How to Get Your Food Truck Into Festivals and Local Events

The summer months are a great time to cash in on fun festivities and outdoor events.
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Take into account cost, theme and audience when choosing the right festival for your food truck. (Photo: BluIz60/Shutterstock)

The weather is warming and festival season is on the way — meaning big business for food truck operators. From local food, beer or craft festivals in your hometown to large-scale state fairs and national music jamborees, getting in on the events circuit can be a great way to bring home extra revenue in the busy summer months.

But how do you get your truck a ticket to these popular events? NCR Silver talked to Matt Geller, president of the National Food Truck Association to learn more about finding the right events for your business, making your application stand out and preparing for the big day.

Finding the right fit

“First and foremost, food truck owners have to decide whether they can do the festival and not damage their brand or lose money,” Geller said.

Matt Gellar

“One of the big issues in the industry right now is that organizers are charging a lot of money — as much as 35, 40 percent of your gross revenue.” -Matt Geller (Photo: Matt Geller)

To start, consider how your truck’s brand and cuisine fit with the festival’s theme and audience. For instance, a fine-casual truck concept may be a hit at food festivals but not do as well at a car show or folk-art festival. Or if you only serve hamburgers and gyros, you may want to pass on a vegan festival.

It’s also important to make sure the time and money you invest in the event will turn a profit — you are running a business, after all. Whether the organizer charges food vendors a flat fee or requires a percentage of revenue earned, do the math. Look at the fees, prior year’s attendance and how many other food trucks will be at the event. And, if you would have to raise your prices, just make sure it won’t negatively impact your brand.

“One of the big issues in the industry right now is that organizers are charging a lot of money — as much as 35, 40 percent of your gross revenue,” said Geller. “That means you have to raise your price 40 percent just so you can break even.”

For example, while a taco truck with a typical price point of $6 may be able to easily swing an increased rate of $10, a lobster truck that typically charges $15 for a lobster roll would have to jump the price to $24. Once you add a side order and drink, guests could end up spending $33 for lunch at your truck, which can affect how they view your brand.

Nailing the application process

Once you’ve picked the festival, your next step is to apply for a spot and convince the organizer you’re a perfect fit for the event.

“Understand that you’re competing with a lot of trucks that are doing a lot to get noticed,” Geller said. “There’s a lot of people who want to be part of that event, so you have to sell yourself. In the larger markets, you might be one of 200 trucks applying, but the festival may only need 12 trucks.”

When submitting your application, make sure to put your best foot forward. Give the organizer all the information he or she needs about your truck, but don’t get too long winded. Geller suggested sticking to these bullet points:

  • An introduction of your brand
  • Links to your social media and review sites, like Yelp
  • Articles that have been written about your truck
  • Great photos of your cuisine
  • Your proposed menu for the event

Regardless of the type of event, customers don’t want to spend the whole day waiting in line for a food vendor — they want to explore and enjoy the experience. So when proposing your menu for a festival, limit your offerings to items with the fastest turnaround times — and be sure to articulate that priority in your application, advised Geller.

“At a festival it’s about ‘turn and burn’ — you’ve got to get through that food,” he said. “When you get down to the heart of it, there’s some trucks that are preparing food on the truck and some trucks that are assembling food. Assembling food is a better bet when you’re doing a festival.”

Making sure you’re prepared

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As the owner, always work your food truck at festivals to make sure your team is prepared and everything runs smoothly all day. (Photo: Josep Suria/Shutterstock)

Wherever you operate your food truck business, you’ll need to have the proper licences and paperwork in order. For events in your local area, you should already have the necessary business license and health permit, said Geller, but if you’re out of your normal operational zones, though, you’ll need a temporary food facility permit. Once you’ve been selected as a vendor for the event, the organizer should facilitate getting this for you, under the community event permit.

In addition to food prep and paperwork, you’ll also want to ensure your truck is properly staffed — and that your team is prepared for the busy day ahead, said Geller.

“Make sure your staff is ready and have an understanding of what they’re going to have to do,” he said. “If you’re an owner, be on that truck. Have the right amount of staff and incentivize them to move fast — hopefully, financially. High-fives aren’t as exciting to people working hard. And get them prepared to really do battle for five, six, however many hours it’s going to take.”

Winning on game day

On the day of the event, Geller said to make sure your truck is in tip-top shape. Subconsciously or not, a guest who sees caked mud on your wheels or water water dripping from the receptacle tank, may choose to go with another vendor.

“Have a clean truck. Have that thing sparkle, rims and all,” he said. “Give them every excuse to want to eat at your truck, and looking clean as clean can be is one of those things that every truck can do.”

Feeding hungry festival goers can be grueling work, so show up early and drink lots of coffee, Geller advised. And most importantly, always give your guests top-notch customer service, regardless of how exhausted you and your staff feel.

“Just because it’s a festival, doesn’t mean a customer won’t leave a bad Yelp review,” he said. “The best food with the worst service is always repaid with something nasty. However, if you don’t put something together just right but your service is amazing, they’re going to forgive you. So give them good service even when it’s so hard to do it because it’s so crazy.”

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