How to Run a Food Truck 24: Expand Your Business to Events

In last week’s “How to Run a Food Truck” lesson, we helped you write the recipe for future success by examining a popular goal-setting approach and providing you with 30 questions you should ask yourself to determine what you want out of your business. Though we’re sure that our readers had all kinds of different answers, we’re willing to bet that many of you probably identified events, catering, or an expansion as the next logical step in your truck’s progression—so those are the topics we’ll be covering for the next few weeks!

Today, we’ll be talking about everything that food truck owners who want to get into events need to consider. Serving at festivals and events can be a very lucrative way to expand your food truck’s profits and potential fanbase, so they’re a great option for any FoodTruckr who wants to grow his or her business.

Let’s start out by learning how to find the best events for your truck and looking at what it takes to get your truck’s application accepted by an event planner.

Taking Your Truck to Popular Local Events

You may make most of your money serving the downtown lunch rush on the daily, but there are few better ways to bring in a quick pile of cash than by serving at an event or festival. However, events require advance planning—oftentimes months ahead of time. You can’t simply show up and park on a weekend when the rest of your schedule is looking a little sparse. Instead, you’ll need to begin looking for events to serve at as soon as they’re announced (and sometimes even before) and spend time filling out applications, setting aside application fees, and promoting your truck to event organizers.

How to Find Events

Depending on how large of a city you live in, there could be anywhere from five to 500 different events happening in a given month. You’re probably already familiar with a few of the big ones, but smaller events can also be a major opportunity for FoodTruckrs. The trick is to find as many events to choose from as possible, and then narrow down the list to those that will serve your truck the best.

Here’s our simple three-step process to finding the right event for your truck:

1. Figure Out How Many Events You Want to Serve

Before you begin searching for actual events, we recommend starting out by determining how many events you want to serve each month. For many FoodTruckrs, the ideal number will fluctuate from month to month, depending on factors like how busy your normal street schedule keeps you and when the most lucrative events occur.

Write down the number of days or weekends each month you’re hoping to fill with events. Keep in mind also that some events may be for a single evening, while others could be a three or four day affair—you’ll need to keep these factors in mind when you begin applying to events, as you shouldn’t apply to a long event if you won’t be able to really commit to the schedule.

2. Start Searching

So, now that you have a general idea of how many events you’re looking to serve each month, we want you to take those numbers and triple or quadruple them—the figures you come up with here are the number of potential events you should try to find. You almost certainly won’t be accepted to every event you apply to, so it’s important to find as many as you can to start out with.

Here are a few tips to help you find good events:

  • Search for all types of events happening in your city, including those that are obviously food truck-oriented and those that are not. Look for things like summer festivals, city or county fairs, art shows, food festivals, concerts, parades, ethnic celebrations, and holiday events.
  • Remember that many event organizers hold the same events annually or monthly—so if you’re able to find an event that took place last summer, it’s likely that it could be happening again this year even if there’s no information about it online yet.
  • Take down information on the events as you find them—including the date, name of the event, website address, contact information for the organizers, registration or application deadlines, and a rating to track how interested in the event you are. This will help to speed up the process when it comes time to begin applying.
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3. Narrow Down the Options

Finally, you need to narrow down the options and determine which events you’ll actually try to get accepted to. Again, we recommend applying to more events than you think you’d actually want to attend, as you likely won’t be accepted to all of them. However, you should spend a little more time carefully evaluating your options before you begin sending off those applications.

Before applying to an event, consider:

  • When the event is
  • How much traffic the event is likely to get
  • What type of sales volume you expect
  • How much volume you’d need to make the event worth your time
  • What kind of exposure you’ll get from the event
  • What types of connections you may be able to make from participating in the event

Though whether or not you participate in a particular event will likely come down to which events accept your applications and how much money you’ll be able to make at them, it’s also important to consider factors like exposure and networking opportunities that may offer additional long-term benefits to your business.

How to Get Accepted

Now that you’ve determined which events you want to serve at, it’s time to start filling out those applications!

Follow these three steps to get your truck accepted to an event:

1. Find Out When and How to Apply

Some of the events you may want to go to will already have their applications or registration processes open—and if that’s the case, you should get started right away! However, events that have been recently announced or that are still a long ways off may not be taking applicants just yet.

If you can’t find a place to submit your application, look for the following items on the event’s website:

  • A place to request notifications. Many event websites will have a place where you can sign up to receive emails or other notifications when news on the event is released or when registration goes up.
  • Information on previous application deadlines. Some event websites may still have last year’s information up. If you’re looking at an annual event and you can tell that the event organizers began taking applications in September last year, it’s likely that they’ll begin accepting applicants again sometime around September this year.
  • Contact information for the event organizers. Another great way to find out when you can apply to the event is to go ahead and contact the organizers directly. If you can find a contact form, phone number, or email address on the site, go ahead and send a polite request asking the organizers to let you know when you’ll be able to apply.

2. Prepare Your Application

Individual events may require different materials from potential applicants, but the majority of them will be interested in the same type of information. With that in mind, we recommend going ahead and preparing as many application materials as you can ahead of time. That way, when applications open up, you’ll already have everything you need ready to go—saving you time down the line and also enabling you to get your truck’s name in before the masses.

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Here are a few of the most common items event organizers will want to see:

  • A copy of your menu
  • Photos of your truck
  • Information on your team and your service capacity
  • Details on your previous experience with events
  • Links to your website and social media pages

3. Promote Your Truck

Once you’ve submitted your event application, the work isn’t quite over yet! It’s also a great idea to continue promoting your truck and doing everything you can to show the event organizers what a great fit your business would be for their audience.

Here are a few ways to seal the deal:

  • Promote the event on your social media pages to show how much you care about the event.
  • Make sure your social media pages are in good shape and present a positive image of your truck (particularly in places where fans can participate, such as your Facebook wall and Yelp page).
  • Send a follow-up email to the event organizers a few days after you’ve submitted your application to let them know how excited you are to hear from them. For bonus points, feel free to let them know about the creative idea you had for an event-exclusive menu item or promotion that you’d like to offer if you’re accepted!

Preparing for the Big Day

Figuring out which events to apply to and sending out applications are the first steps in the process—but you’re also going to need to do some serious prep work on your own before you’ll be truly ready to take on the demands of serving a big crowd at a major event. Serving people at festivals and events is an entirely different game than what you’ll encounter during even the busiest lunch hour rush, so it’s important to really take the time in advance to plan, practice, and prepare.

Use the four following strategies to get yourself and your team ready for this exciting new opportunity!

1. Develop a Menu Plan

Some food trucks change up their menus for special events, while others continue to offer the full line. Either option is fine, but you should think carefully about which path makes the most sense for your truck. If you continue to offer your regular full menu, you won’t risk disappointing any of your fans who want their favorite dish—but you’ll also need to have more different ingredients on hand and cooking times could take a little longer. On the other hand, offering a reduced menu simplifies things in the kitchen big time—but regulars may leave if they can’t get their usuals, and you also won’t get to show off all the awesomeness you have to offer to new fans.

Of course, there’s also a third option that we’ve seen before that we think is an effective way to get the best of both worlds: continuing to offer your regular menu, but also offering a special event-exclusive menu or meal deal that features amazing prices. With this option, you’ll still have everything on hand so that regulars can order their favorites and so that newbies can see the full range of what you have to offer—but the event special will be so enticing that the majority of people will just order that, saving your chefs valuable time in the kitchen.

2. Run Time Trials

Getting food out the door fast enough to keep the line moving is undoubtedly one of the toughest parts of serving an event—so it’s important to make sure you and your team are prepared to work as quickly as you can.

Before the event, run some time trials to see how long the entire process takes from ordering to handing the customer his or her plate. Experiment with different ways to speed up the transaction, such as by having one person walking through the crowd and taking orders in line or by adding an extra chef to the grill. Remember to also give your team members adequate breaks on the big day. They’ll be working faster and harder than they normally do on even the craziest days, so giving them time to relax and to get some food for themselves is the best way to ensure you maintain a happy, motivated team.

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3. Do As Much Prep Work As You Can

When the event date nears, you can also prepare for the big day by doing as much prep work as you can ahead of time. Wash and chop veggies (taking care to seal and store them in air-tight containers at the proper temperatures!), pre-fold to-go boxes, and stuff to-go sacks with freebies and coupons. Again, on the actual day of the event, you and your team will probably be moving constantly and rushing around to get everything accomplished as quickly as you can. Getting some of these simple tasks out of the way beforehand will save you valuable time on the day of and will also streamline your entire process.

4. Have Fun With It

Though finding, booking, and serving events are all time and labor-intensive tasks, we hope you’ll still have fun with it! Many FoodTruckrs find that the energy and excitement present at big events and festivals makes the days go by quickly, despite the hectic pace they have to maintain all day. If you can stay positive about the work you’re doing and excited about the opportunity that’s before you, the entire experience can really be a ton of fun. You’ll get to meet all kinds of new customers, spend the day working with your loyal team, hang out with some other awesome FoodTruckrs, and potentially even see some fantastic local entertainment—and what could be better than all of that?

The Next Step in Your Business Evolution

Beginning to work at events is a fantastic next step for any FoodTruckr that’s looking to grow his or her business. From local food truck festivals where you’ll get your name on the map to major city events where you can form powerful connections, events offer a world of opportunities at every step of the way.

Next week, we’ll take a short break from “How to Run a Food Truck” so that we can bring you a special guest post from a passionate food truck fan! Stay tuned to hear our guest author’s take on why cities around the country should let up on their restrictions on food trucks. Then, on May 13th, we’ll return with Lesson 25—the second to last post in our series!

Until then, tell us about your experiences with events. Has your truck ever served at an event? How did your team handle the large crowds? Are there any exciting event opportunities in your town that you’re looking forward to this summer? Share your stories with us in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter!

image by David McSpadden

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About the Author

FoodTruckr is the #1 online destination for current and aspiring food truck owners looking to succeed in the mobile food industry. Self described “food truck devotees,” the FoodTruckr team enjoys reading about successful entrepreneurs, salivating over photos of burritos on Twitter, and long walks through food truck parks. Chat with FoodTruckr on Facebook or check out the FoodTruckr School podcast for more awesome tips to level up your business.

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