How to organise a food festival

Food festivals are a great way to bring a host of people together with one common shared passion, food and drink. Despite the recent pandemic, food festivals have gained a pace in popularity lately with people’s ever-growing love for food.

In this post, I will set out a simple outline to help you kick start planning for your food festival.

Introduction

I have planned and executed numerous food festivals and one thing that is always at the forefront of planning is ‘added value’, not just for your attendee but your stallholders. What can my event offer or do that others may not, or how can I offer more?

With the increase in popularity of more specialised food and drink categories and a hike in demand for convenience food there are a range of food festival themes or categories to consider – just a few to inspire you below:

  • Vegan and meat-free
  • Free From (Gluten and Dairy)
  • Artisan and Craft producers
  • Sustainable food and packaging
  • Gin bars and cocktails
  • Cake and bakes
  • Local producers
  • Cuisine type (e.g. Thai food, Indian etc.)

The more exposure consumers have to these types of events, the higher their expectations. The challenge is, how can you keep people coming back for more?


Planning and logistics (Pre and during)

A solid starting place is pulling together a top line document setting out the following:

  • Event name, purpose/aim and mission, type and unique selling point
  • Where, when and what time
  • Contact details

This will save you a lot of time down the line as you will need this information to share with suppliers, staff, stallholders, local authorities etc.

Once the parameters of your event are set out, a timeline is always useful. This timeframe does not have to be extra detailed, but I have found it’s a handy way to keep you on track and ensure you are not missing deadlines or vital elements out of organising. There are plenty of templates online that will help with a basic outline and get you started.


So who will come to my event?

Target audience is key to have decided from the off. It can be a costly and time-consuming thing to change later down the line so it is advantageous to nail this first time. There are a few things you should consider when profiling your target audience:

  • Age group (and sometimes gender)
  • Behaviour (disposable income/spending habits)
  • Geographical base (are they close to your venue, if not what’s going to get them there?)
  • Socio demographics/stage of life (are they groups, couples, families etc.)

Once you have that outlined, you need to work out how they tick? What would make them want to come, and how will you reach them? Below are some examples of how you might tailor your event to your chosen target market:

  • Age 25 – 50
    • Target that age bracket when setting up paid-for adverts online and research where this age group socialise to aim marketing correctly.
  • Target come as groups, couples or some families.
    • Have event open Friday and Saturday for adults then focus more on families on the Sunday.
  • Has a reasonable level of disposable income to spend at events
    • Consider charging for the event or having a few more premium stallholders where your target would have money to spend.

Where are you going to have your event?


Location is a core thing to get secured from the start. Food festivals can be held both inside and outside in which there are pros and cons to both.

Outside:

  • Often have higher capacity/more space.
  • Easier to load event equipment in and out as there are fewer building limitations
  • Can be beautiful in good weather but can deter people if it is wet
  • Perfect for any stall cooking on needing to extract cooking fumes

Inside:

  • Perfect for a wet/cold day
  • More challenging when getting vehicles in and out of the venue to build the event
  • Need to install ventilation for cooking fumes.
  • Often power and water and any Wi-Fi needed is already installed.

How do I choose my size of site?
It can be daunting working out what you can fit in the size of a location or venue. Below is a list of things I always consider and work out when looking at a potential venue’s capacity capability:

  • Number of stalls/site spaces that will fit
    • Have a couple of site space sizes in mind, e.g. 3x3m and a 5x5m. As a starter add 30% to calculated total to include required fire spaces and contingency
  • Cooking demo area
    • Again, I’d allow at least 5x5m space add 30% for audience space.
  • General event services (offices for the event manager, cashier, security, cash collection, vehicle parking areas, toilets, first aid, police, refuse collection area)
    • Allow at least 15% of the site depending on how much can be housed off-site.
  • Access (you will need roads wide enough for emergency services)
  • Car parking/public access (if this isn’t available onsite look into park and ride)

Weather is one of those completely uncontrollable factors which can change the event experience in a flash. Although in some cases high wind and treacherous weather means the event can’t go ahead a bit of rain won’t stop you!

There are a few things I always have in my back pocket to help enhance the experience when it’s raining:

  • Make sure you have planned in covered areas for people to congregate. This could be covered tents for food demos or covered seating areas.
  • Look to offer an incentive to attend your event when it’s raining. This could be as simple as money off something or free/discounted entry.
  • Look to work with a company that makes umbrellas or ponchos. They can brand these and can be handed out for free or low cost in bad weather (umbrellas work as a perfect sunshade too if its great weather!).
  • Have some hardstanding matting/tracking you can put down (especially if outdoors) this makes it more pleasant underfoot and safer.

Wind is a harder one to tackle and the one in my career, which has caused me the most grief. There have been times where my events have had to shut early due to strong winds. However, there are some best practice ways to be prepared for this. Whether it’s having sandbags, water weights or extra-strong tents with supports, it will save you a lot of hassle if you have these to hand and ready. 

Finally, don’t forget the sun! Working on event sites abroad has taught me the need for shade, so just as you would prepare for rain with a cover you can’t go too wrong with this for sun cover too!


So what about the Stallholders?


They are at the heart of any Food Festival, so it’s vital to get them on board from the start. Once you have decided what type of food festival you want to host, you will need to look to get your stallholder or vendors on board. 

From experience, it’s also essential to have a tasty variety and mix of stallholders and offerings. Although you have selected your target audience, it doesn’t mean they all like the same thing.

When reaching out to potential stallholders, its key that you have a clear plan in regards to what the benefit is to both parties. I’d recommend you have in mind the following:

  • What’s in it for you?
    • Will you make a profit on their site fee?
    • Will you ask for a certain % of their sales?
    • Will they compliment your event and do they fit with how you want people to perceive the event?
  • What’s in it for them?
    • What’s your expected footfall? If it’s a new event, use others of a similar scale as an example as well as consideration of your site size.
    • Will the % of sales be fixed or go up or down depending on factors on the day? E.g. poor weather or perfect weather
    • Will attending this event look good for their brand, and why?

Marketing

Social media is such a valuable and cost-effective resource when marketing an event. The power of Facebook and other social channels can help reach volume both by consumer shares and paid for adverts.

Incentivise and encourage your stallholders. Think of all their social channels and marketing feeds. This can prove very lucrative in regards to footfall, especially if your stallholder popular.

Partnerships are a great way to get marketing out there. For example, partnering with a well-established company will help give you further marketing reach and also further event credibility helping to entice more people in.

PR – have an event stand out element. Good PR could be as simple as trying to set a small world record and getting the local newspapers down to getting on board a minor celebrity to be a special guest. 

Event imagery is critical, especially as we judge with our eyes when that’s all we have. Make sure you post regularly on social media, so it shows you are active and again credible. Share some behind the scenes pictures or insights to help keep people interested and engaged. 

One final golden rule I have learnt, which makes all the difference is to treat potential attendees well, be responsive and helpful and informative as this goes a long way.


Budget

Starting your planning with a budget is paramount. Setting out your outgoings, income and projected profit will give you a clear oversight from the start as to what you can and can’t afford. Planning also will help to highlight where you could most use sponsorships, partnerships or donations.

Outgoings
It is essential to know my payment terms and how much money is going out before the event. Get deposits upfront from your stallholders and paying only a deposit of % cost to your venue, suppliers etc. will mean better cash flow ensuring you are not running out of cash before you even start the event.

Cost tracking – although not the most fun part of the job, it’s vital. Like anything in life, you can sometimes get an un-expected cost or save along the way. Tracking costs will help you to have a proper oversight of how much money you have rather than having an awful shock post-event!

Income – Free VS ticketed
As an organiser and attendee, I’ve experienced both free and ticketed events; both have their merits. At any event, irrespective of entry fee, you will need to have crowd control measures in place to ensure safety. It’s essential you know the capacity of your venue so you can safely manage the numbers coming in and out of the event (if you don’t have this to hand 6 square feet per person is a good rule of thumb for a standing crowd).

Free events

When creating a new event, offering free entry can be a great way to get a volume of people to come. What is the consumer missing out on if they attend – nothing if it’s free!

The nature of a free event often then means you can either up-price items for sale slightly or simply use this as a tool to wet their appetite for the future where you could look to introduce an entry fee. 

Paid for
The advantage of paid-for events is that you then often get people who want to be there. If people have paid, they will often feel inclined to stay longer (and therefore spend more).

With anything in life, however, if you pay for something, you expect something in return. Charging someone an entry fee without giving them anything or showing them value in their purchase doesn’t often go down too well unless the price is very low or gifted to charity.

There are lots of cost-effective ways to add value for your consumer, see a few tried and tested below:

  • Offer a money off voucher for a future visit (e.g. 15% of tickets for next year)
  • A goody bag (this could contain event collateral, info booklets, free samples)
  • Stallholders (are they a well-known and in-demand business? Do they have a unique and popular product)
  • Voucher to redeem against a food or drink item
  • Branded cup to use and then take home
  • Entertainment (is there a celebrity, a live band, comfy seating areas etc.)

Both ticket methods have their places when it comes to entry for attendees. Make sure you also consider:

  • The geographical location (how much will it cost people to get there, are there transport links etc.)
  • Prices of events, food and drink can vary throughout the country so ensure that you are in-keeping and do not overprice yourself for the area.


Having stallholders also means you can make an income to help pay for the event and infrastructure. You can choose just to charge them for a site space, but also can request a % of sales they make as well as charge them for power if they require it. Do consider keeping the price lower, especially if it’s the first year the event is running to keep the offer to stallholders appealing.

Having an event partner or some sponsors are a great way not only to create a relationship with another company(s) but to generate an income source. I’ve listed a few ways they can help below:

  • Cash (giving you money to help fund the event).
  • Prize (giving you an asset or item to give as a prize to consumers attending).
  • Venue (offering the site space at a free or discounted rate).
  • Media (offer free advertisement, prints, collateral etc).


Volunteers
can be a great way to staff your event with minimal spend. One idea is to look for volunteering forums or even getting in touch with local colleges and universities. Students are keen to gain experience and exposure so simply will often give up their time for free. Having been a volunteer many times before I know a little goes a long way. Even a simple food voucher or discount tickets for a family member would encourage me to work hard!

So how much does it cost to be a vendor at a festival?

Unfortunately, there is no set answer as the cost is determined on numerous factors. I have organised events with site fees around the £200 mark but also events where a site is in the thousands. Below are a few things to consider and an example of cost.

  • How popular is your event and expected footfall (the higher this is, the more space costs).
  • Does the stallholder require power (if they do again usually this is charged out to help you fund generators per kilowatt)?
  • Site space size required. (the bigger the space needed by the stallholder, the more expensive.
  • Stall location (is it in a busy area where lots of people will pass and see it? The more exposure, the higher the cost)

Paperwork to consider

Risk assessments and safety are a major consideration, especially when you are opening up to the public. Correctly identifying, assessing, and mitigating or reducing any potential risks is key both when setting up the event but also during and after.

Safety and risk assessments can seem a daunting thing; however, there is plenty of guidance and ways to educate yourself on this to equip you. A great starting place or even a refresher is here. *Please note this is for UK event safety and not necessarily correct worldwide.

Public Liability (PLI) is an essential cover you will need. Think of it as an insurance policy for your event if damage or injury were to take place onsite at your event. Your stallholders should have PLI of their own (it’s good practice to ask for a copy of this). In regards to event insurance, this will either need to come from you (the event organiser).

Food Safety is an essential check. All stallholders by law have to hold health and safety, food hygiene and licensing documentation. It is good practice to obtain a copy of this when confirming their place at your event.

Council permission: Numerous elements outside the event need to be controlled. Traffic, road closures, footfall to the town all will need to be discussed with the location’s local authority.

Police, fire and ambulance: all need to be informed of the event. Having St. John’s Ambulance or some trained first aiders on site is a must. The other departments just need this on their radar in case of an emergency. (Your local authority can help you with questions about this).



Post-event steps

Finally, always do some form of evaluation. Seek feedback from your attendees, your traders, suppliers. In some cases, it can feel like ripping off a plaster when you gain any adverse or constructive criticism after working for months on your event. Still, it will continue to help you progress and grow as an event and professional.

One final tip is making notes, edits or tweaks to your documentation or processes as soon as you have finished the event. Although this can seem a difficult task after putting lots of hard work into your event, I can guarantee your future self will thank you hugely when it comes to re-planning the event.


Summary

Although there is no real right or wrong ways to organise a food festival, the above tips will help save you time and resources by starting with a straightforward foundation.

One thing I have learnt is that a lot of things until you have done them are just down to common sense. With events you will require contractors, local authorities, and other parties to provide services for you so ask them questions! Utilise everyone and keep up regular communication. Remember a problem shared is a problem halved.

Good luck with your food festival!



Useful resources (UK only):

The Purple Guide (Health and Safety) https://www.thepurpleguide.co.uk/

Food Standards Agency https://www.food.gov.uk/food-safety

Mark Norman

Mark has over 20 years of experience in the events industry from working in live music venues through to major outdoor events like the Olympic Torch Relay and the Tour de France. He now works as a feelancer, consultant and Senior Lecturer in Events Management.

Recent Posts