I think every food concessionaire remembers his or her first event. Mine was with a stick joint made of scrap barn boards, screwed together on sight by my dad and me. It took all day and lots of hand tools to have it standing straight enough to throw a tarp over it and call it a food booth. Inside I had a folding table, folding chair, stack of napkins, cash box, and, a tall stack of coolers full of my one and only menu item –sliced loaves of banana bread. I knew it wasn’t the perfect menu for a five-day Fourth of July event, but, since I was already baking loaves to sell to restaurants, it was easy to bake extra. Besides, what’s not to like about banana bread?
In anticipation of sales, for a week prior to the event, I stayed up late each night baking bread in my home kitchen. By fair time I was ready with two freezers full of bread. I mistakenly believed I would sell every one of them. It’s amazing now to recall how, back then, the health department was much more lenient in their food service licensing than it is today. By just answering a few questions, such as: “Is your dog an indoor or outdoor dog?” I was able to get a license to cook commercially at home.
I wanted a classy looking booth so an artist friend hand lettered wooden signs for me. On the front counter I plunked down a nice bouquet of flowers. I was set to make my mark in the concession business.
Looking back, it is obvious to me (and, most likely, everyone else) my first mistake was my choice of menu. Luckily, a more experienced vendor saw my dilemma, and helped me out by showing me how, in addition to bread; I could sell a quick and easy nachos dish. He spent a lot of time at my booth talking about the concession business. Experienced concessionaires are not usually inclined to help naïve new vendors; something I didn’t appreciate at the time. I expect he simply found me attractive, but, I was extremely lucky to benefit from his thirty years of experience…thanks Tom.
I probably don’t need to tell you, the event didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. But, it was the start of my concession business education that continues today. Lesson number one: selling food is not as easy as it appears. Lesson number two: your menu matters. Lesson number three: it helps to have a good mentor.
Please share your “first event” story. It might get featured as a blog post.