10 Things to Know About
It happens to us all. We’re sitting there by the smoker, sipping on some suds and that thought crosses our minds – “How good would it be if I could just do this every day?” Most of the time, your mind will go to Vending – selling BBQ at events. This is definitely a very attractive daydream – go to a music festival, listen to some awesome tunes, knock off a few icey bevvies, serve up some killer brisket rolls and count the fat stacks of cash at the end of the day. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as all that. Here’s 10 thing you need to know about BBQ vending.
1. There’s more involved than just ‘Scaling Up’
It’s very tempting to think that all you’ll need is more of everything. I mean, you have one pit, so surely you should be able to cook for a crowd if you have four pits, right? Now, while I am an advocate for owning more pits, there’s a lot more involved. The equipment that you’ll need is far more expensive than you’ve probably thought of and tracking it all down can be very time consuming. You may have some great food containers, but are they approved by your local food police? More on them later…
Also, you’re going to need to spend a lot of time sourcing some quality suppliers. If you’re not from a restaurant background, this can be difficult. If you haven’t built a relationship with a quality supplier, then you’re going to be paying premium dollars for things, and you’ll be unaware of all the shortcuts that can happen when you have a good relationship with a supplier.
2. How much should you cook?
Often at home, we overcook. And let’s be honest, it’s kind of deliberate. Because what’s better than having a feast of pulled pork on a Sunday afternoon? Eating it at work the next day of course! However, you cannot afford to overcook at a paid event. Those delicious leftovers are going to eat away at your bottom line quick smart! You’ll need to make sure you understand weight loss from cooking, how much yield you can expect from a pork or lamb shoulder, and exactly how many slices you’re going to be able to get from each brisket.
3. Laws, Insurances, and Councils
I’d love to be able to give you a one-stop answer in regards to these matters, but unfortunately I can’t. In this great state of Queensland and from what I’ve heard from speaking with vendors in New South Wales, each local council has their own set of rules and regulations regarding food service. This is why BBQ teams can give food to the public at some competitions and not others. Moreover, they’ll also have their own OH&S and Environmental regulations. To make things really tricky, if you want to work in different regions you’ll need to have all your licences and permits for each region. Oh, and different regions will focus on different aspects of your operation depending on what they’re most interested in at that time.
Some generalisations I can make is that you’ll need one Food Safety Supervisor or more on staff, and the Food Safety Advisor must be on site at all times. To become a Food Safety Supervisor, you’ll need to complete a course. Hit up Google and let your mouse clicks do the walking. Also, all of your vehicles and gear will have to be insured, and you’ll have to have Public Liability Insurance.
4. Budget. Everything.
Repeat after me: “Everything affects the bottom line.” Seriously. Say it out loud, right now.
Budgeting for a paid event is a lot more involved than just working out how much meat you need to buy. A lot of people forget about all of the ‘Fixed Costs’. These are varied and need to broken down to weekly costs and included in all your budgeting. Examples on Fixed Costs include Insurances, Council Registration Fees (and don’t forget that each Council will have their own fees!), fuel for vehicles, fuel for smokers, certifications, vehicle maintenance and event fees. Yes, that’s right. You will have to pay to sell your BBQ at events.
5. Not all events are created equal
You’ll need to do a lot of research into the types of events that you want to get involved in and decide for yourself if this is a good match for your new BBQ business. Throwing up a marquee at your local craft market is probably not going to be especially profitable. The first hot tip here is to look for events where you have two opportunities for service. A mid-afternoon event is a great example of this – you get to serve lunch, and then dinner. This will halve your set-up and pack-down times and save you on costs. Secondly, two-day events are awesome as they also save you on set-up and pack-down. If you can combine the two, you’ll be winning by miles.
6. Get into a routine
Now, this one might seem a little counter-intuitive. I mean, one of the benefits of working for yourself is breaking out of the Ground Hog Day that is working for ‘The Man’, right? One thing you need to remember is that if you’re vending, you’re on the road. And once you leave your home base, that’s it – if you’ve forgotten something or something isn’t done, it’s most likely not going to get done and that can really bring down your event. As most events are held on weekends, some good advice is to do your food prep on Wednesday, pack up all your gear on Thursday and then cook and serve on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Besides, if you’re the one designing the routine, it’s going to feel a lot better than working to someone else’s routine!
7. Leftovers - the hidden heartbreak
As briefly mentioned earlier, leftovers will definitely hurt your bottom line. Generally speaking meats can’t be reused commercially. Some meats can be cryovaced, chilled and reheated, though the rules on this need to be checked with your local councils. A lot of meats can’t, and no meats can be reheated twice. I’ve been at events where I’ve seen vendors have to throw out $4,000 worth of pork ribs as the crowd turnout was nowhere near what was anticipated. It was honestly heartbreaking.
8. Play it Safe, or Deuces Wild?
Worthy of an article all of its own is the difference between vending and catering. Often when we are conceptualising our BBQ businesses we don’t really understand the difference and blur the two when planning. Essentially, Vending is an ‘At-Risk’ venture, while Catering is far safer. If you are vending at an event you have to purchase everything up front and then hope to recover your expenses. This can be extremely challenging as even a change in the weather can affect how many people will turn up to an event. It might rain, so people stay home, or the sun might come out so people go to the beach. All of these things will play a part. Bigger events where people have to pre-buy their tickets and booked accommodation are pretty much guaranteed as people have already invested in attending. Your local art and craft market, not so much.
9. This is not ‘Field of Dreams’
Just because you build it, does not mean they will come. There are limitless reasons why people won’t turn up to an event, but there are some actions you can take to protect yourself. Firstly, it is possible to get insurance on particular events. For a large event, you might be staring at $65,000 in costs. That kind of investment is absolutely worth insuring. It’s often done with private investors, but contact your business insurer and see if this is an option. Secondly, make sure you’re up on what you can save and what you can’t. Not all food can be chilled and reused. Even coleslaw. Thirdly, it’s important to have a list of local, loyal customers. If you have a big base of followers, especially on social media, putting a post out there stating that you have meat for sale will help you minimise the loss.
10. Expect the Unexpected
This is an old saying, but rings true. Every. Single. Time. Stylistically, Retro goes well with the BBQ scene and it’s tempting to buy an old bus or truck and use it as your work vehicle. But what happens when that vehicle breaks down? If you can’t get to a venue, you have no chance of recouping your costs and may damage your relationship with the event promoter. What’s your backup plan? This is just one example. Grab a pen and a notebook and brainstorm with your team all the possible things that could go wrong and put together contingency plans for each one. Then, if it happens you’ll be able to stay cool and just follow the plan.
So you can see that there is a lot to think about before making the jump into BBQ vending. No doubt it is a fun, exciting, challenging and rewarding venture. And working for yourself always feels better than working for someone else. You just need to make sure you’ve done all your homework, dotted your I’s and crossed your T’s. Then you’ll have the best chance possible to set the BBQ world on fire!
These pearls of wisdom came to me in my interview with Rob from Smokin’ Hot’n’Saucy. Rob runs an extremely successful vending/catering business out of the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and is the Pitmaster of a multi-Grand Championship winning competitive BBQ team. Catch the whole interview and more on: