Mobile caterers at festivals

1st September 2016 by Commercial Vehicle Direct

Why festivals are great for mobile caterers

Where once festival food used to be a greasy burger from a rusty catering van (and you could forget being Vegetarian), now festivals offer lots of choice when it comes to food and drink, some even healthy and refined.
It could be due to the rise of celebrity chefs and cooking programmes on our TVs, or perhaps it’s due to an increasing awareness around sustainability – whatever it is, exciting, tasty food is the new order of the day at festivals.

The Festival Landscape

More than 100 festivals take place in the UK every year and the range of festivals means that the event is accessible to anyone nowadays. From one-day urban festivals, to back-to-basics camping, there’s so much to choose from, and festivals aren’t just about music anymore. Festival catering has become as attractive for festival goers as the music itself.

Taking place this weekend is Festival No. 6, in Portmeirion, North Wales. The catering organisers have promised “a weekend of indulgence”, with bespoke menus prepared by Michelin starred chefs. Oxfordshire based festival Wilderness is also famous for its food offering. As well as serving up great street food on the go, the festival is famous for its Long Table Banquets.  And let’s not forget The Big Feastival in the Cotswolds. The clue is in the name so it’s no surprise that this festival serves up some great, tasty treats from non other than Jamie Oliver and Alex James. 

But you don’t have to be a Michelin starred chef to crack the festival scene. Festival season is a great opportunity for small traders. According to UK Music, in 2015 3.7 million people attended a festival in the UK. That’s a huge, captive audience, ready to experiment with their taste buds and meet your brand. While festivals often charge high upfront costs, the opportunity for exposure could be enough to catapult your brand. Take the Square Pie company for instance. Square Pie started out as a market stall in London in 2001, but today the angular pies are inextricably linked with Glastonbury and a go-to destination for any Glasto-first-timer. The company now has a number of food outlets across the UK, supplies major sports venues and has over 120 different varieties of pie – but they’re still a regular at the largest greenfield festival in the world.  

The Festival Food Economy  

According to UK Music, last year music tourism generated £3.7 billion for the UK economy (that’s a 7% increase from 2014). More than 39,000 full time jobs were also sustained because of it, showing that festivals are great for the wider economy.
They’re also great for the back pocket of small traders. According to the 2016 UK Festival Awards & Conference Market Report, more than 54% of people spent up to £50 a day on food at a festival last year, showing festival goers are keen to spend their hard-earned cash. It also helps that we like to talk about food in this country – 36% of people usually attend a festival in a group of 6 or more, so serve up a good meal to just one person and you could find yourself the group’s food destination for the weekend, along with some sweet takings to accompany it.

Top Tips for Festival Traders

If you’re thinking of taking your mobile catering business to a festival we have some top tips to help get you started.
Find your niche. Ask yourself ‘why me?’ According to the UK Festival Awards & Conference report, the top 5 festival foods are pizzas, burgers, wraps, baguettes and Mexican food – but festival goers will have their pick, so what can you do differently?
Think about what your set up looks like. At some larger festivals, such as Glastonbury, the look of your stall could be part of the application process, so think outside the box.

Keep your audience in mind. 38% of festival goers are aged 18-25 and 63% are male. How can you appeal to them?
Set reasonable pricing. While roughly 55% of people think that drink prices are a bit steep at festivals, the jury is still out on food – around 50% of people believe food pricing is expensive, while 40% think it’s about right and 10% believe it’s good value.
Consider also how your punters will pay. Sometimes the method is set by the event, but cash remains the most popular way to pay for food and drink at a festival.

If it’s your first time consider a smaller event to begin with. The less preparation and lower attendance could be easier to manage. Also make sure to ask to see a sitemap before you pay any fees – you need to know you have a good location before you start.

Failing the above, there’s one great way sure to give you a fighting chance – think big! Traders are often glued to their stalls for the festival duration, which gives them a really good opportunity to gather feedback. The top improvements festival goers would like to see from caterers include free WiFi, group discounts and phone charging facilities. It might be a challenge, but think big and it may just work!

Festival catering
The Beer Bus festival catering