Vendor Beware: Festivals, Fairs and Boutiques
Here are some questions to ask before you sign up to sell or sample food at a community event:
Is the event permitted? Most cities and counties require permits for boutiques, fairs and festivals depending on the size, nature and duration of the event. To obtain a permit, the organizer must have a plan that adheres to city/county guidelines—so unpermitted events could be poorly planned or lack critical components like adequate restrooms or accessibility.
How’s the traffic? How many people attend the event? Don’t just ask the event organizers; ask vendors who’ve sold there before. Sometimes plenty of people attend the event, but sales are still slow. Repeat vendors have the best insight for you, so ask the organizer for a vendor reference.
Are the fees worth it? Consider your costs to prepare, present and sell your product. If you pay $200 for a booth, you need to NET $200 to break even. Don’t forget to factor in your time. How many plates/items must you sell to net that amount? To make a profit? Sometimes it’s not about instant profit, but about advertising and lead generating—just be sure that whatever your goal is, the event attendance supports that goal.
Will there be competing vendors? How many food vendors will there be, and what exactly are they selling? Quality events limit competition between vendors by making sure that products are diverse. If the event organizer is worth his salt, he’ll require a product list from each vendor.
What permits do I need? Don’t take anyone’s word for it: do your homework. If the event organizer says you don’t need a permit, think twice about signing up. Local health departments do inspect community events and will shut down unpermitted “TFFs” (Temporary Food Facilities—that’s what they call food booths.) Check with the city AND the county of the event to find out what permits are required for the type of food you’ll be selling or sampling. Even free samples require permits, especially if you’re portioning or plating samples on site. A quick search yielded information pages for each of the county health departments in Southern California. Here are some examples:
- Los Angeles: http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/eh/docs/Events/FoodBoothsFAQ.pdf
- Orange: http://ocfoodinfo.com/tff
- Riverside: http://www.rivcoeh.org/opencms/system/galleries/download/Environmental-Health/DEH/TempEventsFinal.pdf
- San Diego: http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/deh/food/tempevents.html
- San Bernardino: http://www.sbcounty.gov/uploads/dph/dehs/Depts/EnvironmentalHealth/EHSDocuments/TemporaryFoodFacility%28TFF%29VendorRequirements.pdf
Festivals, fairs and boutiques can be a great way to launch or promote your business; just be sure to do your due diligence before committing to an event.