Life for the food truck and concession owners is a severely simple yet at the same time severely complicated thing. It preps food, it drives out to and parks in different locations, it serves food to people until it’s done for the day and drives back to start it all over again.
Yet as with any business, the logistics, costs, and details needed to make all this happen come to an astronomical level of annoyance, to which have been covered to pain-staking detail in other articles here and elsewhere. To simply maintain this daily state of battling permits, sleepless hours of food preparation, and drive time, owners have to rely on a steady supply of sustenance: money.
This steady consumption is received in one of two ways: either patrolling the streets of their respective city, finding parking in areas at times where they will hopefully garner a sustainable few hours of business; or, conversely, finding events which they can provide catering for.
Though both of these strategies have their benefits and not-so-benefits, and street-parking is certainly a necessary task for most days as a way to get money, being able to find Catering opportunities is the cornerstone, if not the life blood, of any food truck. Besides offering a guaranteed (if handled properly by promoters) opportunity to get customers, one is able to know ahead of time HOW many customers and thus prep for it, can hold steady business for much longer hours, and provides great opportunities for even FURTHER catering opportunities, either with the same people or through networking.
So being able to get the right events, and navigate the ins-and-outs of the business for them, becomes key. One has to learn to put together a proper Catering Agreement, to which we’ve found some links to Templates online further down this post for convenience. As for other assistance, we’ve turned to Dante of Dante’s Inferno Dogs, a hot dog cart based out of Seattle. Being in the business for over 15 years, Dante has certainly garnered a lot of experience with handling a catered event, and we are very glad to be able to feature him here today.
Question: To start off, I’d love to know more about who you are and what the cart’s all about. How did it all get started?
Dante: I came to Seattle in ’95, and I had always had the idea of a hot dog cart operation, when I was 19 I had read a book called “Better See a Dentist” (think I may be misquoting here, apologies), which had a whole narration about a guy in Louisiana with a bunch of different jobs, part of it included his days in the French Quarter selling Hot Dogs. So when I came to Seattle in ’95 I started geeking around with the idea of hot dogs, and it took me a while to up and run it, so it wasn’t until 2000 that we got started.
Q: What has been your experience with booking catering events?
Dante: Catering is something I hadn’t even thought of at the start. So a partner of mine was once doing a carnival themed birthday party, and they thought it would be novel to have a hot dog cart. I never even THOUGHT of catering the hot dog cart, but it was such a great success, after that I did a kid’s birthday party at a fixed cost. So then I started structuring catering packages and prices, and it’s my main focus now.
Q: In your words, what else are the benefits to a guaranteed catered event booking? DO you prefer it to hitting the streets?
Dante: Coming up in July, we’ll be 15 years in business, and I’d say 80% of my business is in catering, and as I said that’s my main focus that’s my main direction. Goals and requirements are pretty clear in what they ask of me, ‘I want your credit card up front, I want you to work 2 hours for 150 people.’ As opposed to braving the elements on the street, you’re not going to have a good day.
Q: What do you believe new truck owners should be aware of in concern to trying to book and be apart of these sorts of events themselves?
Dante: Food trucks… you wanna get out there, you wanna promote yourself and get seen. Keep it simple, go often, people take on challenges that they’re not necessarily up for. If you’re a hot dog cart, focus on hot dogs, don’t try to serve pizza or burgers that just cloud your concept. Focus on what you’re good at, find your operation sales point when you go out there, make sure you’re a professional and tight-run operation that people are going to want to come back to.
Q: Are there any catering event opportunities you think new trucks might want to AVOID?
Dante: Larger events. The money is very enticing, but when you’re out there on the street you’re working the truck and you know your rate of service. Quite often operations that are not familiar will try for these events and it’s just too much, people end up waiting in line, they aren’t very patient, and one bad review can end up hurting the business. You need to know your limits, don’t overextend yourself; I’m not saying to pass up on a job, just don’t do anything that may be beyond your capacity. And you may wanna try getting a little creative, say you have a client that wants you to do a big event, tell them “Hey, this might be a little TOO much for me, but I have a friend who does ‘such and such,’” and bring them along to help out, making sure to find someone that complements your truck. Don’t do someone that has the same food, I’d never pair up with another hot dog cart, but maybe if you do burgers try and bring in someone else who does pizza.
Q: I would imagine most event organizers are quite amicable and willing to accommodate trucks for the catering as much as possible, but I can imagine this sort of attitude isn’t always the case. Have you had any experience with difficult hosts? How does one handle that situation?
Dante: You know, if you do your homework in advance, just be forward and upfront, you’re not likely to have that problem; when I do, it’s usually my error, my fault. Getting these events, you have to make sure you’re at the top of your game; there’s a lot of good food trucks out there, they have great presentation and great food, you have to have a little bit of everything to compete. If you’re not that kind of person, a little edgy, maybe you have to have someone in your operation who can handle the presentation while you do what you’re good at. Otherwise the host can just pick someone else who can deliver what they want.
Q: Have you ever had to put together an official catering agreement contract, and if so how did you go about it?
Dante: I do for every single catering event I have a contract, I generate a QuickBooks link with my client, make sure everything’s satisfactory, and if they’re not satisfactory we make the necessary adjustments, send it back and once they like it we have to call in and get the credit card deposit. Once that deposit is in, we’ll make a copy of their credit card, and now I have the card so at the close of the event I run them down.
If they’re NOT happy with the food service, there’s a problem, cuz problems are going to happen and it’s how you deal with them. What I do is if anyone isn’t happy for whatever reason, not only do I not run the balance, whatever the job might have been, if they put say $1000 down, they now have $1000 CREDIT for another event. No matter what happens, I don’t want them going out on a negative note, so by refunding them the whole catered event and giving them a future event I give the customer a good memory.
Q: What parts of one of these agreements would you say is invaluable to include, what should never be left out?
Dante: Ahhhh, I’ve never thought of that before… it’s a whole package, everything’s in there, the time, cost, number of people… if anything’s left out there’s a problem. But I guess if I had to choose ONE of those, it would have to be: Get your deposit, get your money up front. Your time is very very valuable. I didn’t always get a credit card deposit, and I found myself months later chasing after people. Another thing I’ve often found out is that the bigger the client, the larger the client, the more difficult it is to get payment; your next door neighbor, who wants to hire you for their backyard, they’re the first to pay. Larger companies, you’re going to be knocking all over the place to get a credit card. Sometimes they’ll even, when I get a hold of someone, say they ‘don’t do credit card deposits,’ to which I tell them I don’t bother with them then. I have to get that in, otherwise I don’t do the event.
Q: Do you offer any suggestions for where other owners can find help or resources to drawing up one of these?
Dante: I’m sure there’s templates online, I am not very tech savvy! Haha. But yeah I’ve gone off of QuickBooks for easily putting these together.
Q: On the lighter side, have there been any catering gigs that you have particularly loved doing?
Dante: I LOVE catering events, weddings are amazing. Most entertaining event I did though, I was working one event, wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I showed up at the venue and it turned out that one of my frequent and long time customers, my direct sales agent, had passed. And he had loved the inferno dogs and wanted me at the Wake. I recognized a lot of the people there, stopped by to simply chat and talk when I wasn’t catering, it was a very momentous occasion.
Q: Just to finish things off, do you have any last opinions or words of advice in concern for achieving a booked catering event, their benefits, and/or putting an agreement together?
Dante: I understand people want to be out there on the street, they want to be out there making money, it’s tight; but if you take time off, harvest catering opportunities, put on a fresh pair of khaki’s and get a shave, whatever you have to do! Hit the streets, go knocking on doors and line up some of these, everybody has someone they know who might be looking for someone to cater something. Make sure you’re not going willy nilly at anything, make sure you’re competitive, make sure you’re not UNDERSELLING yourself, your time IS valuable. Try a catering event out on a friend, have a coming out party in your driveway, invite a hundred or so people out to it for free, you’re losing a bit of money yes but you’re spreading your name and brand out there.

List of Catering Agreement Templates:

Catering Proposal Template– Professional template that accounts for deposits, food quantity, guest numbers, date of event and other general information.
Catering Contract Template #2 – One of the nice elements of this template is that their are handy “tips” that explain many sections of the contract.
Create Your Own Contract Wizard –  This free and online do-it-yourself tool allows you to answer a few questions about your own business online such as the State you’re located and name of business. The tool automatically inserts your business information into a professional looking template so you don’t need to do any manual editing.
Legal Zoom Guide – Legal Zoom has created more than just a catering agreement sample, but they’ve also provide a full-fledged guide to provide you with a better legal understanding of these kinds of common agreements.
Printable Contracts – Catering contract that makes it easy to find and replace your client’s name.
Tidy Form – Three catering templates are available here in both PDF and Word Doc format. 
Event Planner Template – This is a downloadable file that can be used for catering or special events. It includes many aspects of an event including kitchen prep and financial areas.
We hope these along with the whole of this article has been able to offer some insight to the wonders and requirements for event catering with your mobile business. We’re pulling for ya, so invite us out to some of those catering events why don’t you?