What Food Concession Business is Right for You?: Comparing Stationary Food Stands & Temporary Food Booths
by Barb Fitzgerald
Many people starting a food concession business are unaware of the variety of business opportunities that are available to them. They have a vague notion there is money to be made but cannot imagine exactly how. The business becomes a little clearer knowing most concession businesses fall into one of two categories; stationary and temporary.
A stationary food stand is essentially a conventional "storefront" operating full-time from a single location. Storefront carts, drive thru coffee trailers, indoor food kiosks, and street side food stands - to name only a few - are all considered stationary food stands. A temporary food booth, on the other hand, sells food at a different location on a daily or weekly basis. These concessionaires set up their booths at a variety of temporary events, such as fairs, festivals, sporting events, auctions, concerts, open-air markets, and special-interest events - nearly any place that a large group of people is temporarily gathered. A stationary food stand, like any business, stays in one location and waits for customers to come to it, whereas a temporary food booth takes its business to the customers. It is this mobility, or lack of mobility, that makes them very different. In order to better understand the unique nature of the concession business, and to imagine the variety of opportunities the business has to offer, it is helpful to explore the differences between the two.
Do not let my biases influence you. Although some people may hate certain aspects of a stationary food stand or a temporary booth, others may find these same characteristics are just what they seek in their businesses.
Stationary Food Stand Pros:
- Stability - The daily and weekly routine of opening, closing, and shopping for supplies.
- A full-time schedule - Working five, six, or seven days a week, year around, expands sales and creates a steady market base.
- Menu flexibility - A food stand can more easily experiment with a variety of unique menus, and be successful by developing their niche.
- Familiarity - Getting to know your steady customers can be very rewarding.
- Operational ease - Once the business is started, the daily operations are not difficult.
Stationary Food Stand Cons:
- Stability - The daily and weekly routine of opening, closing, and shopping for supplies can make you feel like a slave to your business.
- Managerial restraint - Lease contract obligations can restrict independent decision making.
- Time investment - Running a business full-time requires a tremendous investment of time.
- Commitment - The hours of operation must remain consistent or sales will suffer. Your customers depend on you to be open during your regular hours making it difficult to take personal time away from your business.
- Bureaucracy - The visibility of a stationary food stand requires a willingness to abide by all the governmental rules and red tape. Licensing requirements can be very involved.
- Large initial investment - It takes a relatively large amount of capital to start up any stationary food stand, no matter how small.
- Vulnerability - Uncontrollable and unforeseen events can greatly impact and jeopardize your investment. Lease conflicts, road construction, and unforeseen competition are just a few of the many uncontrollable hazards that can ruin a business. If a location does not work well for you, it can be difficult to pick up and move your business to a new location.
Business location is a key component of a temporary concession as well. The difference is that whereas a stationary food stand has the same location week after week, with sales remaining somewhat constant over time, a temporary concession has a new location on a weekly basis, for good or bad. And, a temporary concession's sales will vary widely as the quality of the event, and location within each event changes from week to week. For example; during one three-day event a temporary food booth's sales might compare to those of a stationary food stand that is open for business for an entire month. However, the same temporary food booth may have minimal sales, or suffer a loss the following week at a different event. Additionally, while many stationary food stands are open for business year round, most temporary food booths are only open for business on the days of their scheduled events during the event season. Here follows a list of additional characteristics of temporary concessions for you to consider.
Temporary Concession Pros:
- The possibility - of making a relatively large amount of money in a short period of time.
- Independence - Complete control over the management of your business.
- Limited time investment - Most temporary concessions operate seasonally, enabling owners to spend time doing other things during the off-season.
- Diluted risk - If for any reason an event bombs the next week provides a new event with new possibilities.
- Variety - Every event is different.
- Autonomy - The concession business is a cash business, has minimal licensing requirements, and is relatively unregulated.
- Family - Families who operate their concession together share the workload and spend time together. Young people gain confidence by learning a work ethic, responsibility, cash handling, and public relations skills. This could be the perfect family business.
- Fun - What could be better than earning a living in a relaxed environment where people are there to have fun?
Temporary Concession Cons:
- Sale time limitations - Annual earnings potential is condensed into a very short season of opportunity. What is worse, each event has a limited period of optimal selling time.
- Risk - Breakdowns, poor weather, poor health, low event turnout, faulty event organization, and employee no-shows are just some of the many things that can prevent an event from producing the way it should. This risk is magnified by the limited sale opportunities of the season.
- Uncertain income - High risk and event variability make it nearly impossible to calculate future income.
- Lack of control - Certain factors that greatly affect sales are uncontrollable. Most notable are weather, economy, and decisions made by the event coordinator, such as space location, duplication of menus, over abundance of competition, and poor planning.
- Physical demands - Stocking up, traveling to and from events, setting up, conducting business, and tearing down are physically and mentally stressful. Doing these tasks repeatedly over the course of the season can be mentally and physically exhausting.
- Stigma - Generally, most people do not consider concessionaires to be legitimate small business owners, but rather a cross between a "carny" (carnival worker) and a hobbyist.
It is not hard for concessionaires, both stationary and temporary, to diversify their operation. In addition to selling at fairs and festivals, or from a stationary site, some concessionaires pad their bank account with small or sporadic opportunities such as selling or catering to grand openings, company picnics, ball parks, or at school or church carnivals.
Because people like to eat there are customers everywhere. Further, people like food that tastes good. People are busy and often do not have time to sit down in a restaurant. People get tired of conventional fast food. And, people frequently want food that is good for them.
There are about 500 million people in this country, most of who eat two or more times each day. Many of those meals are eaten while away from home. Indeed, the food concession business is an important niche in the food service industry.
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ABOUT BARB FITZGERALD:
The author Barb Fitzgerald has more than twenty-five years of experience in the food concession industry. She additionally held a position on the Oregon Food Services Advisory Board and founded Northwest Vendor's Network Association. Her dedicated passion for the concession business makes her a leading authority on this unique mode of self-employment. For details about her best-selling book: Food Booth, The Entrepreneur's Complete Guide to the Food Concession Business, go to: http://www.foodbooth.net
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