So, you’ve followed the steps in our guide to starting your own street food business, and now you’re ready to take your business to the next level.

The next step for any street food vendor is landing a pitch at one of the UK’s major festivals. This is the holy grail for food truck owners, and it’s easy to see why: festival-goers spent approximately £1.01 billion during independent festivals from 2010 to 2014 (including the price of the tickets), according to research from the Association of Independent Music Festivals.

In short, there’s a lot of money to be made from festivals, and most full-time food truck owners make most of their money over the festival period.

To help you take your street food business to the next level and make the most of this golden opportunity, we’ve put together this guide. Read on to find out:

What food sells best at festivals?

While it’s impossible to say whether you’re going to be a hit if you pay for a pitch at a festival, it’s important you have a good idea before you put down the money for a pitch.

So, the question that you’re probably wondering is: what food sells best at festivals?

The honest answer is that it depends on the festival. At smaller festivals where there’s only going to be a few vendors, your Vietnamese street food isn’t going to do very well, as people will be going for the classics like burger, hog roast, and pizza.

However, at a popular festival attended by people with lots of disposable income (think Glastonbury), the basics will already be covered. You’re therefore more likely to stand out if you offer something a bit unique. The same applies to dedicated food festivals, where vendors are going to want to try new and exotic foods.

So, while burger vans are always going to take the lion’s share of the profits at any festival, you might be better off going for something a bit different if you’re planning on pitching up at a larger event.

How to choose the right festival to attend

If you’ve decided it’s time to take your food truck business to the next level and attend your first festival, the most important decision you’ll make during the whole process is which event you’re going to.

To help you make this crucial decision, we’ve put together these tips for choosing the right festival to attend. Keep these in mind when you’re picking the first festival to attend as a vendor.

How much does a pitch cost?

To sell your food at a festival, you need to pay the organiser for a pitch. This is where you’ll set up stall and serve up your food during the festival.

The bigger the festival, the more you’ll pay for a pitch. You’ll usually pay this fee in full before the event, either upfront when the cost is in the hundreds or in a few instalments if it’s in the thousands.

So, if you don’t have the money at hand to pay for the pitch, you won’t be able to attend. Before you go any further, you need to contact the festival organiser and ask how much you’ll be expected to pay for a pitch. This is something you need to consider well in advance to ensure you have the money.

Can you barter on the cost of a festival pitch?

At this stage, bear in mind that the organiser will expect to do a bit of bartering on the cost of the pitch. If a festival is well out of your price range, don’t expect to be able to save thousands, but expect the organiser to have a bit of leeway.

Of course, the more popular the festival, the more competition there’s going to be for each location. Every food truck in the country is going to be vying for a spot at Glastonbury, so don’t expect to be able to barter there. On the other hand, you might have a lot of leeway when it comes to the price of a pitch at a small, local festival, so don’t be afraid to try and bring it down.

Where is the pitch going to be?

Not all pitches were created equal. Before you sign on the dotted line and hand your hard-earned money over to a festival organiser, you should find out exactly where your location is going to be and have it written into your contract.

The perfect pitch location depends on what you sell. Spots near the campsite are going to get the lion’s share of business until noon while people pull themselves around and get breakfast, while stalls near the main stage will get the most action in the afternoon and through into the evening. Keep this in mind when negotiating the position of your pitch.

Will you have access to the power sources you need?

Some pitches come with access to the festival’s power supply (for a fee, of course), while others require you to provide your own generator. Make sure you know what the situation is with yours before you sign on the dotted line, and don’t be afraid to negotiate on the price if you’re expected to provide your own power source.

How many people attend the festival?

The bigger the festival, the bigger potential you have for profit. If you land a pitch at Glastonbury, more punters might pass your stall in those five days than the rest of the year combined.

While numbers aren’t everything (as we’ll go into later), your sales are always going to be capped by the number of people there to buy from you. One of the first things you need to ask when you’re thinking about buying a pitch at a festival is, therefore, how many people are going to attend.

Start by asking the organiser, although bear in mind it’s in their best interest to make it seem that as many people attend the festival as possible. You should also search the internet for accurate figures. However, the best source of information is often another vendor who has pitched at that festival before. The food truck community is quite tightknit, so if you can find out who’s pitched there before, all it takes is a Facebook message or email to get a realistic view of a festival from a fellow vendor.

How much competition will there be (and what will they be selling)?

The amount of people attending a festival isn’t the be all and end all. You should also ask the organiser how many other vendors there are going to be. For example, you might actually be better off as the sole vendor at a local event expecting 1,000 people than as one of a dozen stalls catering for a festival expecting 10,000 people.

You should also ask the organiser what other kind of vendors are already signed up. If there’s already a stall signed up selling the same cuisine as you, you might want to give the festival a miss if it’s only small, as you’ll both get a lot less attention. At larger festivals where most cuisines are going to be catered for already, you will want to make sure your stall is well away from your direct competition.

What kind of crowd does the festival draw?

Cheap and cheerful burger stalls appeal to a different kind of demographic than gourmet street food stalls. If you’ve been in the mobile catering business for a while, you’ll know what kind of audience responds best to your food.

So, when you’re shortlisting festivals to attend, think about whether there’s a lot of crossover between the festival’s target audience and yours. For example, if you sell artisan food at quite a high price, you might be better off attending a smaller, upscale festival rather somewhere like Reading or Leeds which is tailored to students without much disposable income.

Will you make money?

Last but not least, you need to calculate whether you’re going to make money at the festival.

Once you’ve settled on a festival where you can afford the upfront cost of the pitch, it’s time to get the calculator out and estimate how much you’d be set to make at the event. Once you know this, you can take away your costs, and then you’ll know if the profit margin is going to be large enough to make attending the event worth it.

This kind of analysis is an art as much as a science, as you can never be certain about how much you’re going to make from an event. The more experience you have, the better you’ll be at estimating your costs and profits. That’s why it’s a good idea to dip your toes in the water at a smaller event before moving straight onto one of the UK’s biggest music festivals.

With that in mind, here’s how to get an idea of how much you’ll make from a festival:

What are your realistic trading hours?

While you might be allowed to serve food onsite from 8am through to 11pm, don’t base your calculations on making sales that whole time. For example, if you’re going to be selling bacon sarnies, you’ll get a lot of punters during breakfast and lunch, followed by sales trailing off into the afternoon.

So, it’s important to know your realistic trading hours to calculate your earning potential. Base your calculation on these rather than making sales throughout the day.

How long does each order take to make?

You’re always going to be limited by how many items you can get out an hour. For example, if it takes you three minutes from taking a customer’s order and handing over their food, you’ll be able to make a maximum of 20 sales an hour. Of course, don’t expect to make that much every hour, but keep this in mind.

What is the absolute maximum I could make?

Once you know your realistic trading hours and the time it takes your service time for each order, you can work out the absolute maximum you could make at the festival.

Take your realistic trading hours and multiply them by 60 to get the total minutes. Divide this by the time it takes to prepare each order, and then multiply this by the number of staff you have and the price of your product to get the total amount you could possibly make.

For example, if you’re planning on taking your burrito stall to a two-day music festival, you’re not going to make many sales before lunch. So, if your realistic trading hours are noon to 11pm, that makes 22 hours in total, or 1,220 minutes.

Each order takes two minutes to prepare, and you have three members of staff. That means you can sell a total of 1,980 units during the festival. If you charge £4 for each unit, that means you can make an absolute maximum of £7,920 in food sales.

If you’ve run through the calculation and this total isn’t high enough to give you a clear profit margin, you should think about attending another festival. This figure represents the price you would make if all your staff are working full out for every minute you’re open for business. The actual amount you make is going to depend on a lot of factors, but it’s safe to assume it’s going to be quite a bit lower than this best-case scenario. So, if you’ve run through the figures and you wouldn’t make much of a profit based on this figure, you shouldn’t attend the festival.

If there’s a healthy profit margin after you’ve done this calculation, you should move on to making a more realistic estimate. Expect to be busy throughout the day at a major festival, as people grab food between bands they want to see. The more established your brand, the better your marketing, and the more popular your cuisine will all make for more sales. It often takes experience to perfect these, so keep your estimates conservative if this is your first festival.

What are your costs?

The final step in working out whether you’re set to make a profit from attending a festival is to add up your costs. These will include, but may not be limited to:

  • The cost of the pitch
  • The festival organiser’s cut of your profits (which is typically 25–30%)
  • The cost of renting power from the organiser or running your own generator
  • Stock
  • You staff’s wages
  • Fuel costs
  • The cost of samples (if you offer them)

The lower you can keep these costs, the more profit you’ll make. For example, going to small local festival might diminish your potential profits, but it might also save you hundreds in fuel and wages.

Working out the best festival to pitch up at this summer isn’t easy, and it isn’t a decision you should make lightly. Make sure you run the numbers carefully, taking everything into account, and you’ll come to the best decision for your business.

Do I have the equipment I need?

Last but not least, you need to make sure you have enough equipment to cope with the increased demand that comes with attending a festival. This is hopefully going to be the busiest you’ve ever been, so be sure to take a look at our range of catering appliances if you need to invest in more equipment to meet demand.

How to become a food vendor at festivals

Once you’ve made a shortlist of festivals that seem like great opportunities, it’s time to approach the organiser and claim your pitch.

This can be a daunting process if you’ve never done it before. So, to help you out, here’s our tips for becoming a food vendor at the festivals of your choice.

Start the process in plenty of time

The bigger the festival, the earlier you’ll have to book your spot. The pitching process starts the autumn of the year before for the UK’s major summer festivals, so you need to be prepared in plenty of time if you want to land that spot at Glastonbury.

You’ll have a lot more leeway with smaller festivals. But, as a rule of thumb, the earlier you contact the organiser, the more likely you are to get a pitch.

How to apply for a catering pitch at a festival

To apply for a catering pitch at a festival, you’ll have to visit the organiser’s site and fill out an application form.

They’re going to want to know:

  • Your contact details and business number
  • What kind of food you sell
  • The dimensions of your stall
  • How many parking passes you’ll need
  • What your electrical requirements are

The more streamlined your operation, the more attractive you’ll be to festival organisers, because they’ll be able to fit more vendors into the same space. If you can keep the size of your stall and the amount of parking passes you need to a minimum, you’ll therefore have the best chance of getting a pitch.

The organiser will usually also ask for photographs of your stall and the food you sell. This is a great opportunity to sell your stall to the organiser, so make sure you take the time to take some attractive photos of your food truck on a pleasant day. It’s even better if you can afford to hire a professional to take some photos of you in action, something that’s going to be well worth the expense if you want to be a vendor at festivals for years to come.

Read the contract carefully

If your application is successful, you’ll be sent a contract to sign. As with any legal contract, you should read over this very carefully — if there is anything you’re not sure about or don’t like the look of, ask the organiser to explain it to you. If they can’t give an answer you’re happy with, walk away from the deal, as you don’t want to take any risks with your livelihood.

How to make the most of your festival pitch

Earning a pitch at a festival can be hard work, but it’s only half the battle. Your success is going to rely on whether or not you can catch the attention of passers-by and make enough sales to cover your costs and more.

So, to help you turn a profit with your festival pitch, here’s everything you can do to make the most of opportunity.

What should you sell?

The best street food menus stick to a few items, and it’s no exception when you pitch up at a festival. The smaller your menu, the easier it will be to predict the amount of stock you need, meaning you’ve got a better chance of making a profit. It will also keep service times down and prevent potential customers from getting confused by your menu and eating elsewhere.

You might want to streamline your menu even further than usual when you visit a festival. This is because the more items on your menu, the easier it is to miscalculate how much stock you need. Ordering too much or too little food can spell disaster, so stick to a small handful of items to give yourself the best chances of success.

Up your design game

If you’re hoping to stand out at a festival, your stall has to look the part. Some vendors go for the sleek and sophisticated look with their stalls, while others go for more of a handmade approach. Either one can work just as well, depending on the cuisine you’re serving up.

However, no matter what style you go for in terms of decorating your stall, keep these rules of thumb in mind:

  • Even if your stall is usually plain, you’re going to be competing for people’s attention at a festival. Make sure you do something to stand out for the best chances of success.
  • Don’t hide your prices away. Instead, make sure passers-by can’t miss them, or else they might assume they’re astronomical.
  • Show off your social pages. Festivals are a great way to gain a following, so make sure everyone can see where to find you on their favourite social network.
  • Your staff’s appearance is inseparable from your brand. No matter how ramshackle your operation, you should at least wear matching aprons — even better if you can get your branding put on them.

Offer a trader discount

The street food community is tight-knit. By offering a discount for fellow traders, you can win some friends that might be worth their weight in gold if they share some trade secrets with you or give you a head’s up about an upcoming festival you’d be a good fit for.

Pack your lunch

If things go well, you won’t have time to prepare yourself a proper meal. So, pack a cool box full of easy-to-eat, handheld foods that will keep you fuelled throughout the day. Taking your own food along will save you time, money, and hassle.

Take plenty of change

It might seem obvious, but before you set off to the festival, make sure you go to the bank and have some notes exchanged for change. Make sure to tailor your change to your pricing — if you sell something for £4.50, stock up on 50 pence coins.

Serve with a smile

People like buying from people, not corporations. With this in mind, you’ll be surprised how far a bit of small talk and a smile can go. At a festival, this is often the most effective marketing there is, as it’s a great way to create a repeat customer. On the other hand, if you’re miserable, you might put people off eating from your stall again even if they love your food.

It’s important you realise that people skills go a long way in the food business. So, make sure you and your staff serve up your food with a smile and engage people in a bit of small talk.

Offer samples

Offering passers by a sample of your food is one of the best marketing techniques out there. Next time they’re picking somewhere to eat, they might remember you and come straight back — with their friends in tow.

Use it as a marketing opportunity

If you land a pitch at a major festival, your brand is going to get in front of thousands of people and you might have more customers than the rest of the year combined. If you’re not utilising this for the marketing opportunity it is, you’re really missing out.

So, think about how you can spread your brand and build a following during the festival. You never know, one of your customers might be hosting their own event soon, and if you catch their attention and stick in their mind, you might be their first-choice caterer.

One simple way of improving your marketing is to get your website and social media accounts printed on the packaging you hand your food out in. If you add a simple call to action pushing people to follow your brand on social media to find out where you’ll be next, you might land thousands of followers if your food goes down well.

So, make it easy for people to find out more about your brand and follow you on social media by buying your food packaging from our range of catering disposables and having it printed with your branding.

How to perform a post-festival analysis

When the festival ends, the process isn’t quite over. If you want to make sure you take as much as possible away from the experience, it’s important to analyse what went right and what went wrong to ensure you do even better at your next festival.

Here are the questions you should ask yourself during your post-festival analysis:

How much money did you make?

As a business owner, the first thing you need to consider is the finances.

If you didn’t turn a profit, then you’ve got to ask some serious questions. What part of your initial calculations were wrong? What could you have done differently?

If you did make a profit but know you could have done even better, then you need to think about what you can do next time to be even more successful.

If you’re totally happy with the amount you made, then you need to start thinking about how you can take your operation to the next level. Are you ready to take on a bigger festival? Could you buy more trucks and hire more staff?

Did you take the right amount of stock?

Often, your success as a vendor at a festival will rely on whether or not you took the perfect amount of stock. If you took too little, you will have missed out on potential sales. If you took too much, you will have wasted money and ate into your profit margins.

Taking too little stock is a nice problem to have, as it shows you’ve got a strong brand that people respond to. If you took too much stock, on the other hand, you’ll have to analyse why you didn’t sell as much as you were expecting. Is your cuisine not as popular as you thought? Does your brand need improving?

You need to put your finger on what went wrong before your next festival, so ask fellow vendors for their honest opinion on the mistakes you made. The sooner you find an answer, the sooner you’ll get on the right track.

Did you grow your brand?

If you didn’t get many new social followers and visitors to your site, repeat customers, or follow-up business, you need to look into improving your marketing. If you’re not sure about how to do this, it might be worth hiring a consultant.

Did you enjoy it?

If you made a good profit at a festival but hated every second of it, then you might not want to return next year. It might seem trivial, but if you didn’t like the organiser or didn’t enjoy the experience, there’s plenty of other places you can pitch up instead. Don’t exclude this from your analysis when you’re considering whether it was a success.

 

So, there you have it: everything you need to know to take your food truck business to the next level and earn a pitch at a festival. Most mobile caterers make the majority of their money during the summer, and if you perfect the art of catering at festivals, it’s sure to be a great season for you too. Good luck!

For more information about our wide range of catering appliances that can help you make your food truck festival ready, contact a member of our team today at hello@allianceonline.co.uk.

 

 

Summary
A guide to attending a festival as a food vendor
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A guide to attending a festival as a food vendor
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If you’re a mobile caterer planning on attending your first ever festival, read this guide today to find out absolutely everything you need to know.
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Alliance Online
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