PLANNING A FOOD CONCESSION – WHERE TO START

Tent concession at a large event.

Tent concession at a large event.

It’s often hard for someone starting a food concession to know WHERE to start. I believe they should start with EVENTS. Before they plan and design any other part of their concession business they should research and become familiar with the type of events they plan to do business at. This is important because, operation-wise, different concessions are more practical and successful at different types of events.

I’ll explain, but first let me start by clarifying some lingo:

Food cart – does business from a fixed location such as at a food pod or parking lot. On a day to day basis a food cart serves a steady clientele and operates much the same as a regular storefront food business. A food cart starts by pursuing the ideal permanent location for its business. With a good location found, that job is done.

Food concession – does business at various short-term, albeit sometimes multi-day, events and venues such as special events and county fairs. Concessionaires must pursue multiple locations (events) every event season.

That’s all simple enough. But for concessionaires; here’s the hard part:

All events are different. Our biggest challenge is to book a season of the right caliber of events – ones that are not too big, not too small, but are just right.

Basically, food concessions designed to do business at 5 day fairs are much different than food concessions designed for 5 hour farmers markets. Though most events are neither 5 day fairs nor 5 hour markets, but rather, are something in between, it helps to picture these two extremes when planning your concession business.

A concession at a 5 day fair usually sells large volumes of product and has the staff and production capabilities to operate at high volume for multiple 12 hour days. It frequently transports its booth/equipment/stock in a large truck or trailer. It may take several hours to set-up the booth and prepare the food to be ready for business. At the end of the event it may take several hours to clean up, tear-down and load out. The enterprise is designed to maximize sales and make a profit that is proportionate to the size, duration, and cost of the event.

Concession trailer at a small event.

Concession trailer at a small event.

Whereas a concession at a single-day, 5 hour event must set-up quickly, fit within a 10 foot space, serve a menu that can be prepared and served quickly to maximize the short duration of business, be self-contained; having on-board power and water, and be quick to break down and pull out. Again, the whole enterprise is designed to maximize sales and make a profit that is proportionate to the size, duration and cost of the event.

Think battleship or speed boat. Or if you prefer, think Hummer or Kawasaki. Or, taking this analogy further, some concessionaires drive a small SUV. Some concessions are logistically limber and serve a simple menu; feasibly served at nearly any event- large or small.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I am in the process of custom building a small, light-weight, economical vending trailer to be used at small, local events. It will meet all the needs of any vendor – food, crafts, or produce. Mine is being built for my own use and as a prototype. I plan to make custom trailers available to other concessionaires and vendors sometime next year.

I’ll keep you posted and provide images as the project progresses along with an explanation for each of the trailer features.

There is no such thing as the perfect concession that can be equally successful at any and every event. However, I think this trailer will make it easier for vendors to utilize the many small local markets, will cost less to operate, and will generate higher sales.

About admin

With nearly three decades of experience in the food concession business, a position on the Oregon Food Services Advisory Board and as founder of Northwest Vendor’s Network Association, Barb Fitzgerald is a leading authority on this unique mode of self-employment. Her own experience and dedicated passion for the concession business drives her belief in the food concession business as a path to self-employment for nearly anyone with the desire to become responsible for their own income. She is a concession start-up consultant, and the best-selling author of, Food Booth, The Entrepreneur’s Complete Guide to the Food Concession Business. Go to: http://www.foodbooth.net
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