A Little Raskin: Bumbershoot's Food-Truck Vacancy

The Labor Day fest isn't necessarily a cash cow for mobile vendors.

Food trucks seem like a natural fit for Bumbershoot, where scads of music fans will seek well-made finger food. But festival organizers haven't yet figured out how to lure mobile carts to the event.

"We got started too late in the season to pull together a food-truck program for Bumbershoot this year," says festival concessions director Heather Ryan. But at least one prominent potential vendor, Marination Mobile's Roz Edison, has expressed reservations about ever participating.

Eaters who gripe about the absence of food trucks at crowded events probably aren't considering the organizer-imposed fees, staffing requirements, and permit hassles associated with deviating from a truck's standard schedule, Edison says. "These events are always a crapshoot. I think they're thinking we're going to be killing."

Instead, she says, festivals can be forums for failure. While a brand-new truck might benefit from the additional exposure, established vendors risk alienating their current customers by not meeting their expectations. "You don't want to disappoint people," Edison says. "You don't want to hear 'Why are you so slow?' Folks at [Bumbershoot] aren't in the mood to stand in line."

Edison believes food trucks serving a single item are better suited to busy festivals such as Bumbershoot. "When you're making an elephant ear, you're making one product; there's no customization," she says.

Marination Mobile considered slashing its eight-item menu for festival purposes, but Edison says all the truck's offerings are equally popular: "So we could sell just Spam sliders, but that's one-eighth of our customer base." The truck might be able to expand its offerings with an auxiliary cooking space, but permit rules make such a solution cost-prohibitive. "An outdoor setup is $700," Edison says. "You add that to the $500 and 15 percent of sales [the standard fee charged by festivals], and it doesn't make any sense."

There are less-tangible costs, too. When trucks rejigger their schedules for special events or private parties, their regular customers often are annoyed. "We love our customers," Edison says, adding that festival customers "aren't loyal customers; they're just customers."

Ryan says Bumbershoot organizers haven't decided whether they'll try to include food trucks in next year's program.


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