We could probably spend weeks talking about your food choices for your venue, (and we might) but let’s spend a little time this week discussing some of the basics. Here are some foundational things to consider as you make concession choices for your venue:
1. Food is an important part of what we do and should fit the environment we are creating.
That may sound strange, but there are certain items that your guests will expect when they visit a certain place. For instance, how often do you hear people commenting on a certain food they look forward to when they go to the fair? Food can often be a reason to attend as much as any other element of your business. So make choices that are unique and memorable. Be creative and offer food choices that naturally fit with the rest of the environment. One of our most “memorable” concessions that we offered were apple cider doughnuts. The farm owners had been making and selling them for years and the guests would sometimes visit just to purchase some! They fit the farm theme perfectly and provided a sought after product. Other examples would be things like: cider, caramel apples, kettle corn, pie, lemonade, grilled corn, funnel cake, or anything that fits the event. You will offer other choices I’m sure, but make sure you offer several “one of a kind” concessions.
2. Make sure your food choices are not all in one place.
Most agritourism venues are widespread and cover a lot of acres. Your admission area could be several hundred yards from your maze or your hayride area or your petting zoo. We have found that it is best to offer several choices of food in several areas of your venue. Of course some of it will be limited as your access to certain things will be limited. For instance, it may not be practical to offer grilled food in several locations because of the need for electricity and very expensive grilling equipment. But it may be feasible to offer drinks in multiple locations or simple snack foods rather than a complete meal. We have always built a structure at the entrance to our mazes that served as a check in and information booth. Because we had a structure complete with power, it also served as an alternate concession site. Plug in a fridge and fill it up and sell drinks to the weary maze travelers. Be creative. It doesn’t take a lot to offer simple snacks like kettle corn and cotton candy. If you can offer several options it adds to the experience.
3. To Grill or not to Grill?
It is one thing to offer simple snack foods and yet another to offer full blown meals. When we made that leap it became a new challenge because it required not only more food, but more staff and a dedicated facility. At our Pennsylvania business the farm owners had been offering meal options in their country store which was already set up to cook and prepare food. When we took over that part of the business we would either need to build a facility or buy one. We chose to purchase a concession trailer and then add the equipment that met our needs. It had a large drink cooler, deep fryers, a large grill, coffee and hot chocolate makers, soup warmers, hot dog roller, heat lamps, condiment coolers, and a freezer. It met our needs very well and we were able to keep up with hundreds of hungry guests. For us it was a perfect solution and a profitable addition. People need to eat and will buy your food if it’s available. Here are some more things to consider before you make this leap:
Make sure you have someone willing and able to organize and run this part of the business. It is time consuming to make sure food is ordered and well stocked and that the staff are well trained.
Determine the feasibility of the needed facility and whether or not you can afford to build or purchase one. Make sure you have the necessary electrical power to run several pieces of equipment at once.
Consider your menu carefully. Multiple options are good, but add to the complexity. Make sure you buy higher quality food. It s better to have better food at a little higher price than low quality at any price. Word travels fast about food-good or bad!
Do your research. Certain foods will do better than others. And certain foods appeal more to certain age groups than others. It will be a learning process from year to year that will require change and improvement.
Check your local ordinances and requirements. Sometimes it is easier to purchase a self contained concession trailer than meet the codes for a kitchen in your building. You will also need to check on requirements for certification. Chances are you will have to obtain some type of certification to prepare food.
Like I said, there are a lot of things to consider when you are making choices about food. If necessary, start small and grow into it. Food is a big part of what we do, so like anything else, do it well!