April 22, 2016

For many culinary graduates, the bulk of the week is committed to working at or running their own restaurant. When a day off rolls around, though, chefs may want to leave behind the kitchen but still find a way to indulge their love of food. If you find yourself in that boat, why not try becoming a food vendor. Whether at fairs, festivals, farmer’s markets or other community events, these venues and gatherings offer a great chance to share food you’ve handcrafted with throngs of smiling faces.  Plus, it’s  a great way to drum up publicity for your restaurant.Cottage foods promote continued interest in local markets

But before you go setting up shop at the next street fair, heed these following four tips:

1. Plan ahead
As the Houston Chronicle explained, the bulk of you day as a food vendor will be prep work before even a single dish is cooked. Treat this just as you might any other day in a restaurant’s kitchen, and be sure to create plenty of lists. You’ll need logs for equipment, the food and assorted ingredients and for utensils and plates. You should also create a menu, which has the added bonus of narrowing your choices and preventing you from bringing more supplies than necessary. Always keep in mind that as a vendor you’ll be dealing with limited space, and you must be as compact as possible. For instance, you might use Styrofoam cups to serve certain foods, like mac and cheese,  over plates, as they take up less space overall.

2. Don’t forget the paperwork
Because vendors work directly with the public, they need to have certain insurance and permits in place. Writing for The Billfold, Helen Qin outlined some of the paperwork she is required to have as an artisanal ice cream vendor in Cleveland. There are a slew of costs associated with vendor work, and it’s important you keep each one in mind. That includes smaller fees, $50 or under, for things like a transient vendor’s license or renting electricity. There are larger expenses too, including food vendor licenses and liability insurance, which can run several hundred dollars. Costs and permits vary between cities and states, so contact your local city clerk’s office for more information.

3. Show your stuff
Just because you want to work one specific festival doesn’t mean you will. As Festival Network Online pointed out, many festivals have organizers who are selective with their choice of vendors. That’s why it’s so important that you take steps to make your business stand out. One of the most effective ways is to create a unique menu that features a mix of familiar, crowd-friendly favorites but also infuses new and exciting elements. Organizers will also want to see a brochure, something that is colorful, engaging and features the prices of each dish. You may also want to include other pertinent info, like spacing requirements for your booth and customer turn-around. Demonstrating that you can serve food quickly will show organizers that you can handle the pressures and should be invited back for the next big event.

4. Always do your research
Stitches N Dishes explained that not all events featuring food vendors are equal. While some may attract loads of hungry patrons, others may be all but vacant for an entire weekend. These can impact your bottom line, and you need to do research beforehand to prevent any wasted efforts. Is this a pop-up event, which may have issues with attendance, or a regularly scheduled happening that’s garnered a following? Is it a farmers’ market or something for a local group? This can help you decide how much business you might do and what dishes you should serve. Part of this research should also focus on your possible competition. Who attends similar functions, what kinds of foods do they serve and how you can take steps to distinguish your dishes/approach?