24 hours later I have done a lot of reflecting on how our first vending gig went. To sum it up, it went very very well. Going through the receipts today we served 391 plates of food even with the soggy weather. We made back more than twice what we invested in the festival in hard costs.
We also were invited to participate in 3 more festivals and got a lot of inquiries about catering. Someone even told us they want us to cater their wedding. The next festival we would do is Nov. 5th and would be roughly about the same size with no competition in terms of Q. That bodes very well for us as our only competition was a group that was grilling hot dogs and hamburgers. We saw them lower their prices three times after coming over to check out our prices. Even so, at one point we had a line 20 yards beyond our area and I looked over and saw one person in line at their spot.
We got a lot of good feedback and learned quite a bit. The town's mayor actually came through the line 3 times and thanked all of us individually for coming to their event. The town operated the beer tent next to us and I found out today that their drink sales were up 250% over last year despite the weather and about the same attendance. Towards the end of the day they came over and told us to come over for some free beer on them. We reluctantly took advantage of the offer of course. Lots of folks wanted a tour of the smoker and to learn how it worked.
Next time should be even smoother if we can keep the same crew. We did manage to double the money we had invested in the festival which I think qualifies it as an ultimate success.
Some things I learned:
While I will not foil butts for personal consumption, it will save us a bunch of time and effort when vending.
Making common sausage does not spark anyone's interest. Despite it being homemade kielbasa I think most people believe it was store bought like frozen hamburger patties and hot dogs that they are used to getting. Going forward I plan to do some of my more exotic homemade sausages in a limited quantity.
Homemade baked beans need to be completely cooked before the putting them on the smoker. It took forever for them to soften up on the smoker which was the opposite of our experience at our soft opening party.
A cash register will make a huge difference. Our choke point was the money handler who was having to add up everything in her head. A programmed cash register would have allowed us to move people through more quickly.
Home made sauces need explaining. If we were asked once, we were asked a hundred times about which sauces tasted like what. I had expected folks to try each one before applying them but most weren't willing to do that.
Do not run out of pulled pork in the South! They will forgive you for running out of everything else but not that.
Be prepared for customers to ask how your cooker works. I can't believe how many "tours" we gave yesterday explaining the principals behind the magic they ate. We almost needed one person just to do that.
A friend of mine suggested that we lower our prices when only two hours were left in the festival. We did and it was a brilliant move. We came back with far less food than we would have otherwise. The first 4 hours we moved 271 plates. The last 2 hours we moved 120 and I suspect that number would be far less if we didn't lower our prices. We didn't go below cost but we weren't far from it either.
And lastly, I learned that good friends are invaluable. Without them I think yesterday would have been a total disaster.
It was a lot of hard work to pull this first one off but we all had a good time and no friendships were lost. I look forward to what we do in the future with the knowledge we now possess. It was a very rewarding experience.