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January 2018

Will This Food Booth and Menu Make Money?
by Barb Fitzgerald for Foodbooth.net

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This past year has been a year of transition for me. As it turns out, the older I get the harder it is to operate a high capacity tent operation at large events! So, last spring I made the decision to ground my tent/deep fry operation and instead spend the season doing small local events with a new custom built trailer and a new menu. Unlike the tent/deep fry operation that took many hours to set-up, this little trailer is easy to tow and can be ready to serve in less than an hour. The question was: would it make enough money?

Here are some things I learned:

-- Last season was scheduled with a variety of events to learn what market is the best for my new menu. I did the weekly 4pm to 8pm local farmers market plus many community events. All were close enough to home that I could easily commute each day and stock up from home, if needed. This was an important trial for this new menu. This season when I schedule events I'll know the type to target and the ones to avoid.

-- There is money to be made with a simple menu at small events providing you are willing to go to a lot of events! It just gets down to numbers. For example: a simple menu might do well to sell $500 during a four hour farmers market, a large capacity, multi-dish menu operation might sell $5000 at a two day community event. Simple enough. Therefore, to do $5000 with a simple booth/menu you would need to do ten days at the farmers market.

-- However, the math gets a little tricky. For example: the costs of doing business at multi-day events are much higher than short-term local markets because of traveling, lodging and labor. Additionally, event costs such as space fees need to be calculated on an individual basis. The fee for a single day at the farmers market might cost $35, versus the possible $50 to $1000 plus at weekend community events.

-- Food service licensing is also tricky to calculate because every county structures their fees a little differently, depending on what type of license you operate under (mobile or temporary).

As for my new little concession trailer, I designed it specifically to serve my simple menu at small, local events. I had very specific criteria in mind:

-- Foremost, I wanted a booth and menu that are simple enough to work alone thereby eliminating the cost and uncertainty of hiring help.

-- I wanted the trailer to be as "open" as possible. So, I made it a "rag-top" where each side panel of vinyl is rolled up for maximum exposure. Alternately, I can roll down certain panels if the wind, rain or sun is coming in too intensely from one direction.

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-- The menu needed to be simple enough so as not to require hauling extra stock and essentials like propane tanks. Everything I need for a single day of business can be hauled either in the trailer or the bed of my truck.

-- The trailer needed to be light enough to tow with my small pickup truck and wheel around by hand on the jack wheels.

-- The trailer is only ten feet long and fits perfectly within a typical standard ten foot space. The actual box is nine feet long; the tongue is one foot plus a two foot removable stinger.

-- And, it's mounted on a single drop axle – so it's lower to the ground making it easier for kids to order. (The design would work well for selling many things besides food, such as baked goods, crafts or farm produce.)

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Although the little trailer will make far more money next year when I put into practice the lessons I learned, I am still not ready to throw in the towel on my deep fry menu. So, I'm designing another trailer specifically for that! With it I will do a handful of my favorite, longstanding events and also run the little ice cream trailer at the local farmers market and small, local events. I'm excited because this new fry trailer will get me away from the heavy work of setting up a tent and equipment, plus enable me to continue to serve at the larger events, but mostly because it's going to be an AWESOME trailer.

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