How to Be a Food Vendor

Food vendors help to create community.
Food vendors help to create community. (Image: Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Food vendors sell food, usually at temporary events such as farmers' markets or festivals, or via mobile food units such as carts, trucks or trailers. Unlike standalone restaurants, food vendors often are part of a community of businesses selling food at a common location, creating a critical mass that encourages customers to gather. Success as a food vendor depends on creating a business model that enables you to get food into your customers' hands quickly, using appealing, low-cost ingredients and processes that are simple enough to perform in a limited outdoor space.

Develop a menu that is simple yet appealing. Base your menu on a handful of basic items that you can use in a range of offerings. For example, if you are vending Mexican food, your inventory will probably include beef, pork, chicken, beans, rice and salsa, which you can combine to create a wide range of tacos, burritos or quesadillas. Because the time you spend at any event is limited and your success depends on cranking out orders as quickly as possible, base your menu concept on preparing as many ingredients as possible ahead of time in your commercial kitchen.

Obtain the licenses that your local health department requires for you to operate as a food vendor. If you are vending at festivals or fairs and you are working out of a booth that you disassemble between events, you will probably need a separate temporary event permit for every fair, festival or farmers' market where you vend. If you are vending with a food cart that functions as a self-contained unit, you will probably need just a single -- more expensive -- permit that covers you for the entire year. You will also need use a licensed commercial kitchen to prep your ingredients. Cart and truck vendors also need to comply with local street-use regulations.

Schedule your food vendor business to sell food at events that are appropriate to your menu, concept and price point. For example, if your menu showcases local, seasonal ingredients, vend at farmers' markets and local harvest festivals. If you are operating a truck or cart, find locations with sufficient foot traffic where your target market is likely to congregate. For example, if you sell filling comfort food off a cart, then you could be quite successful in an area with plenty of bars. If you sell healthy salads, then you could set up your cart outside a health club.

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