Rain didn’t stop play at the Stratford Town Centre Food Festival as thousands of people descended on Stratford for a food-filled weekend.

Despite a rainy day on Saturday and showers on Sunday, around 30,000 people visited Stratford over the weekend, many discovering the town’s thriving food and drink scene as they sought shelter from the inclement weather.

The annual event, organised by Stratforward Business Improvement District (BID), showcases the restaurants, bars and cafes in Stratford Town Centre, promoting the town best known for Shakespeare as a foodie destination to visitors from across the region.

The 2018 festival included a packed programme of demonstrations by chefs from local restaurants, six popular Taste and Ale Trails that allowed people to explore the food and drink scene in Stratford, a market showcasing local and regional producers and hands-on workshops and live music in Bell Court.

Despite the rain, many businesses said the weekend had been a success, with plenty of punters seeking refuge from the weather and enjoying something to eat or drink.

Rick Allen, owner of Hathaway Tea Rooms, said: “It looked like it was going to be a washout but it wasn’t at all - we were nearly £1000 up on the same day last year, so that’s a significant increase. We were rushed off our feet with people wanting lunches, sandwiches, cakes.”

He said the decision by Stratforward to limit hot food traders on the market to 15% following feedback from previous years had had a positive effect on businesses like his.

“Limiting the amount of hot food is great because it means the local businesses benefit and we really felt the benefit. This way everyone wins - the stallholders as well as the businesses.”

Jonathan Lea, general manager at Loxleys, which sponsored the 2018 festival for the fourth year, said the weather certainly hadn’t stopped play for the Sheep Street restaurant, which also had a stall on Bridge Street and showed off sous chef Chris Butler’s skills with a demonstration on Sunday.

“The weather didn’t seem to put people off from attending the event with so many locals and visitors supporting the many stalls offering all things food,” he said. “It was a very busy time for both the restaurant and for the team manning the stall and we are extremely proud of the entire Loxleys team for their sterling effort and tired legs over the weekend.

“The street event allows us to meet our guests in a more casual environment whilst also providing the opportunity of meeting those who have yet to try what Loxleys has to offer. The grand  finale was our cookery demonstration which provided our sous chef Chris Butler the opportunity to prepare a duck dish for the many foodies attending the event to enjoy.

“Congratulations must go to the Stratforward team who organised the entire event, without whom the event would simply not have taken place. Our thanks go to Joe, Ruth and the entire BID team for their tireless work in putting on the event. Long may it continue!”

Other demonstrations also showcased Stratford’s culinary talent with cooking demos from chefs including Paul Foster from Salt, Townhouse chefs Matthew Hiscoe and Ben Draper and Phil Hase, head chef at Hotel du Vin.

The Golden Bee also got involved, holding a ‘gintastic’ session on Saturday afternoon that they declared a success. The Sheep Street pub also took part in the Ale Trail, with shift manager Pawel Bednarski saying they got through 18 gallons of beer on the first day.

“It was a great atmosphere,” he said. “There were lots of people chatting and talking. We often get a few new customers so it’s great to be involved.”

Other businesses involved enjoyed a steady flow of ‘Trailers’ trying out samples specially prepared for the festival.

They include Bouche Bakehouse at The Garden Cafe on Sheep Street, The Townhouse on Church Street, Everyman Cinema in Bell Court, Vigour Cafe on Rother Street and Fizz & Fin on Greenhill Street.

Bouche Bakehouse owner Tizzy Rose said they had had 175 people through the door on Sunday when they took part in the trail. “They included quite a few locals who didn’t know we are here and seemed to love what we are doing because it’s different,” she said. “Hopefully they’ll come back and take us up on the 10% discount we do for locals.”

Ali Wilson, assistant manager at The Townhouse, said the trail had been great for them. “It’s brought people through the doors and a lot of people didn’t know we were here so hopefully we will get them back in the future.”

Marc Pantling, general manager at Everyman, said they use the trails as a way of letting people know they are more than just a cinema. “People see us as a cinema but don't know that we do food as well. A lot of people say, ‘wow, we didn’t know you did this’. It’s been good fun.”

Aga Szczotka, owner of Vigour Cafe - which won last year’s Taste Trail prize voted for by the public - said: “I’m hoping if we win again it will be because we’re doing something right. What we did for this year’s trail is completely new stuff - we’re doing healthy food, different food. People said that what we had is something Stratford doesn’t have at the moment, it’s completely different.”

And Fizz & Fin owner Dave Baldrey said their first year taking part in the festival had gone really well. “It’s a fantastic marketing opportunity,” he said. “It’s a great way of getting people in. We’ve had a lot of locals who have lived here their whole lives and didn’t know we were here, despite the fact we’ve been here for a while now. We had lots of feedback from customers saying it’s the best fish and chips in town so we look forward to welcoming them back.”

Other businesses showed off their wares by taking a stall at the producers market that spread through the town, including Thai food from Wood Street restaurant Sabai Sabai and popular butcher Barry the Butcher, who served up three new varieties of sausages to hungry visitors.

Dave Joynes, managing director of Cotswold Markets, which organised the market, said: “Considering the weather we have had this year, talking to the traders most of them were very satisfied with what they have done. It’s been well supported by the public even with the torrential rain. We try to make our markets about the local produce and food in the area - it’s more of an advert for the area to whet people’s appetite so the restaurants in the town benefit from it being here.”

Ruth Wood, Events Manager at Stratforward, said despite the weather the event was a success, bringing people to the town to eat, drink and make merry in Stratford’s food and drink businesses, as well as shopping with local retailers and getting a taste of the town for future visitors.

She said: “We really took on board feedback from previous years and cut the festival down to two days as well as keeping the amount of hot food stalls on the market to 15% to encourage people to visit some of our local restaurants, cafes and bars while they’re at the festival.

“Our aspiration for the festival is for it to be like Ludlow Food Festival and stand apart from some of the more mainstream events across the country. It’s all about showing off our town and the range of businesses we have here, whether they be artisan independents or mainstream High Street names. Of course, the rain wasn’t ideal, but it certainly didn’t stop play. Every cloud has a silver lining, as they say, and in some ways our businesses benefited even more from the weather as people spent longer in cafes, bars, restaurants and shops enjoying the warm and dry.”