We knew that eventually something would go comically wrong. As with any new business there are hundreds of things
which, at any given moment, could suddenly jump out and start being a nuisance. Many are covered in the epic health & safety and food hygiene guidance we have to follow, but occasionally you get one that arrives of nowhere and leaves you reeling from experience.
In order for us to exhibit our wares at food festivals we have to pay an upfront fee. Depending on the festival it can be anything from £50 to £1000 for the weekend. On top of that there are obviously the petrol costs involved in getting there, the food costs and any labour invested in creating the end product. It usually means that for a large festival you will have to bank several hundred pounds (which at £3 a pop is a fair few toasties) before you break even.
At any given event there will be several thousand visitors and between 15 and 30 hot food outlets, although this depends on the venue. Leamington Food Festival in 2011 had 17,000 visitors, so 8,500 per day, divided by perhaps 20 outlets selling hot food. Only about half of those visitors will go on to buy a hot food snack. If these people were kind enough to divide themselves equally amongst the hot food outlets then that would mean only about 200 potential customers per hot food venue.
The point I am trying to make is that even at a full festival you still need every customer you can get so that you make a decent profit. When you arrive at a food festival to discover that thousands and thousands of people didn’t make it that day then I think you can be forgiven for seeing your livelihood flash before your eyes to a certain extent.
That is what happened to us over the weekend at the Uttoxeter food festival. The weather was good, the location was interesting and the selection of stalls (while a little scant for the £6 entry fee) was pretty varied. We parked the van up, said hi to the folks on either side (crepes and coffee respectively) and waited for the customers.
The morning wore on, and the crowds of customers continued in their absence. We took a few pictures, had a nice chat with the people next door, and sold a tiny handful of toasties. The mood, usually light and jovial, began to falter. Conversations with other stall-holders revealed that business was bad everywhere, and as the lunch time rush began, we found ourselves entirely unhurried. All told the rush consisted of a family of 4 who were friends of the organiser, and perhaps 3 of the other traders.
By mid-afternoon the coffee people were packing up. There comes a point where you will sell less than the value of an evening on the sofa, and that’s the point when you should call it quits. We were the only toastie van there, and had covered our petrol costs at least, so with the stock all ready to go we hung on, but as the last few customers headed home we hit the road, planning at least to come back the following day and redeem whatever there was left to redeem.
Naturally our dear food van broke down on the way home with an all-encompassing crescendo of rumble, followed by nothing but the clinking of the prop shaft as it trailed forlornly along the A38. That story is still ongoing, and will be told once we have good news. Currently all I know is that we need the Stratford River Festival this weekend (30th June & 1st July) to be good to us, and no mere mechanical fault is going to stop us getting there.