Life on the other side of the stall

Your guide to working at (and surviving) a food festival…  

The Food Festival Finder and Food & Drink Guide team dragged their tired selves into the office on Monday morning to a welcome sit down, a warm cup of coffee and were still picking grass out of their hair. Where had they been, I hear you ask? Well, Holly, Jen, Sam and Joe had spent the past three days in a hand-made orchard in a field in Canon Hill Park, Birmingham. They had been at Foodies Festivals and, instead of pootling around this festival leisurely, they had decided to get stuck in and host their own stall and experience the festival from the other side – the traders’ side.

They may have been exhausted on their return (after all there was only one chair between four) but the entire team had smiles on their faces, and they’ve been talking about the festival all week. It was an eventful weekend, and we gleaned some valuable information and advice which we thought it was only right and proper to share with you. If you’re manning a stall or working at a food festival this year, read on…

Preparing for the event in advance

We had a pretty awesome prize to giveaway: a swanky, shiny Apple iPad mini, and from this seed the orchard idea grew. Once you’ve got a theme, run with it! The weeks leading up to Foodies were spent painting crates, sourcing a suitable tree (complete with apples) and hunting down faux grass. Once the props are sorted, it is time to get organised! The key to great organisation? Lists, and lots of them. We had lists of lists inside lists, complemented by flailing arms and shouting. Excitement is something you must factor into your prep. You might find that you’re too excited to remember the fundamentals – like suitable clothes for example, and cash (limited ATMs in fields it turns out!). Don’t forget your playlist for the journey down.

Plan your accommodation wisely

Cheap and cheerful always wins out when it comes to working away, and we can’t recommend our hotel highly enough! They had a rather sensible policy on candles(see below), and a labelled bottle opener by the hairdryer. Why hadn’t we thought of that before? I always need a bottle opener when I’m drying my hair. Booking a bed for the night is advisable; there were a good many traders who had set up tents in the car park and looked at little worse for wear by Sunday. We were incredibly lucky that it didn’t rain at all over the weekend, but standing in a field all day long does leave you a wee bit chill, and it’s a comfort to have a bed and some soft socks to return to at the end of the day.

Meeting and greeting

By far the best thing about working on a stall at a food festival is the sense of camaraderie that is swiftly built up. You’ll get to know your next door neighbours quickly and form bonds that will have you helping each other out (great if you’re the only person on the stand and need to grab a cup of tea) and making each other laugh! These people are like your family for the weekend, and the other traders like friends popping over for a chat. Our little orchard was lucky enough to fit snugly in between The Spanish Hamper Company and Bouchon Wine. So, we were happily in sandwiched between the Sangria and the purveyors of wine – good spot! Jen even took to manning the Spanish Hamper stall (this one-man stall needed a much deserved break), so you might find you learn new skills as well as making new friends. We also popped along to see our friends at The Tipsy Tart and purchased a bottle of refreshing cucumber gin, before we were distracted by a large sign saying We All Love Toffoc and headed over to a discover an eye-catching vodka brand. It wasn’t all drinking though (though that is one of the perks of working a weekend at a festival* see note). The food was phenomenal!

Fill your belly   

This is where it is essential to work as a team and utilise all foraging skills. We found it worked most effectively as a two-pronged approach: nominate one ‘team forager’ for food and one for drink. On a four person stand this works out nicely, as you are left with a ‘front-of-house’ and re-stocker. Utilise your new found friends, as (if you are at a food festival) chances are they’ll be selling food! Most importantly, make the most of your exhibitor discounts, you might find that you can try much more for much less. After all it’s inevitable that you’ll see one thing: “Ooo those churros look delicious!” swiftly followed by another: “Oh wait! It’s a swirly potato on a stick”. There is temptation on every corner and before you know it you’ll be full to bursting and a couple of hundred pounds down as the proud owner of your very own spiraliser. Don’t know what to try? Just ask anyone who comes to your stall. The customers and visitors can sound out the best deals and hottest grub faster than you say “bacon sarnie”!

Evening etiquette

Even though this is a work event, it’s still occurring over your weekend which means evenings are free to spend how you wish. We must confess that we thought we’d be hitting the town after 7pm, but the truth is you’ll be back at your budget hotel and tucked up by 10pm! Turns out it’s pretty exhausting standing up all day. As the event closed for the day, we instead headed over to the rum shack with a number of other traders and indulgenced in some lip-smackingly good barbecue morsels from Pit Smoked Barbecue washed down with a few cheeky cocktails and a good old chin wag about the weekend.

What you’ll get out of your food festival

All in all, you get out what you put in. You’ll find being a trader is exhausting, expensive and takes up a whole weekend, but you’ll find yourself like us, dragging yourself into work on Monday morning, tired and a bit groggy but with smiling faces, ready to recant your tales and explain all those Facebook pictures! We had an absolute ball at Foodies, so much so that you’ll see us again at Foodies, Syon Park.

*A note on alcohol. While this may be one of the only places we’ve ever worked where it was acceptable to have a few drinks on the job, be wary; all-day drinking has a way of sneaking up on you that can mean you’re a little tipsier than planned by 4 o’clock - with three hours still to go. Hydration is key: take lots of water and leave plenty of time to queue for the portaloos!

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