Start a Food Concessions Business

How to Start a Food Concessions Business

Funnel Cake
Classic Funnel Cakes

Have you ever been to a festival or fair and become overwhelmed by all the delicious smells that permeated through the air? Yeah, me too. Have you ever been walking around at a theme park or state or county fair and seen people eating all of these delicious looking confections? When most adults and kids think of these types of events the foods are an equal or even in some cases a bigger draw than the attractions themselves. It’s a given that people go to fairs and festivals to devour funnel cakes and turkey legs and all of the other delights that are out of grasp of any normal restaurant and drive thru? That’s why this business is so special. It’s almost like that old movie quote from the 90s “If you build it, he will come.” The people are looking forward to seeing these confections when they go to these events, so be there for them with the goods and cash in! I’m going to walk you through the business model and answer the most common questions associated with the food concessions business and we will figure out what products and foods are right for your business.

What is the most profitable concession stand food? Here’s the top 5

The short and sweet answer! Cotton Candy, Shaved Ice, Popcorn, Funnel Cakes and Nachos. I have provided links to the best current deals on Amazon for what you may need for these businesses

How much money does a concession stand make?

This is the most important part of any business right? It all really depends on what you are selling and where you are selling it. I know that’s not a hard and fast answer, but it’s true. Remember, location, location, location! You wouldn’t want to sell Biscuits and Gravy in Soho, just like you wouldn’t sell ribeyes at a vegan festival. You have to have the right product, in the right place. The beauty of this business model is that it’s MOBILE, you can go wherever you need to in order to make those sales! In an average market your income model could look something like this: A stand operated for 300 days a year, made 100 sales a day at a cost of $5 the gross annual income would be roughly $150,000. In the right market, these numbers are easily doable. Understandably, you may be in a market that could crush those figures, or you may be in a slower market and may tend to be on the lower end of that model.

What food sells best at festivals? 

Ideally, the product will have predictable sales and a good profit margin. Products like cotton candy, snow cones, and popcorn/kettle corn are always safe bets in this game. They are easy and inexpensive to make, you can turn out product fairly quickly, and losses are usually minimal. Another benefit to these options are when someone is first dipping their toes into concessions, the startup costs can be way less because you can get away with operating from a cart instead of buying a food trailer. If this isn’t your first rodeo in concessions however, and you are wanting to up the ante with a trailer operation then I would suggest a combo of caramel/candy apples and funnels cakes along with fountain drinks and fresh lemonade. These options are risk averse and traditionally sell really well at most events.

Foods to avoid selling.

My approach is and always has been to avoid food that spoil easily and foods that keep my operational costs low. If you happen to get caught in a rainy event or sells just seem to be really slow for whatever reason, the last thing you want is to be setting on several thousand dollars worth of food product that may or may not be salvageable.

 If hot food is your forte and you think that you want to tackle that niche, I would suggest hotdogs! Hotdogs are a classic that will always be a staple at events like these. You could even go gourmet if you like, the allure and added variety will be a bigger draw without really taking too much out of your pocket, and it will also give you some creative liberties to carve out your own market and brand. Losses can be managed with the proteins by making sure that they are adequately refrigerated and frozen within the date suggested on the packaging. Pair the dogs with some fresh cut french fries, bags of potato chips and a fountain drink you should have a winner! When all is said and done, if you are all in on hot foods and dogs don’t scratch your itch there are many other options to look into. My suggestions are based on my experiences and I want to help you make the best decisions going forward! If you are a risk taker and you have a specialty in mind by all means jump on it.

Startup costs 

The biggest expense will be the trailer or cart. You will also have to consider the food prep and cooking equipment as well. After that you will have to obtain all of the proper licensing in your state and you should be ready to go.

Things to consider after you have decided the right product. Will you require a trailer or a cart? A trailer without upgrades will be around $9000. You can pick up a basic stand for around $1500 – $2000. More times than not your stand or cart will be basic. Which means it won’t have any food prep or cooking equipment included. You may need a refrigerator, deep fryer, a warming lamp, ice machine, soda fountain and so on. If you are doing something like cotton candy and snacks, maybe a cart will be more suiting.  If you are thinking about taking a more meal like approach and you want to sell something like tacos or burgers and fries a trailer will be more suitable for your business

I will include a list of products from amazon if you would like to order them directly through those sellers. A hot dog cooker ranges from $400 to $800. An ice machine costs between $1,000 and $3,000 on average. In addition, concession stand owners usually paint and decorate their trailer to attract customers, which also costs money.

Permits and Licensing

 Concession stand owners need to obtain the required licenses in their state and local district. A concession stand is a business, and you’ll need a vendor’s license to run it in your state. This license usually costs between $60 and $300 a year, according to. Concession stand owners and their employees also need state food handlers licenses. A license to operate in a public venue may also be required. Check the state board of health and other authorities for more details.

What do I need to be a food vendor? 

In every state there will be a vendor license that will be needed in order to sell to the public. You will need to determine what permits are needed in your state in order to legally sell. Transportation and kitchen needs we already talked about some of the equipment, but each piece will be vital to your operation. Be sure to clean and maintain your equipment after every use. This will extend the life of your equipment and will in turn keep help you more profitable in the end. Purchase the appropriately sized work vehicle if you are going to pull a trailer. You will need correct food preparation equipment, prep surface, cutlery, bowls, mixers etc. You will also need all of the appropriate insurance policies to keep your business and assets protected.

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