Sooner or later, as a Food Truck owner, you’ll come to realize that most of your profits are dependent on getting frequent event gigs (in fact, some reading this are probably already aware of this fact). This is simply a fact for most of the industry, and in itself has its own list of dos and don’ts, regulations, and in-and-outs for finding good ones and making sure to be successful at them; such as having a properly built, attractive and functional truck made by a quality Builder like M&R Trailers. They’re quite a bit of work, just the prep and service running to get all the food out on its own is a challenge in itself, but they pay off big time in the long run.
But more often than not, these events aren’t free; and I’m not talking for the customer. Unless we’re talking regular spots with a local brewery, or a community Food Truck Alliance/Group rally set up by owners themselves, more than likely you as an owner are going to need to shell out some cash just to be offered the chance to park at these various events and THEN make money. Which, if one can advertise/attract right and/or the event is rocking and you get orders throughout the day, won’t even make a dent in your cares. On the other hand, if one is in a situation of regular, if not even SLOW, traffic to your truck throughout the day, for one reason or another, this extra cost can make the difference between coming out with great daily profits to LOSING money.
And there are many factors that can contribute to dragging you into this painful situation, both on your side and the event organizer’s (even customer-based, you know how those crappy random bad weather spots come in). But today we’ll be focusing on one of the biggest things that YOU can advertise and control that most directly affects the sales needed to re-balance out your day, and what the customer sees first as they walk by: Price and Food. These are what influence Sales the most, and whether or not one can strike a balance in money made per sale to cover these fees and THEN make a profit
Before you start strategizing to make the biggest sales, you need to know whether or not there’s going to be a crowd large enough to be ABLE to make those sales. That means checking out the organizer and event before you officially agree to any terms and start asking yourself a few important questions.
First off, is this event a first-of-its kind, ‘pop-up,’ or other similar new thing happening? Or is it regularly scheduled, something the community is aware of by now and, as such, more likely to draw more that now look forward to attending this yearly (or bi-yearly or whatever) affair. On a similar note, has this organizer themselves have a track record of events; even if this is a new one, have they themselves hosted multiple rallies and fairs and similar over the past few years or more. Do they have experience and know how to attract people to these, or is this their first rodeo? If there’s any sense of ‘new-ness’ to them or the event itself, start taking that dubious eye to the whole thing and preparing to draw back as you start researching further.
Of course, just because the organizer’s gotten experience doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. If you can, try to research some of these past events, see what the turnouts and if there were any complaints, inconsistencies, etc. If any of this comes up, ask them to account for it, see if they have any proper reasons and if they’ve learned by now; otherwise, too many inconsistencies can mean they don’t have the knowledge to bring in the crowds that YOU need for this. If this doesn’t even come up, the organizer is experienced, or this event has been well-worked into the area, then no worries need be considered on the subject.
After that, inspect the event itself. Make sure you can get a proper, official estimation on what kind of crowd, both by organizer and past-history expectations. In fact, if you’re being charged a flat vending fee, we suggest that you actually ask, if not require, a Guarantee of Attendance from the organizer beforehand, and how they estimated that out; a bit of insurance in case of the worst case scenarios, might be able to fenaggle some if not all of that money back.
From there, what is then the exact draw for the event? What are people going to be focusing on when they’re here: live concent/music, themed, exhibits, brewery/business opening/fair, is it based on the gathering of food trucks or is it charity (is there a separate area or attraction to it, or are you and other trucks the main attraction), is it a piggy-back/addition to some OTHER event, etc? This is vital, because it will likely determine how interested and how focused they will be in going for food, whether it’s just something to fill their stomachs and snacking desires while they’re off on something else, or if they’re likely to focus on the full-depth experience of consuming and sampling from their local mobile food vendors (or something in between). This also may determine what sort of menu items you may want to feature; small snacks for ambling, special creations to pair with certain drinks or other focal consumptions, larger items for one-off eating (and that may cost more money to get more to charity), etc.
Then there’s plenty of other little factors; are people getting charged for attendance/parking (more people likely to show if free, and if they’re already spending money to enter they may not be so willing to buy as much food), is it located somewhere easy access, will alcohol be served (people do love buying food while drinking)? Where exactly is YOUR vending fee going? Is it covering actual costs, or are there other commercial sponsors covering most expenses while the organizer just collects money from YOU? Economical and moral decisions may need raising depending on some of the answers.
Ultimately, knowing what the event is going to be like, from history and from crowds, will heavily contribute to some final and strategic decisions, and may at least save the sacrifice of needlessly over-prepared food prep in the worst case scenario.
By the Numbers
One can never truly generalize all events, especially the food truck-related ones, but there are a few good points to be aware of when starting any ‘calculations.’ Firstly, with the advent of many studies and years of vendor experiences, it’s often considered that during any day of traffic, a food truck or vendor will only attract 1-2% of customers out of the crowd of people that walk past them. Not a surprising percentage, and very believable if not generous, for most street parking situations, and a good way to get an idea of sales at an event once an estimation on attendance is given. Though one can very likely increase this percentage on those rallies and events where the food trucks provide the biggest attraction; the people there are often going with the express idea to eat from YOU and other vendors, so should bump it up to at least 5%.
We could bump it up more, but there is yet another factor to consider, and the main reason why one still has to consider themselves only gaining a tiny fraction of any attendance; competition. Even if 95% of people will consume from a truck, likely at many of these things, the fact remains it’s not all going to be at YOUR truck. With a wealth of options, one can expect to start dividing the amount of people-per-truck up evenly, as a starting figure and expectation for how many sales yours may get (at this point, if the event theme fits, can boost up your % of expected customers out of these to much higher lengths), but will also want to consider some notable skews based on the possible attendance of one or more of the highly popular trucks in your area.
We have attended quite a few rallies, and at every one there are trucks that have a line stretching down a few vehicle lengths (continuously) while others see just a couple people popping in every couple minutes. The important thing is to have an expectation of WHO this will happen to, how much business they may drag away from you, and where exactly YOU fit into the customer’s mind by now (Heck, you may BE the one all the other trucks sort of hate, at least someday in the future).
One last point on this; much like the 1-2% rule, there’s usually a thought that, during an all-day event like some of these are, if these expected numbers or divisions of potential customers are less than 500 people per truck (so if a 3 truck event doesn’t get 1,500 or more attendees in total; I don’t think you’re supposed to expect 500+ sales, but some people take the theory to that extreme), than it’s not worth it. Again, does this fit every event and personal truck situation? Likely not, but another point to keep in mind.
At the end of the day, there’s no set rule or percentage point to determine a set calculation for ideal event profits/sales in comparison to make the fee worth it, along with WHAT strategy you should stick to. This is something that’s going to change and adjust depending on the event, the truck (your menu profit %, ideal sales goals, NORMAL daily sales, etc), how much you’re getting charged, etc.
Truthfully, the final factor at the end of the day comes down to this: if there’s notable possibility to make enough sales to cover the event fees in ADDITION to what you would expect to make on a normal day, and with some extra potential to give that strong profit opportunity, then you’re good. If these numbers don’t seem to clear, there seems to be opportunity for less, yet another signal to put extra thought and consideration to whether doing this event is the right thing for you right now.
If done and accepted, your job now turns towards maximizing sales and profit to ensure that you squeeze every last penny out of this event possible to fully balance the vending fee. This could mean hours spent in strategizing and prepping a particular kind of menu, or just going in and serving the exact same food you always do; if you have the following and your truck food is definitely ideal and popular (especially for this kind of event), then feel free, your days are busy and hectic enough as it is.
But if possible, changing the menu can offer some good opportunities. Firstly, there’s a good chance you’ll want to reduce and limit offerings, if the menu isn’t small enough already; not only can this make service a lot easier for you, faster and more pleasant for customer, it also reduces the chance of food waste and makes it easier for customers to decide, thus making your specific cuisine style stand out more and provide a draw. Not to mention, it also limits what KIND of food they get, guiding them to the more ideal menu items that you want them to buy.
Which comes to choice number 2: what sort of menu sales style will you choose? Are you having lower-price, easy-grab snack options (at say $3-6 range) and trying for a higher number of customers? Larger and higher priced items, like $8-12+ Sandwiches/bowls/etc for a smaller crowd looking to have a single big meal (or potential sharing)? Or perhaps a middle ground, if not a combination of both (though of course that means re-diversifying the menu)?
Each strategy has its merits, the cheaper quick-bite foods do very well at fairs and truck fairs where people are sampling multiple things (and just want to snack as they go), whereas the higher options certainly make more profit if one find the right situation to apply them for a similar number of sales. Of course the middle ground is more flexible, and what many tend to go for, having little positive or negative aspects to it. As always, the final decision will be based on the specifics of the event/crowd itself and what you feel YOU can handle and want to get prepped and ready to serve.
And of course, this is an ample opportunity to use cost-reduction strategies, like bulk-buying certain ingredients or finding suitably lower-cost alternatives, to be used in NEW items that you don’t, and perhaps won’t, feature on the streets, and can perhaps add an extra buck on compared to what you normally would for price-cost percentage. With large amounts of sales, some minute cost-profit expansions can lead a huge addition to final results (as you should know by now).
Besides all this, there IS one last important menu consideration, and that’s making sure you have enough Inventory. This is yet another reason why it’s so important to achieve a strong and accurate estimate of the number of attendees expected, along with how much sales you YOURSELF can get alongside competition, so as to hit that sweet spot of storage. If one ends up buying too much food that ends up spoiling (wasting money), or too little and running out (wasting an opportunity for MORE money, as well as pissing off potential future customers), then some very choice words may need to be kept for he-who-set-up-false-expectations.
Is it Reasonable?
After everything is set and done, you’ve calculated the ideal number of sales for low, medium, and higher-priced menu items (or a combination of 1-3) to make your desired sales goals for that day, there’s one last question to ask. Is it even reasonable, or even slightly possible? Knowing what sort of crowd to expect, the 1-2% rule or idealistically higher idea of how many will stop at the truck, and how much the organizer is charging YOU to park there… will you be able to realistically make enough extra money to pay those fees back and more, thus making the event even WORTH doing as opposed to just finding a brewery or street parking that day?
It’s sad to say, but these fees aren’t always fair, and you as an owner need to recognize that, besides the miraculous occurrences where business is booming even higher than imagined (obviously, popular trucks with large followings rarely have to even consider this NOT happ
ening to them when they go to popular events, but for those regular mortals just getting by…), they need to 1: confront the organizer about this, let them know it’s actually unreasonable and see about getting reduced fares for some, and/or 2: just learn that sometimes you need to back away, stick to what’s going to make more money THAT DAY and guarantee surviving another week and paying off more loans.
That said, perhaps the event will still be the best option… so hooray! Not ideal but at least still making more than one would on the street, thus proving how important they are. But sooner or later you’ll need to work further to either A: spot and find the opportunities with these more realistic and fair fees, or B: develop and refine menu costs and prices to thus MAKE the event sales and profit margins more realistic.