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Ultimate reveal on what festival catering really costs

Mobile food stalls are a vital ingredient in the UK’s festival scene. They provide revellers with the chance to sample new cuisines, as well as the sustenance to keep them dancing all night.

And with more than 100 festivals taking place in the UK each year, ranging from a day in a local park to the extravaganza that is Glastonbury, there’s bound to be somewhere for you to pitch your stall or van and turn a profit.

Read on for our low-down to festival food, covering topics including choosing your festival, calculating your profits, and picking the right catering insurance.

Are festivals a good place to turn a profit?

When you think about festivals, you probably think of partying till dawn to your favourite acts. But as a caterer, it’s not just about the music – it’s about the market!

With more than 200,000 revellers, Glastonbury is the size of a small city. Download, Reading, Leeds, the Isle of Wight and the V festivals also attract huge crowds, all needing two to three meals a day.

Side note: if you're looking to cater for large groups of people, take a look at our article on how to cater for 100 people on a budget here

Even smaller festivals are well attended. And since most people won't leave the site during the festival weekend, they're a captive audience for your delicious fare.

Not only are you likely to sell lots of food, it’s also a marketing opportunity for your brand. Several famous restaurants and cafes started out as simple food stalls, then brought their festival fans to their new bricks-and-mortar venues.

Plus, of course, it's fun for you and your staff. While there's no doubt that you'll be working flat out, you'll also be soaking up that special festival atmosphere – and you should be able to hear a few of your favourite bands during your breaks.

So are festivals worth your while financially? The statistics are promising.


So festivals are big business in the UK. But how much of that footfall and spend can you expect to come your way?


Predicting your takings

Of course, there are lots of factors that will affect your takings. But the main issue is simply how many dishes you can serve, and how much you charge for each one.

So if you have four servers selling 25 meals per hour for 10 hours, at £10 per dish, over three days – your takings will be £30,000. Then add on drinks and snacks, and you'll see that your earning potential is huge.

However, don't forget that there are natural lulls outside mealtimes. And if you are selling only sandwiches or ice creams, you're unlikely to do much business for breakfast or dinner.

Plus, if it's bad weather, you'll do a roaring trade if you can offer a marquee to diners – and less well if they have to eat standing in the rain.

How much is it going to cost?

As you might expect, you do need to factor in quite a few costs when catering at a festival.

First of all, whereabouts is the festival being held? Transport costs are important, particularly if your chosen festival is at the other end of the country - you may even need to factor in a hotel stay or two.

Next up, it’s your pitch fees. These can range from a few hundred pounds to several thousand, so you'll need to choose the right pitch for your business. Be aware that you may be able to barter on price, particularly at smaller festivals.

Your next biggest cost will be stock, which can be tricky to calculate. You need to bring enough to serve those hungry hordes, but not so much that it will go to waste.

Staff costs are another major expense – don't forget to include travel and food as well as wages.

Marketing outlay may be necessary – for example, signs for your stall and branded aprons or uniforms for your servers.

Amenities charges for water, electricity and so on are also important, so check with the festival organisers to see if these are included in your pitch fee. 

Be aware that some festivals charge an "organiser's cut" of 25-30% of your takings on top of your pitch fee.

If you're just starting out, you need to consider set-up costs for equipment, training and licences. And don't forget catering insurance, too!  

Maximising your profits

Take your costs away from your potential takings to get your possible profits. Hopefully, it's still a healthy ballpark figure.

But how can you maximise your chances of turning your festival season into a profitable one? Here are a few tips.

Firstly, pick your festival wisely. It’s no good competing for a pricey pitch at Glastonbury if you’ve got no chance of earning more than the fees. Have a look around for a smaller festival – perhaps a local one?

Secondly, consider your market and your competitors. The top-selling festival foods are all the standards – burgers, pizzas, wraps – but at the larger festivals, there will be several vans and stalls providing these.

In that case, you might well do better offering something more niche. In fact, according to research conducted for the UK Festival Awards, a majority of festival-goers said that having a diverse range of food and drink stalls was important to them.

Thirdly, make sure you’re covered in case anything goes wrong. Catering insurance covers your vehicle, fixtures and fittings, making sure your livelihood is protected.

Finally, have fun!

Get a quote from Mobilers today

Catering at festivals is enjoyable but hard work – so you don’t want to have to worry about things going wrong.

With more than 20 years’ experience in mobile catering insurance, Mobilers is your ideal festival partner.

We can arrange cover for different types of catering vehicle, with values ranging from £1,000 to £200,000. Cover for valuable fixtures and fittings is also available.

Contact our team and get your festival season started today!

Frequently asked questions

Is a festival catering competitive for caterers?

A festival can be an incredibly competitive environment for caterers, especially those in the mobile business. With so many food vendors vying for the attention of festival-goers, it becomes essential for caterers to stand out from the crowd. The key to success lies in offering unique and enticing dishes that capture the taste buds and imaginations of customers. While the competition may be fierce, a festival catering business can be highly rewarding and profitable if done right.

How can I stand out as a caterer at a festival?

As a caterer at a festival, one of the best ways to stand out is to have a unique and eye-catching mobile business setup. Instead of just setting up a basic food stall, consider investing in a quirky food truck or a colourful booth that reflects your brand. This will not only attract attention from festival-goers, but it will also create a memorable experience for them. Additionally, offering a diverse menu with innovative and creative dishes will help you stand out from other caterers.

How can I prepare for a festival for my mobile food business?

Preparing for a festival for your mobile food business can be an exciting and profitable opportunity. First and foremost, you'll want to research the festival and gather information about the expected attendance, demographics, and any specific guidelines or restrictions for food vendors. This will help you tailor your menu and offerings to suit the festival-goers. It's also important to plan your inventory and supplies in advance, ensuring that you have enough food and ingredients to meet the demand. Consider offering special festival-themed dishes or discounts to attract customers. Lastly, don't forget to promote your participation in the festival through social media, flyers, and word of mouth to maximise your visibility and attract more customers to your mobile business.

Do festivals take a cut of food caterers profits?

Many mobile businesses rely on festivals as a major source of income, but they also have to factor in the costs and fees associated with participating in these events. While some festivals do charge a percentage of the caterers' profits, others opt for a flat fee or even provide free booth spaces. Ultimately, it depends on the specific festival and its policies. However, it's important for food caterers to carefully consider these factors when deciding which festivals to participate in to ensure their profitability.

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