It’s that time of year again! As you read this, thousands of street food traders across the country are sending hundreds of festival food applications across the British Isles, so that come summer there will be actual food and drink at music festivals, rather than just eerie empty spaces.
Before starting the Jabberwocky it had never occurred to me that there was a whole process behind organising a festival. I mean there are the obvious logistics: someone probably books the bands. But you don’t really appreciate the scale of what has to come together in the right place at the right time. You know those giant stages? They have to be assembled by hand. One piece on top of the other. Only to be taken down again a few days later, moved to a new location, and reassembled.
By comparison to that, the food seems like it should organise itself. But I expect there are a few things you hadn’t thought about. I shall engage in a little lid-lifting, for anyone interested.
Festival Food Applications
The big festivals will have an exhaustive application form. Brace yourself for page after page of questions about your unit, your food and (more recently) your green credentials. The process is like applying for a job. But here’s the catch: if you are successful, you get to pay them. Even when you turn up on the day, thinking you now have this awesome pitch for life, you are still being scrutinised. If the organisers are not fans, they won’t be asking you back. They have a hundred other caterers, all full of festival buzz-words and biodegradable packaging, waiting to take your spot next year.
Festivals make money from ticket sales, obviously, but they also charge the traders to be there. It a fair cop, if we rocked up the weekend before or after all we could serve is a few cows and the odd rambler. So what is a “fair” price is for each pitch? I’ll be blunt, it’s whatever you’re willing to pay for it. Desperate much? Don’t panic, we’ve all been there. Just for the love of all that is cheesy don’t get swept away by the fact they accepted your application. You still have to make money there. We can only serve a certain amount of toasties in a given time. £5000 for a weekend wouldn’t work for us, but it might well work for the 30ft burrito trailer that can take £10 every 7 seconds. Maths that baby.
As a street food trader in a gazebo or van, you will probably be looking at a figure between £500 and £2000. So when you see a trader at a festival, you can be fairly sure they are already ~£2500 deep in that event (with stock and staff) before it’s even started. That’s just the little guys. This is why food at festivals is expensive.
Especially if you are a common food type (looking at burgers, wraps, pancakes and pizza especially), you will have to accept that most of your food applications will fail. Such is life. As with all the best job applications, you won’t be told why you missed out. You probably won’t even get a note to say you weren’t successful.
Don’t torch their car just yet. Unlike the average job interview, festival food applications aren’t personal, and persistence might well pay off. Keep trying. Next year you will be more established, have a proven track record and be oh-so-much wiser. Plus, you’re still out of the rat-race, so console yourself with the thought that this is as close to a proper job interview as you ever need to get. Nice.