Get What You Want with Assertive Booking

As the holidays draw near, I find myself bombarded with invitations to participate in various holiday-themed events—Thanksgiving 5Ks, holiday shopping fairs, and private holiday parties to name a few. In holiday seasons past I’d say yes to everything, knowing that while I might be busy in November and December, pie sales (and most mobile food sales in general) tend to plummet during January, February, and March.

Ho, Ho, No

I learned, though, that not all events are created equal. All too often, I’d show up ready for the 1,500 attendees promised by the event organizer, only to be greeted by a group of about fifty. I once went to a holiday craft fair with a dozen or so shoppers after the event organizer told me to prepare for “a couple hundred.” I’d find myself wasting time, gas, and (worst of all) pies going to events where I barely broke even.

I decided to take a step back and create a set of guidelines for myself to help determine whether an event would be worth attending, and now I do my best to attend only the most profitable events in the most lucrative venues. Magically, I’ve found that I’m able to work less without taking a loss in income. I’m no longer constantly running from event to event, and this year, I even have a little extra holiday season to enjoy with my friends and family.

My Five-Point Star

To guide my decision making, I look at where each event falls within these five areas of opportunity.

1. Catered vs. Direct Sales
During holiday periods, I often prefer catered events–where the host pre-orders and pays for a specific number of pies to feed their guests–to direct-sales events, such as festivals, where individual attendees buy the pies directly from me. With catered events, I know beforehand exactly what I need to prepare and am guaranteed to get paid regardless of attendance, weather, or other factors that may affect folks’ pie-buying decisions. Juggling holiday office parties and social gatherings is still easier to budget for and execute than direct-sales events because I know what I need to make and how I will be compensated.

That said, direct-sales events have other benefits. While I might not be guaranteed a certain quantity of sales, big events often have far more attendees than private catered events and give me the opportunity to serve hundreds of people or more in one day. They can also be rewarding in that they give my business exposure to people who may not have heard of it before.

2. Event Fees and Percentages
Many venues (such as bars and retail stores) are happy for food trucks to sell at their sites and pay no fee at all. By offering food options for their customers, you are providing a service that they are not, you may bring more folks to their venue, and this gives them an advantage during the competitive holiday season. However, some venues will ask for a flat fee or percentage of sales in exchange for your participation, whether it be to compensate them for event costs, to raise money for a cause, or because they simply want to increase their profits. If the fee or percentage is going to support a cause that’s important to you, like providing coats or Christmas presents for families in need, you may be willing to sacrifice income for helping your community. The holiday season is a great time to give back, after all. But if that’s among your goals, make sure the fee or percentage is not so high that it’s going to seriously cut into your earnings.

3. Event Track Record
For many new events, organizers overestimate attendance. If you are considering participating in a brand-new event, know that it’s a first for you and the organizers. This doesn’t mean you should never participate in new events; there’s intrinsic value to being on the forefront of cool new things. But do stay aware of the risk involved.

If the event has taken place before, ask about attendance for the past several years, and verify that. Check the event website. Do vendors come back year after year? If vendor turnover is high, ask organizers why. Better yet, if you know other vendors who have participated in the event before, be sure to seek out the benefit of their experience.

4. Competition
Ask event organizers how many other food vendors they will schedule. An event with 500 attendees and 2 food trucks could be a great gig, but that same event with 10 food trucks is bound to be less profitable for you. If you’re doing a holiday shopping event, are you close to other brick-and-mortar restaurants that shoppers might prefer in cold weather, or are you one of a limited set of food options? You’ll probably sell more if it’s the latter.

It doesn’t cost event organizers anything to ask food trucks to attend, so it’s in their best interest to get as many vendors as possible, as it makes their event more robust and diverse. However, loading on too many vendors can mean a less profitable event for every food truck involved.

5. Communication
Pay attention to how communicative the event organizers are. Do they answer your questions promptly and clearly? Do they provide you with the information you need to arrive and set up? Do they have a backup plan for inclement weather? This is very important during the holidays, when snow and ice can bring an event to a screeching halt.

If an event organizer isn’t answering your calls or emails or giving you specifics about the event, it should give you pause. There’s nothing worse than showing up to an event with no idea of where to park or what to expect. If an organizer is being flaky early in the planning process, they’re probably not going to get better as the event nears and they become preoccupied with even more details.

Photo by Shawn Poynter

Dale Mackey
Dale Mackey

Dale Mackey is a Chicago native who moved to Knoxville in 2007 and has no plans of leaving. She spends most of her time making and selling fried pies, but when she finds a free moment, she enjoys writing, eating, playing with her cats, playing with her husband, and going on adventures. She's named after cowgirl Dale Evans, and hopes she does her namesake justice.

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