Sushi at Lollapalooza? 15 Things Vendors and Caterers Should Keep in Mind for Festival Season

Music festival season is fast approaching. Concertgoers the world over will pack up, bring their sunblock, and arrive en masse to see their favorite bands and up-and-coming acts. These music lovers need fuel, and while once upon a time festival menus included little more than cheeseburgers, hot dogs and beer, the food landscape at festivals is changing.

Food trucks are parked front and center on the festival grounds, and caterers are offering sophisticated selections such as wine at Outside Lands, empanadas at Austin City Limits, alligator nuggets at Bonnaroo, sushi at Coachella and more.

If your company is working at a festival this spring and summer, providing catering equipment or food and drink, here are 15 considerations to keep in mind.


A Festival Is a Big Opportunity for Growth and Exposure

Emma Featherstone at the Guardian states that last summer, UK festival Glastonbury attracted 200,000 people. Other festivals around the world pull such big numbers if not bigger. Caterers and vendors working at companies big and small can not only potentially make a lot of money at these festivals, but they can also attract new customers. If concertgoers love the food, they may seek out ways to eat it again once the festival is over.


But You Have to Properly Market Yourself

Vendors, make sure people remember you for more than just the food. Richard Myrick at Mobile Cuisine suggests several memorable tactics. You can contact local media like radio stations and newspapers to get free press, post about your involvement with the festival on social media, and hang posters and fliers around town.


Make Sure to Appeal to Multiple Demographics

Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS) director Mark Laurie spoke to Festival Insights, and one useful point he mentioned is the importance of appealing to multiple demographics. “5,000 18-year-old pie-eyed ravers might prefer something cheap to fill them up quickly…whereas 5,000 middle-aged literary festivalgoers might prefer to see trucks specializing in seafood paella or something similar,” he says. Create a diverse menu to appeal to everyone.


It Can Be Expensive to Set up Shop

Andrew Jennings at Hospitality Ireland spoke with Event Food’s Steve Corbet, who mentioned the skyrocketing prices of pitching to get a spot on festival grounds. Whether in Ireland or the United States, the logic is the same: huge festivals are going to attract massive amounts of people, including vendors who want exposure at such a big event. To ensure you can get in, it’s best to budget ahead of time.


So Try to Get the Best Location

While you’re in the negotiation phase, insist on taking a look at a map of the festival grounds, NCASS says. Make sure your booth won’t be hidden by attractions or even portable toilets. While you may have to pay more for that prime spot, the organization also suggests negotiating: “We often advise traders to pay a percentage rather than a set fee or a tender for the event. This shares the risk, and when arranged fairly can lead to higher revenues for the organizer as well.”

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Food Trucks Are Still Huge

Food trucks are a popular attraction. Eric W. of Food Trucks In reminds caterers or vendors thinking of renting or buying these vehicles that the trucks require more prep time than setting up a booth. You’ll need to load in at a specific time. To make the day less complicated, Eric suggests addressing all fees, permitting and licensing before the festival begins.


You May Have to Ask for Refrigeration

If you sell ice cream, frozen yogurt or any other frosty delight that needs to be chilled, be prepared to do some extra work. Kelly Wardle at Special Events Magazine says that catering companies and other food vendors may have to band together and ask festival organizers to provide a form of refrigeration. Don’t go into a big festival expecting that refrigeration will necessarily be provided.


It’s Worthwhile to Get on Preferred Vendors Lists (If Possible)

If this is your first time selling at a big festival and you plan on returning next year, take FoodTruckr’s advice and try to get on the preferred vendors list, which can be formal or informal.

“The formal lists are kept by their organization (like a hotel), and include vendors who have worked with the organization before, have met specific criteria (like insurance requirements) and have performed adequately in the past,” they say. “Most event professionals also have an informal list of a set of vendors that they love to work with because the vendor makes their job easier and/or consistently impresses their clients.”


You May Need Different Equipment

As Essentially Catering Magazine points out, “It isn’t always a case of transferring your ‘inside’ equipment to the field” when it comes to picking equipment for the festival. You need equipment that fits and doesn’t breach any festival safety requirements. Also, ask the festival organizers whether you have to pay for utilities such as electricity and gas out-of-pocket or if the organizer foots the bill.


Shrink Your Portion Sizes

While people are more preoccupied with healthier eating than ever before, there are other reasons to shrink the portion sizes of food. As Amanda M. Westbrooks at Restaurant Business Magazine notes, yours won’t be the only booth serving food. Customers may visit your booth after having drank and eaten a lot. If portions are too big, they may go look for smaller bites. Try for d’oeuvre-size portions, and incorporate these on the menu to appeal to fuller concertgoers.

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Go Green

According to A Greener Festival, 80 percent of concertgoers want humanely-raised meat, 83 percent want free-range eggs, and 72 percent would prefer fish that doesn’t come from overfished stocks. If you can, try to choose sustainable food sources for your booth. Even sourcing local ingredients will attract concert attendees.


Give Away Print Menus or Business Cards

“There’s a lot going on at these festivals, and it’s sensory overload,” says Kevin Clay at marketing company Big Spoon Agency. He has a good point. Unless customers look you up right away after eating, it can be easy for them to forget your name after spending a long day in the sun. Clay recommends letting customers take a business card or a menu to trigger their memory later.


Consider the Dress Code

Unlike a formal or corporate event, dress code probably isn’t as big a deal at music festivals, Alesandra Dubin at event news site BizBash notes. If that’s the case, make sure to dress for the weather. If the festival is in California or Texas in the spring or summer, it’s going to be hot. Cooking with open flames in a food truck or booth will be even hotter. Dress comfortably but appropriately, and always have plenty of water on hand to avoid dehydration.

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Choose Bottles Over Cans

While there are probably beer gardens and stations at a festival, a vendor can usually still serve alcohol at their own booth. Taylor McQuiston at The Portable Bar Company writes that when serving beer, make sure to buy bottles instead of cans. “For whatever reason, cans have the stigma of being less classy, as do kegs,” McQuiston says.


Never Obscure Your Prices

The price of the food is almost as important as the menu itself. Breckland Orchard’s Claire Martinsen spoke to Relish Marketing and mentioned that it’s crucial that prices are prominently displayed. Use large, eye-catching text that concertgoers can see from a distance. They can then make split decisions about whether to buy.

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