Are you looking to expand your customer base as a restaurant owner? Or, are you an enthusiastic cook who loves being outdoors and serving up your favorite dishes? If so, then food vending might be the perfect way for you to earn money at fairs and festivals. You can make a lot of money at a festival or a fair—most food truck owners expect to sell to 20% of all the attendees.
Requirements may vary depending on the size of your business and individual state laws, but here are some basic guidelines you can follow to set you up for success.
Get the Permits and Licenses You Need
To sell food and drinks at fairs, you will most likely need a vendor’s license or food handler’s permit. For restaurants that want to participate in only a few events, they can normally get a temporary permit that gives them vending rights for up to two days. The event coordinator typically has the applications you need or can direct you to the right agency.
If you own a food vending business and travel to multiple festivals and fairs, you must license your company with the local health department. Some states also require that temporary vendor’s permit for each event. The Small Business Administration website offers detailed information on what permits are needed in each state.
Get Equipment for Your Transportation and Kitchen
Invest in a work vehicle that is the right size for you. Part of selling food at an event is carrying your stock and equipment there. Even restaurateurs who only occasionally serve at fairs still need to bring their stocks and equipment there. If you are running a mobile food vending business full-time, get a food truck that already has a kitchen, then make the necessary modifications after.
You also need proper storage equipment. Whether you’ll be selling food at a stall or a truck, your vehicle and your spot both need storage equipment. Without the proper equipment, you would be forced to close your doors. Important tools such as thermal bags, hard plastic coolers, and refrigeration units help keep prepared foods at a regulated temperature while moving from one place to another.
You also have to make sure that your kitchen is capable of producing a lot of food quickly. Invest in cooking equipment that is perfectly suited for your planned menu. For example, if you plan to serve hotdogs and corndogs, you need to have a commercial hot dog cooker and warmer. If you plan to make burgers, you need to have a wide griddle and a high-output bread toaster.
Make sure you have enough food storage and serving containers to avoid a party foul when you start doing business. To stay within the bounds of the law, check both your state’s and federal government’s health department guidelines on FoodSafety.gov. You can also find contacts there for any questions regarding regulation or guideline differences from state to state.
Get Insurance for Your Business
Depending on where your vending business is located, you will probably need different types of insurance for your food truck or stall. If you already have a restaurant, first see if your establishment policy also covers any issues that occur if your establishment has an event off-site. A simpler alternative is to just get insurance for each festival.
If you own a concession stand that is open year-round, you need property and liability insurance to safeguard your business, as well as workman’s compensation insurance to protect your employees. In any case, you will need commercial auto insurance to transport food, drinks, equipment and supplies.
Research Your Customers and Your Competition
Withstand the temptation to simply copy what your competitors are doing — research consumer needs and create a menu with items that would address those wants. When envisioning your prices, think about who your target consumers might be — children, families, and people from different cultures. As you’re creating dishes, keep in mind that they should take little time to prepare considering the limited space you’ll have at the festival. And since customers will likely be walking while eating, try avoiding foods that melt easily or make a mess (anything too greasy or saucy).
Keep Watch Over Your Inventory
Before you start cooking, make a list of all the ingredients and kitchen supplies you need to buy. This inventory will come in handy when stocking your shelves and refrigerator. When deciding what menu items to serve, consider which foods travel well. For example, cupcakes are less likely to crumble than cake when jostled in a purse or backpack. The same goes for finger foods like sushi rolls versus sandwiches wrapped in foil; the former is much easier to eat on-the-go. And no matter what dishes you choose, be sure to have plenty of disposable eating utensils on hand—nobody wants to eat ice cream with their bare hands!
Make Sure You Submit Your Application Early
Register with your local city council and event coordinators at least six to eight weeks before the festival date. Most events are scheduled several months out, so you’ll want to aim for submitting your application early. In addition, do some research on what permits you need, and consider all the vending opportunities available to you a few months prior to the event. And if you’re planning on selling food at multiple festivals, be sure to keep track of each individual application.
You can make a tidy sum opening a food stall at a fair, but it’s important to do your research first. Make sure you have the proper permits and insurance, and that you’re aware of your customers and competition. Plan your menu carefully, making sure that all items are easy to prepare and transport. And finally, submit your application early so you don’t miss out on any opportunities!