RE: festivals for hot dog vendors!
Good summary, EB. Consider this an addition. I have also posted some long notes, mostly on another forum (coffee related) for the same reason: nobody tells you how to do this and people who can are too often cagy about it. Which is a pretty old school reaction: no one is ever hurt by sharing information, everyone is in fact improved, and after that point the quality product wins.
My son and I started a coffee concession built around an espresso truck plus a tent for granita & drip coffee. Since April until now we've had about 3 weekends off, which means we're getting plenty of work, and we're getting plenty tired, ready to kick back to some weekday sales until next Spring, when we will hit it again. Every food or beverage has it's best sales niche, and we found ours by focusing primarily on weekend-long music or craft festivals. Most weekends we camped with the rest of the festival goers, and a few times we've gotten motels, for urban festivals.
You're sure right about the hard work. You rebuild your "shop" every weekend. Hardest is a weekend you've had trouble filling and you end up with 2 one-day events. You're right about the rain too - one rainy day at a popular festival and the next day you're likely to get slammed when everyone comes out. However, there are festivals that rain all weekend, and all you can do is go home and lick your wounds. Its a crap shoot, but the bones roll your way often enough to balance the disasters. Hopefully!
When the promoter wants a percentage of your sales, it is typically 15-20%. I've heard up to 35% but that is large rock festivals with big names. We don't bother. For every one of those, there are 20 nice little bluegrass or folk festivals with more moderate crowds. If we are paying a flat fee instead of a percentage, we've put out as little as $40 and as much as $1200, which is well over 400 cappuccinos before you crack that nut and start paying yourself. (because you have to go by your net sale after cost of goods, not your retail price.) That particular festival was hard to make money at, (though we did, a little) but it was prestigous and amped our credibility substantially, as well as leading directly to invitations to other festivals.
I agree that you need to keep the prices up, but its a fine line. You have to fit some scale of credibility in their minds. In my case, I make sure I'm a little more than Starbucks. Compared to the food vendors, we're a small operation, but we've been "the big guys" in coffee everywhere we've been. We tend to suppress other vendor's coffee sales if we're not exclusive. People look at our espresso machine, grinder, etc, then look at the 40 cup urn of probably burnt coffee the other guy has and line up at our booth instead, even though we are charging more.
I hang around this forum because I've gotten a lot of festival tips and info here. There are many members who have a lot of experience, and I hope they use this thread to add comments as well.