5 Things You Should Know About Mobile Concession Stands

Young Grilling EntrepreneurThese days, a snack at the ballgame is a whole lot more than peanuts and Cracker Jacks. Concession stands are stepping up their game, serving fresh, hot meals, and making a bundle in doing so. In Ohio, the Lowellville Rockets Booster Club relies on the money they make from serving up wedding soup and stuffed pepper sandwiches to buy uniforms for all of the school’s athletic teams — their concession stand is so profitable it’s “really the only fundraiser [they] do,” according to club volunteers. If your club is still selling chips and soda out of glorified storage shed, it might be time to consider investing in a mobile concessions stand. Here are a few things you should know before you buy:

1. It’s an investment, and not a small one. A brand-new trailer will cost your club between $25,000 and $70,000 dollars. In Connecticut, Rockville High School boosters set their fundraising goal at $36,000 for a new trailer. If that seems a little rich for your budget, there are numerous sites devoted to the used-trailer marketplace — even the smaller trailers take up significant space, and some owners are willing to give up their trailers for as little as $2,000 just to free up room for storage. If you go with a used trailer, you should do your homework and a thorough inspection before handing over your cash. You’re basically purchasing a tiny commercial kitchen on wheels, and it’s important that everything works and meets safety standards.

2. Your investment will probably pay off. The average yearly income of a concession stand varies — 2008 Bureau of Labor statistics put it at $46,650, while one food truck guru claims you’ll rake in $65,000. The beauty of the mobile stand is there’s very little restriction on where and when you can fundraise. Because they are mobile, carts can be hitched to a truck and moved between fields and even to non-school events around town, like summer concerts in the park, air shows, festivals, and farmers markets. You can even get creative to keep the cash flowing: some booster clubs offer prepared meals from their concession stand for busy parents as a fast-food alternative, while others deliver pre-ordered meals to your seat during the game. If your club doesn’t have the desire or manpower to use your stand regularly, you might consider renting it out to balance the cost.

If you can keep operating costs reasonable and have enthusiastic volunteers on hand for staffing, your investment will pretty quickly pay for itself.

3. There are rules and regulations regarding the operation of mobile concessions stands, and they vary by state. You’ll need a permit to operate your stand, and your state may require specific licensing and insurance for your trailer or cart. Make sure you thoroughly understand what’s legally required on your end before you start selling. Check your local guidelines with the U.S. Small Business Administration, or your local department of health.

4. Health and safety codes are strict, and you will be inspected. Point three touched on this, but it’s important to understand the extent to which your trailer or stand will be expected to operate as a restaurant. In Florida, more than two dozen high school concession stands examined by state health inspectors were found unsatisfactory. After her school spent “a few hundred dollars” bringing their stand up to code, Booster club president Terry Roharman said, “We’d been doing everything we thought was right, but when you’re not in the restaurant business it’s different — you don’t know.”

At first, navigating your county’s health and safety standards can be a bit daunting, but local reps are often happy to help. Exact requirements for operating a mobile food vending trailer vary in each county, and local code requirements will have to be obtained through your county health department. Depending on what you serve and who is serving it, your trailer will be required to meet certain guidelines. If you’re preparing and serving hot food, for example, you might need specific sanitation equipment and your volunteers will likely need food handling certification, but in some states only children above a certain age may be certified. No manner where you are, odds are good you’ll need to find a permitted food facility that has agreed to let your club use their facilities for the storage, servicing and cleaning of your vehicle. For most counties, a quick online search will lead you to a rundown of permits and guidelines for operating your stand.

Make sure your club’s trailer is well-equipped to meet health and safety standards, and that each volunteer understands the importance of following them.

5. It’s the right time. Various surveys have declared this the golden age of the food truck, which means great things for concession stands. In the past, food served on wheels had a bit of a stigma, but recents studies find that 2.5 billion people eat street food each day. Concession stand fare is no longer considered a greasy, seldom-indulged treat, making your customer base pretty huge. Buy a trailer, and get cooking!

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