their phone and scan at a restaurant’s booth.

“I think some day it will be digital,” the source said.


Christine Carrino, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, said said she didn’t know whether the city has ever explored digitizing the process. She said she would look into it, but she didn’t anticipate having an answer before deadline.

Final sales and revenue for the Taste of Chicago weren’t immediately available, according to the city.

Some people don’t mind waiting in line to buy tickets and then waiting in line again to use them.

“I like it,” said Dina Rollman, 43, of Highland Park. “It’s old school.”

Jennifer Bell, of Streeterville, agreed.

Bell | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

“If people don’t want to wait in line, they don’t have to come. It is what it is. You’ve still got to wait in line for food anyway,” Bell said. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

“This is the Taste. I’ve been coming since I was a little girl and it’s always been like this,” Bell said.

“If people don’t want to wait in line, they don’t have to come. It is what it is. You’ve still got to wait in line for food anyway,” she said.

But Bell gamed the system by having her son wait in line for Vienna Beef hot dogs while she bought tickets — $85 worth.

Halak Benayah, 43, of Springfield, who was in front of Bell in the ticket line, chimed in.

“I’d rather have an app or something digital on my phone to skip the ticket process,” he said. “I’ve been in line for more than 20 minutes.”

Bell did not waiver. Even if she is left with a few extra tickets that don’t total enough to purchase anything, she doesn’t mind.

“Maybe I’ll keep them as a memento and put them in a keepsake box for my kids,” she said.