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Best Practices for Food Operators
by Peter Mott, Event Manager

food booth Providing successful food service at festivals, fairs and civic events presents various challenges. Having good or unique food products at a competitive (fair) price is not enough. Consistently providing quality food items that are not under or overcooked takes significant planning. Knowing how much to buy and prep, as well as maintaining proper refrigeration and heated service temperatures in a temporary environment only compound the situation.

Food vending has become more complicated. Take the famous Five P's of Marketing. Five expanded to six, seven and nine P's. Now there are at least ten P's listed by different professional Marketers including: Product, Place (or placement, meaning distribution systems), Promotions (including advertising), Price, Position (in the marketplace in comparison to your competition), People (staff), Partners (key providers), Prospects (customers), Perception and Persuasion. With food service, like marketing, there is more to think about and less time to do it.

Using corn dogs as an example, do you want to offer the cheapest, fastest, "original," fattest, longest, best (fresh hand dipped), or unique (hot dog inside a hollowed out zucchini dipped in batter and deep fried)?

We have gathered the following suggested BEST PRACTICES from restaurants and food vendors that may help your food operation be more successful. There are more but these are some of the keys to success.

Menu Selection

  1. Unique: For many food operations prefer to be known for one or several unique items than a spectrum of mediocre, run of the mill items. Develop a few exceptional items and promote them above all else.
  2. Quality: It is extremely difficult to maintain both consistent quality and quick service. Using frozen by the case products will typically result in generic, average quality items.
  3. Simplicity: Remember to KISS or Keep It Simple Smiley. Avoid offering too many menu items that complicate the customer's decision-making, your ordering/storage/prep, increases your waste, etc. Having a simple menu also allows for quicker service and increases your potential sales volume during peak period. Remove slow selling or inconsistent quality items, especially if they are costly, spoil easily, or time consuming to prepare and serve.
Attracting visitors to your booth is your first, and sometimes biggest, challenge. Visitors must be attracted to your booth by its appearance, décor, signage and your staff's appearance, cleanliness, and attitude.
  1. Appearance: Your booth's appearance must catch the eye of passersby with your signage, menu, exterior façade & décor, and your interior décor. Remember to keep service, cooking and storage areas clean & orderly.
  2. Theme: Having a décor theme and color scheme for your decorations that reflect your menu adds tremendous appeal. Décor attached to exterior &/or interior walls might include flags, pennants, pictures, posters, plants, etc. At least once a day, view your booth from out front from the "customers" perspective.
  3. Signage: Signage should be large, simple and straightforward with bold lettering. It also helps if it is clean, uniform and has some artistic appeal (graphic image, complimentary coloring, etc.). We suggest that all of your signage have a uniform color scheme, layout, font style & uses no more than 3 font sizes, etc.
  4. Displays: Pictures and display cases featuring sample menu items adds to your products appeal. But keep it looking fresh.
Menu Board
  • Your overhead booth signage should be readable from at least 75 feet away. Menu item names should be large (visible from 35 feet away)
    • Each items description can be in smaller lettering
  • Clear, simple and professionally made signage is best
  • Create an identifiable and appealing name for each item
    • Pedro's Famous Al Pastor is much more appealing than Cooked Pork
  • Describe your featured items - and/or show a picture of them
    • Ex. Poncho's Chili Verde Burrito - Tantalizing mild slow-simmered sweet pork seasoned with grilled onions, bell peppers, mild chilies and flavorful secret spicing. Served in a large rolled flour tortilla with black beans, Spanish rice, cheese, lettuce & tomato. Add cheese ($0.50), sour cream ($0.50), guacamole ($0.75), or ask for "the works" ($1.25)
  • Offer ala cart items and a full meal deal plus combination plates helps provide customers with a variety of quality items from a small, simple & consistent menu.
Food Presentation
Healthy storage, handling & preparation of all food items is of paramount importance. Each food plate should be appealing to the eye.

Customer Service
Employee appearance is an indication of your professionalism, cleanliness & quality Be open, friendly, and helpful by smiling, look them in the eye, greet them as they approach, Be open and available to answer questions and take their order.

For new food vendors, it can take several years to build an audience. Customers will remember bad service, food, and attitudes. Once your reputation is established, it is very hard to improve it. If satisfied, they will start to look for you here and at other events in your area.

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Peter Mott is the Show Director for the Portland Rose Festival in Portland, Oregon. The event is now in it's 103rd year! Peter wrote these guidelines to help food vendors thrive at his event and others they may choose. You can learn more about the Rose Festival online at

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