Sweet Smell of Success:
Life in the Concession Stand Business
How to Serve Up Good Food and Fun… and Make Some Sweet Cash in the Process
Think back to when you were in high school and you spent all your Friday nights sitting on hard bleachers next to your friends in the crisp fall air, watching with pride as your football team battled against a rival school…
Remember the smells wafting up from the concession stands throughout the night, begging you to partake of their deliciousness? You had to dig through your pockets to see if you had enough change for a hot dog and a soda…maybe borrow a few coins from a friend for a huge salty pretzel or some popcorn. Oh and the nachos! Why do they always taste so much better from concession stands than when you make them at home?
Such good memories, made even better by traditional tried-and-true concession fares.
Now – think about that dead-end job you drag yourself to every day. The one where you work so hard for such little pay and definitely no fun or glory.
Can you picture yourself as your own boss? How would that feel to you? What would it be like to make your own hours? To decide when you wanted to work and when you didn’t? And how about a bigger income than you probably have now? Sound good?
Of course it does!
Now, remember again the joy of those concession stands when you were growing up, and the enticing scents emanating from their griddles, grills and fryers…remember all the goodies you loved so much? Wouldn’t it be fun (and profitable!) to give those same memories to this generation’s hungry kids?
If you owned your own concession stand, you could carry all those favorite snacks that you loved as a kid, and add in some new twists to really stand out and draw in the crowds:
- tacos and burritos
- wraps and pre-made sandwiches
- smoked meat and sausages
- ice cream
- hot dogs
- cold drinks
- hot drinks
- cotton candy
- giant pretzels
- frito pie
- curly fries
- candy of all kinds
- giant dill pickles
- beef jerky
- funnel cakes
- fried pickles
- cookies, cupcakes, donuts and other pastries
Shall I go on….? Gum, peanuts, snow cones, sunflower seeds…. you get the picture. Oh, and have you heard of the walking taco? Actually it’s a bag of tortilla chips that you fill with all the goodies that goes on a taco, except it’s in a bag. Just brilliant!
See? You can use your imagination to come up with extraordinary things to have your customers coming back for more… and more!
Checklist for Getting Started
There is a lot to think about when starting a concession stand – or any kind of business, for that matter. There are several important things you need to consider, so pay close attention and take a lot of notes!
- The Goodies – what do you want to serve?
I gave you a short list above, but the variety is only limited to your imagination and your customers’ tastes. What you sell often depends on where you decide to park. What age group are you catering to? Do different areas of your city prefer different specialties or flavors? Will you be moving from place to place or find a permanent spot, like outside the fairgrounds or park area?
SIDENOTE: Most concession stands are permanently parked in a certain area for long periods of time (like baseball or football season, festival times, etc.), but if you choose a smaller option, like a cart or trailer, you can move as often as you like so you can always be in front of a hungry crowd!
Which brings me to my next point…
- Size Matters – what size concession stand do you need?
How much space are you going to need? How big – or small do you want to go? Do you want to cater to events and special occasions or to working people who need a light, quick lunch? If you decide on a trailer, what size truck will you need to pull it?
SIDENOTE: When looking for your perfect concession stand, make sure you have enough room to store, prepare, and cook your food and to move around inside. Do need special equipment like heating lamps, griddles, fryers, cooking range, microwave, oven, etc.? What about the little things like cooling racks, sinks, refrigerator and freezer, ice machine or soft drink dispenser? There’s a lot to consider so give it some thought.
Have you thought about whether you will rent a stand or do you want to buy one used or new? What decor and design will you choose for the outside? Will you have an awning? What type of sign and menu will you put up and where?
There are so many decisions to make and so many ways to customize it and make it your own. This is your baby – choose carefully so you’ll be happy with it and it will give you the confidence you need to draw the crowd in and make that money you’ve been dreaming of!
- Financing – do you have an idea of how much you will need?
You know that your concession stand itself will cost a pretty penny, but there’s a lot more to pay for when you first start out. Have you tallied up the cost for everything you will need?
- How much is your concession stand going to cost you?
- Will you need to add or upgrade equipment?
- How much will you pay your employees?
- What about the food cost itself and advertising?
- Parking permits and fees?
- Will you need to hook up to gas, water and electricity?
- What about insurance if you choose a mobile cart instead of a stationary option?
All of these factors will play a part in determining what you need to get started. Once you have a strong business plan in place, you can start contacting your local banks and see if any of them specialize in funding mobile food truck or concession stand businesses. Ask around to others in the industry and see how they financed their dream, as well. You might find some useful tips and welcome advice if you know who to ask.
- Permits and Licenses – do you know what you will need and how to get it?
Yes, I know this is the boring part, but it’s absolutely essential to get this right. If you miss something here or get the wrong or insufficient licensing, you will lose your business and be out of a job (and likely face a hefty fine!) You will need permits, licenses, certificates, maybe even a course by the Health Department. Each state and city has its own regulations so be sure to do thorough research before you get started.
Keep in mind that permits are not only a hassle to get sometimes, but they usually cost a great deal of money, so be sure to add that into your budget. I’ve seen some permits cost close to $1000! And they can be tricky to get. You’ll need to check and see if your city is even giving out permits for concession stands, as they could be at their limit.
Do pay attention to this part of the process and reach out to a professional if you start to feel overwhelmed – don’t be afraid to ask for help!
- Business – do you know how to handle the paperwork?
Running a concession stand is about more than just cooking and serving great food. A lot goes on behind the scenes that most never think about. The worst thing you can do is go into this thinking it’s easier and less work than what it truly is, and find yourself stuck in a situation you aren’t prepared for.
How skilled are you at keeping up with the permits and requirements that could change at a moment’s notice? What about paying taxes and employees? What about estimating the amount of supplies you’ll need each day and staying on top of ordering them? Have you decided on the prices for each item so you can still earn a profit after all the overhead expenses are taken out? Do you know how to advertise on social media properties like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin? You’ll have to get the word out for your customers to find you and online methods are the best (and the cheapest!) when it comes to this type of business.
Final Note Before You Start Your
Journey to Concession Stand Success…
If done right, this could be an adventure of a lifetime! You could become quite prosperous and have tons of fun doing it. But as with any good project, you need a good plan. You need to know what you want and how to get it.
The best concession stands offer a variety of delicious food, prepared with skill and speed – and they work hard to keep prices affordable for their customers while still putting money in their pockets.
Your best bet will be stocking and making mostly fast-moving items like nachos and popcorn – things that need little or no preparation. Concession stands are made to be fast-paced and efficient. Your customers will expect that, so keep that foremost in your mind when creating your business plan and your menu. Be smart and creative and search around for the best prices on the highest quality food and supplies – it will always pay dividends in return!
If the financial or administrative pressure is too much for you, you might consider a partner to help with the purchase of items, cooking, cleaning up and stocking. But also consider that sometimes there can be too many chefs in the kitchen, so to speak, and that with a partner comes the splitting of profits (which in the beginning may be a little slim as you learn your way around and build a strong following). But be patient and a following WILL come – and so will the profits. Just hang in there and go in it with determination and reasonable expectations and you are bound to succeed!
Are you ready to dig in and find your sweet success in the delicious world of concession stands?
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