Navigating the Taste of the Vineyard Stroll is an intricate dance, one that requires patience, drive and room for more. It’s not for the faint of heart: one has to be able to sneak through walls of people while balancing a plateful of food and not spill a drink.

Kara Johnston and her friends are seasoned Tasters, and they have perfected their game plan over six years of attending the event, which is the first of two parties in one weekend to raise money for the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust. The nonprofit owns and manages Island landmarks including Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury, the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs, and the building that houses the Vineyard Gazette.

At Thursday night’s Taste, Mrs. Johnston’s group was hesitant to give up their strategy but eventually they shared a few helpful hints.

Arriving early is key. Mrs. Johnston and group lined up outside of the grounds of the Daniel Fisher House in Edgartown (also owned by the trust) a little bit before 6 p.m., half an hour before the doors were scheduled to open. Hands were stamped and it was off to the races — Mrs. Johnston grabbed her reusable tray and glass and sprinted off to the vendor stalls.

“We do it every year: Start in the back and work your way up,” she said, reflecting on her light jog to sample treats from restaurants such as the Home Port in Menemsha, Sidecar Café in Oak Bluffs and Lattanzi’s in Edgartown. “Go to as many stalls as you can fit on your tray.”

girls in group
Let’s wear same-same-but-different, okay? — Ivy Ashe
band playing
You can’t keep a good horn player off the dance floor. — Ivy Ashe

Eat and repeat.

They have one very strict rule — absolutely no socializing, at least until after dessert. New Moon Magick chocolate from Oak Bluffs was their favorite so far.

“We’re here to eat,” Mrs. Johnston made clear. “I love that you get to sample the food from restaurants across the Island. It’s a fun time and a great way to start summer.”

The Taste is an event for serious eaters and dancers; it is in all senses of the word a scene. It’s a night of good eats, tall drinks and even taller heels. It’s a night to kick off the season, be seen on the dance floor and get out the seersucker bow tie.

Chris Scott, director of the trust, said the weekend events raised $500,000 for the organization, $240,000 of which came from one very big Ray Ellis fan who bought a series of the painter’s watercolors and his tie at the auction Saturday night (see separate story). One of Mr. Ellis’s paintings sold for $225,000 at last year’s auction.

group at table
Kara and Dana Johnston, Judy and David Roberts, Sue and Alex Malgieri snag a table. — Ivy Ashe

“I never know going into these things what’s going to happen, and I’m very gratified by it,” Mr. Scott said yesterday afternoon. “The food was stunning this year and as I watch this event it continues to grow and evolve.

“It’s first and foremost about restaurants on the Island,” he added. “They understand what the event is and what they’re supporting.”

There were 86 vendors this year, the most the Taste ever has hosted, Mr. Scott said.

For Tasters, time was of the essence. The first stop for many diners was the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group raw bar. Retired oyster farmer Thomas D. Berry said they would go through around 600 oysters that night, many of which are gone in the first hour.

“People like to get their oysters first and then get the rest of the food,” he said in between shucking oysters and clams. “That’s the fun part.”

whaling church line
See the line? That’s why the strategy of serious eaters is, first and foremost, arrive early. — Ivy Ashe

Diners were careful not to drip on their pressed pants while eating Edgartown restaurant Il Tesoro’s lamb sliders or a juicy Korean barbecue bulgogi lettuce wrap with sweet beef or spicy pork from Buckley Gourmet.

With a disposable spoonful of l’étoile’s braised short rib, eaters were heard saying they could have happily gone to heaven.

Atria chef Christian Thornton was originally going to make a warm dish to complement the cooler days the Vineyard had last week, but when he woke up on Thursday morning and saw the sun shining, he decided a cool dish would be better suited.

“I’ve been at the Taste for 12 years,” Mr. Thornton said. “I wanted something light and refreshing and decided to do shrimp at 10 a.m.”

Mr. Thornton served his shrimp skewer served over a tomato salsa. Tasters were then urged to wash it down with a glass of homemade sangria. Very little arm twisting was required.

shucking oysters
Amandine Surier and Rick Karney shuck through 600 bivalves at popular stand — Ivy Ashe

Across the way, Black Sheep was serving a Jasper Hill Farm cheese with house bacon jam, and at first glance a cracker with a cheese spread looked passable but then the homemade ricotta from Chilmark Tavern rested in your mouth like a sweet dream.

Beer, wine and vodka vendors dotted the two mammoth tents and Tasters shook out their wine glasses for a second or a third pour, several toasting the Boston Bruins for their Stanley Cup win the night before.

And then it was time to dance.

The heels came off, and flip-flops and barefeet ruled the dance floor, letting loose to the tunes of the Sultans of Swing. Hands went up in the air and hips were shaking, celebrating what many call the official start of summer.

“We had a great night,” Mr. Scott said yesterday. “The restaurants, caterers and band did an unbelievable job, people really enjoyed it.

“I guess we’ll do it again next year,” he added with a smile.