Whether you’re a restauranteur looking to expand your customer base or a one-person operation who enjoys soaking up the outdoors and dishing out your favorite recipes, being a food vendor at a fair or festival is an excellent way to not just feed hungry swarms, but jumpstart word-of-mouth marketing, showcase your brand, and garner repeat business. Suffice to say, participating in festivals or large-scale events is a big undertaking, and it’s crucial to be adequately prepared so your stand or truck is remembered for all the right reasons.
As a leading provider of mobile refrigeration trailers in Los Angeles — as well as Colorado and Texas, we know a thing or two about successful events. As a matter of fact, before Keep It Cold™ was Keep It Cold™, our main business was catering, which means we know how to prepare delicious food — and fast — for large groups at fairs and festivals. Read up on our beginnings by paying a visit to our about us page!
Here, we’ll go over the ins and outs of preparing for the big day — from months-out prep to day-of-action items.
As you go to submit registration forms, consider the following:
Understand that Health Department requirements vary, so make sure to be on top of what’s needed. We operate in California, and know a health official will always show up — so have your thermometers ready! Once that food is not kept in the safe zone, the Health Inspector will make you throw your food away without any questions.
Once you have decided to attend an event, show, or festival, make sure to register early. There’s always some early discount available. Location is everything in the restaurant business — and fairs are no exception. Register early and get a prime location to sell your prime rib! You might be able to work with the event management team to find a map of the venue; by studying the layout of where you’ll be, you can possibly work to get a better location for your setup.
When it comes to the food business, hard work is second nature. However, working remotely adds a host of unique challenges. Stay cool and focused — and as we always do in our business, make it happen!
To participate in an outdoor event or festival, unfortunately, there’s more involved than pulling up, opening up a tent, and firing the grill. Make sure you tend to these technicals:
First things first: determine what permits you’ll need. To sell food and drinks at fairs and festivals, you’ll need some type of vendor’s license or food handler’s permits. Fortunately, restaurants that participate in minimal events can typically obtain a temporary permit that allows vending privileges for around 24-48 hours. Check with the event coordinator to see if they can provide the necessary applications or steer you in the right direction in terms of getting in touch with the appropriate agency. There may be important information on the event website, as well.
If you plan to travel frequently this upcoming festival season — we’re talking several festivals and fairs — you will have to license your company with your local health department. Additionally, you may need to obtain a temporary vendor's permit for each festival you service.
Depending on your location and what type of vending business you oversee, you will need certain types of food vendor’s insurance. Restaurant owners may be okay, here; the establishment policy could include umbrella coverage for off-site events, or you may obtain temporary liability insurance for each festival.
Logistics is critical to success at fair events. Without proper equipment, you may find yourself exhausted before the first customer even arrives at your booth. Something as simple as forgetting an ice bucket can create extra work and stress.
Look into buying the appropriate-sized work vehicle; load-ins are always hard. As a food vendor, you’ll have to transport many items regardless of how many events you’re part of. Restaurant owners who service festivals every so often will need at least one large work van to haul food and beverages as well as supplies and signage. If you’re operating a full-time mobile food vending business, a kitchen-equipped food or catering truck can work, but building a pop-up kitchen will work, too.
We typically built a pop-up kitchen, used one of our trailer coolers, were the envy of every food vendor because our set-up was so efficient and effective to produce large quantities of great BBQ!
Permits and food is just the beginning; you’ll need the proper food and preparation and transportation equipment to dish up your hot or cold dishes and beverages. Fortunately, the experts at Keep It Cold™ have you covered; we supply mobile refrigeration units ideal for festival season. Innovative as they are effective, our units are purposefully designed to ensure that everything you’re serving is at the temperature you need it to be. Auxiliary cold storage frees you, your staff, and your cooking equipment, as well; just because it’s an outdoor festival doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be mise en scène!
You’re officially a vendor; congratulations! It’s time to refine what you’ll be bringing to the table. Here’s what you should see to weeks out:
Take into account what your competitors will be serving, their prices, and what their target audiences look like. After all, a music festival will attract a very different audience than a family-friendly event with rides and games. Include items on your menu that can be prepared quickly and easily in limited-space areas.
Once the menu is in place, create an inventory list of everything you’ll need for the day. This surely includes food ingredients, garnishes, and beverages, but should also account for festival-goers on-the-go eating; napkins, disposable eating utensils, and serving plates, trays, or containers. Restaurant owners typically have all necessary supplies at their establishment, but it’s a good idea to have backup supplies.
Festival days are exciting — and in those environments, exciting means busy. Time will be of the essence, and customer service cannot fall by the wayside. The more well-oiled your vendor machine is, the better you’ll be able to operate without hiccup, and, of course, profit. Check-in with your team’s MVPs to gauge their level of interest and availability.
Festivals are hard work, and our staff loved the additional challenges. These hard days are some of the most fun for our staff. When it comes down to it, “busy” is best, and your team will rise to the challenge!
In the final weeks or days leading up to a festival, make sure to:
While your restaurant or team’s brand may be showcased in the greater event promotion cycle, lean on your social media channels to spread the word about your involvement to people who are already tuned in! This is a great chance to get creative; take pictures of tried-and-true classics that will make an appearance or a brand-new offering that’s making its debut at the fair or festival. Don’t forget to advertise where at the venue you will be located, too.
If everything goes according to plan, your booth, truck, or table will already be giving customers plenty of great stuff to walk away with. However, you can double-down on brand recognition by having a few other takeaways lined up for them. From business cards that have your logo, location, and hours of operation on it to coupons, swag, and beyond, your set-up can be so much more than a food-stop; it can be your very own trade show.
You could have filled out every piece of paperwork you needed to early and come up with the most delicious festival-friendly menu options the venue has ever seen; none of it will matter if your food and beverage isn’t stored at the correct temperature. Fortunately, with Keep It Cold™, that will never be a problem. For more information about our mobile cooler trailers for rent or their industry uses, reach out to our team today.