Plenty food-based Concession Stand owners can tell you, a gig at a big State Fair (or similar event) can earn one a pretty penny if you’re lucky enough to grab a spot, but it’s not easy. There’s a lot of work and effort that goes into it, long hot days, and plenty of competition. Sometimes the smallest factors can make the difference between full days of long lines and success or just a mediocre (if not dismal) affair. For those starting out, especially in the foodie-based entrepreneurial trends that so fill the streets nowadays, being able to take advantage of as many factors that can attract customers is key. Here are a few important tips and concerns to keep in mind when you’re starting to put your concession stand ideas and organization together.
The first key to success is finding out what works out the best at these events, and truly there is nothing more fitting of street fairs than something Portable. Certainly we’ve all heard and seen the cliché of offering just about anything ‘on-a-stick,’ but the fact remains having something easy to walk and eat with is not just appealing but has been a staple of these events for decades. Not to mention the novelty of taking a food not normally seen so ‘portable’ and twisting it into something a person can eat with one hand sparks interest and thrill towards your booth. Thus, if you have the chance to debate between booth ideas where one is served in a basket, eaten with fork or messy fingers or what have you, whereas the other is in a stick/cone/etc, lean towards the latter. If one’s ideas don’t even lean close to some notable portability, I would suggest taking heavy consideration into finding a way to twist it into a fun little package; place your spaghetti and meatballs in a wrap or grilled Italian bread, pile that roast/stewed meat and mashed potatoes in a waffle cone, turn a dessert into a donut plate, or just put it on a stick (I’ve even seen it done with sushi rolls)! The possibilities are endless when you get into it, and we can attest the customers will certainly show their appreciation (when done well of course).
Play Off the Favorites
The fact remains that, often times, the most profitable booths at any fair are the local favorites and classics; corn/hot dogs, cheese curds, grilled corn cobs, popcorn, french fries, local cookie/ice cream/other dessert legends, etc. There are always going to be that large customer base that will ONLY buy these foods they have always loved and been comfortable with. But this usually only means immense profit for those who’ve been grandfathered in to these sought-after foods and destinations, especially with the leagues of other vendors likely to also be selling this generic staple. Any newcomer should avoid trying to stick simply to these food items.
Instead, consider the strategy of finding the most popular concession booths and food items in your upcoming region of business and find inspiration from them; in particular, being able to put a twist on it can draw much attention. Whether you’re following the early tips and making a much-loved basket-based food more portable (like mashing French fries into a ball, on a skewer, and frying, perhaps around a hot dog), combining one thing with something else (such as topping curds with stew or stuffing them into sandwich/burritos), simply updating it with a new flavor, or finding some other unique way to offer and advertise it. This puts you out as something new while also leeching off some of the crowds from these old favorites.
Focus on a singular, stand-apart item, but have a few other unique and creative options on display to catch people’s eye. This can not only help add extra sales one wouldn’t have normally gotten, it can help one see what food will do successfully in future years to garner focus. Again, only stands that have been developed the experience, customer base, and/or high level in their foods and attractiveness can survive on single item offerings, just like when offering the fair favorites. Unless you’re lucky enough to catch onto the right level of trend, uniqueness, and developed interest beforehand (will likely need to invest into advertising and marketing beforehand), newer stands that only sell one thing can only expect a modicum of success and profit at best. Nowadays having some Vegetarian/Vegan (or even Gluten-Free) options can really ring with certain customers.
Just don’t overload and bog your stand down with a full-on menu.
If you’re able to find it, Corner spots are always some of the most profitable; with the ability to have signage boards seen on at least two different streets, with a much more open-air environment, means more people can see and be interested in your booth vs those sandwiched in the middle of a street/band.
Putting on a Good Face
As superficial as it sounds, signs sell. Having an attractive and eye-catching display is what brings customers in. Whatever you can do for this is important, we mainly suggest to stay away from those booths/signs that simply list and display too much information; a focal point draws the eye, but those strings of menu items running around a concession stand advertising soda/popcorn/cotton candy/pretzels/etc just makes one look like all the other fair booths people are used to.
It can be said that people don’t buy a product, they buy the STORY behind it. It’s true this doesn’t always apply to food concession booths (in fact it rarely does), but if, when narrowing down ideas for what you as the owner want to serve, you have some items that have a bit of history with you (whether it’s a food that affected you in younger years or had an amusing story in refining a recipe for a while back), start looking at those more closely. These products can not only give an easy way to discuss more on media, articles, and in person, thus developing a little more interest behind it, but that story and history itself will vitalize YOU and your employees as the owner and those making it to thus put that extra effort and make it amazing and stand out. There’s nothing more effective for any salesman than to be working with a product that they themselves absolutely love and believe in, and if they have a history with it than even better.
At the end of the day, no matter how kitchy/trendy you are, no matter how good of a location you’ve grabbed, the quality of the product, or if you’ve found te perfect item to draw the crowds, it doesn’t mean anything if service sucks or you run out, or if you can’t even serve at all. This means getting all your regulations, codes, and permits researched and received, taking stock of all inventory, stocking up to survive the weekend (better to overestimate than under for these), transport all equipment and product smoothly, and at the end of the day have an organized team that cranks it out FAST, SMOOTH, and EFFICIENT (with a smile of course); don’t forget consistency either. Otherwise you can kiss any chance at accumulating any sufficient funds goodbye.
A Couple Other Helpful Articles
Fair, Food Carts, and Food Concession – a whole blog dedicated to articles on the subject of concession stand sales, organization, and other helpful topics.
What Every Vendor Should Know About Events – another guide, this one focusing one the issues around the organizer and event details itself.