How to Operate a Concession Trailer

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If you're looking for a business you can get into for a small investment, that allows you to travel to interesting sites and work independently, a concession trailer might be for you. These trailers can be pulled behind a truck or SUV to the site of a fair or carnival, or by special arrangement to a school or church event. Your income will be immediate and in cash.

Do the paperwork. Contact your city and county health departments and ask for a manual with all the code specifications and laws pertaining to concession trailers. They'll also be able to tell you whether you'll need a vendor's permit for the areas where you plan to park the trailer. You may need to obtain a personal food handler's license, which might involve taking a class and an exam. Try to get this out of the way before the season begins. Ask whether liability insurance will be required, and consider obtaining it even if it isn't required by law. For a short season, your premiums may be less than you expect.

Prepare your trailer. The health departments will tell you their requirements for the trailer's physical condition. You may need to have four stainless steel sinks and running water if you'll be cooking food on site. In some cases, you may be able to operate under the authority of a kitchen, such as one in a church, restaurant, or meeting hall, that is already licensed, and do your food preparation there. You might need to supply diagrams of the trailer's plumbing and wiring. If you plan to sell only pre-packaged items, such as chips, candy, and canned soda, you might not need utilities at all.

Choose your menu. You'll make more money with one specialty item and a few side items than if you're trying to sell one of everything, especially in the beginning. Try to make your offering unique; there might be other hot dog vendors, so make yours "Chicago-style" hot dogs, or cole slaw or chili dogs. Add cheddar cheese to a standard food item, or use your deep-fryer for more than French fries by offering deep-fried snack cakes or candy bars. Experiment with recipes and cooking times before the season opens.

Outfit your trailer. The menu items you have chosen will dictate what kind of equipment you'll need, in addition to the required sinks. When you have the equipment installed, have a contractor install extra electrical outlets. This is also the time to have exhaust fans, windows and possibly air conditioning installed to keep the staff comfortable. When your concession trailer is fully outfitted, spotless, and in good working order, schedule a health department inspection to receive your permit.

Contact managers at possible sites for your trailer. It might be worth paying rent to park your trailer in a busy shopping mall or outside a popular sporting event. In other situations, organizations might pay you to park on their property and serve their guests. You can move the trailer from one site to another on alternate days Keep in mind that you might have to either drain your fryer--if you have one--or wait until it has cooled before moving the trailer. Ask your local chamber of commerce for the names of companies whose traveling fairs come through your town. Some concessionaires follow the fairs through their circuit, living on the road during fair season.

Have plenty of inventory and someone who is able to drive to another location to refill your inventory, until you get a feel for how much to have on hand. Have plenty of cash to make change for customers. Expect to learn more about running your particular business as you go along.


When you first start out, consider giving out free, bite-sized samples of your specialty items to people who work near your chosen location. It's a great way to build a following.


Be sure you have all permits in place and posted before you open for business. Be sure everyone who will work in the concession trailer has all required training and understands safety procedures. Lock your trailer securely every night, no matter where it is parked.

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