Tips for serving food at community events

Note: Due to COVID-19, each state provided their own guidelines to operating a business while keeping everyone safe and healthy. Take a look at our article on COVID-19 regulations by state article to learn more. 

Some restaurant owners groan at the thought of serving their food or selling at a community event. Getting everything lined up to participate can be a headache if you aren’t sure where to start.

As far as marketing your products, it’s hard to pass up a chance to put yourself in the middle of a large crowd of local residents. Not only does participating in community events put your brand in front of your target audience, it also allows you to showcase your products, either through sampling or through offering a limited menu of items for sale.

What do I need to know before I sign up for one of these events?

Before you decide to serve food or sell products at a neighborhood festival, there are a few things to consider. First, you will need to make sure you have the proper permits. Specific requirements vary according to state laws and whether you are selling food or products.

At the very least, almost every state has statutes that require a vendor’s license or food handling permit to if you’re planning to sell food or drinks. Some areas offer temporary permits to established restaurants who want to sell food off-site for an event. To learn more about what is required in your state, consult the Small Business Administration website, or talk to your local licensing board.

Don’t forget to ask your insurance company about your policy, and ensure that serving food off-site is included in your umbrella coverage. Most include this option, but if not you may need to consider food vendor’s insurance.

You’ll also need to keep food safety in mind, and follow the proper protocols for off-site serving. This will most likely require investing in food storage containers that meet your state’s health department’s regulations. Alternatively, you could invest in the tools to prepare the food offsite.

How should I choose an event?

There are a few things you should consider when thinking about participating in a community event. These include:

  • Where is the event?
  • Who will attend? Is it targeted toward adults? Children? Families?
  • What will participants be doing?
  • What time of year and time of day is this?
  • Is this event typically well-attended?

Once you’ve selected a festival to participate in, it’s time to contact the event coordinators. Be aware that most of these events begin scheduling several months in advance, so you will need to call as early as possible. Many events require an application and a fee to host a booth.

What else do I need to know?

You’ll want to make sure you have enough stock. Taking too much or offering a full menu, however, just makes things more difficult to create an attractive display and serve customers. You’ll also need to have extra cash for change, and a mobile credit card reader to accept payments.

Don’t leave your best staff members behind to run the store. Instead, take your most energetic, outgoing staff members to run your booth. A friendly smile and a warm greeting can go a long way in wooing new customers.

You’ll also want some way to track the effectiveness of the event. Consider having special coupons printed to give out, in addition to tracking sales and other factors. This will allow you to get a gauge on how many of your customers from the event become customers in your store.

How can I make this process easier?

Use this checklist to streamline the process:

  • Check with your local regulatory agency to ensure you have the proper permits.
  • Talk to your insurer about your off-site coverage.
  • Invest in the proper food preparation or storage equipment to meet health codes.
  • Choose an event, and apply to participate.
  • Create a menu or list of products to sale, based on the event and its attendees.
  • Decide what type of serving containers, bags, etc. will be used, and order them.
  • Design and print coupons or other marketing materials.
  • Determine necessary food or inventory, and place orders.
  • Schedule several of your top staff members to work the event.
  • Have fun!
  • Track results.

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