How to Start a Food Concession Business: An Entrepreneur’s Checklist - Part 2
by Caron Beesley
A food concession business can be an ideal first shot at becoming an entrepreneur, particularly given its relatively low cost of entry and great flexibility.
My last post covered some of the basics of starting a food concession business: having a business plan, financing, etc. It also stressed the importance of understanding that a food concession business is still considered a "business". It faces the same rules and regulations as other businesses, despite its potentially transitory nature.
Following directly from last week’s post, here are additional resources for entrepreneurs starting a food concession business, from regulatory fundamentals to location and equipment needs.
- Licenses and Permits
As with any other business, make sure you obtain and display up-to-date permits for your concession business. If you are mobile, you’ll need to get the right permits for all the cities or counties where you operate, not just your static business address. Check out Business.gov’s "Permit Me" tool - simply enter your business information and location and it will show you which licenses and permits you will need as well as information on how to apply for them.
In certain instances, state law may require that your particular business activity is covered by some form of insurance. For example, if you use a car or truck for business purposes, your state may require that you purchase commercial auto insurance for its use. If you have employees you’ll also need to pay certain workers insurance. Refer to your state government insurance office for more information about what insurance your state requires.
- Health and Safety Laws
If you are involved in food preparation, find out what laws and regulations govern concession businesses in the location where you operate. If you are a mobile concession, again, check food vending laws in the different locations you serve. You may be required to pass a food safety exam, have an official inspection, and so on. Get links to your local government and state regulations here.
The National Park Service, which hosts about 600 concessions across the country, conducts periodic inspections of its concession program participants. It also conducts periodic checks of price lists and tariffs. Get more information about the National Park Service concession program here.
- Location, Location, Location
As with any business, choosing a location can be a critical choice to make. First, ask yourself whether you intend to be mobile and service special events such as festivals or sporting events, or prefer a fixed location, or a combination of both.
Second, you’ll need to research, research, and more research. Find a location or venue that generates consistently high foot traffic, without the threat of too much nearby competition for your product.
Next, check with the owner or organization that operates that space and what fees they may charge - and see whether it fits within the budget you put together in your business plan.
You might also need to check zoning information, if the owner of the space you occupy hasn’t.
- Food Service Equipment
Choosing the right equipment depends on your business model - i.e. whether you need to be mobile or static. If you are mobile, a food trailer is a good idea. You can buy or lease a vehicle from many sources, just do a quick Internet search and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll also need to research and get references from food suppliers. And, don’t forget that you’ll likely need chilled food storage facilities in your vehicle or concession stand; you’ll also need adequate storage space at home.
Now you should be ready to get out there and market your business. Test a few options to start - flyers, word of mouth, special offers, ads in events brochures - and grow and evolve your marketing as your business takes root. For example, once you have established regular trade, you might consider approaching local media for endorsements or write-ups. You’d be surprised at the traction you might get with Internet forums, blogs and other social and Web-based marketing. Writers and food critics (wannabees and the pros) are eager for new material (and free food)!
Caron Beesley has over 14 years of experience working in marketing, with a particular focus on the government sector. Currently, Caron is working with the Business.gov team to promote essential government resources such as grants and small business loans, permits and business licenses, and employment and tax regulations to small and home-based businesses.
Business.gov is managed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in a partnership with 21 other federal agencies. This partnership, known as Business Gateway, serves as an incubator of technologies designed to improve the delivery of services and information to the nation's small business community. Originally launched in 2004, Business.gov provides a single access point to government services and information to help the nation's businesses with their operations.
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