Concession stand treats – a license to print money.

Photo: CTD 2005

I was at a local fair recently. The kids were hungry, I was thirsty and we all wanted a snack break. But my wife and I knew we’d have to pay the price. At events like these, you’re paying way over the norm for anything. A 16oz soda cost me $4, a simple burger was $8! By the time I had fed my family, I had very little change left from $35. And to be honest, the food was junk. Welcome, my friends, to the over-priced world of event concessions.

It’s actually a double-edged sword. As the consumer, you’re paying the high price of being a captive audience. Be it a movie theater, zoo, church event or a local concert, you can expect to pay serious extra cash for a regular item. From the $5 bag of popcorn to the $4 corndog, these are premium prices for very ordinary foods. But you usually let it go, because you’re having a good time.

You may grumble as you hand over $9 (yes $9) for a beer, like I did recently at a Stevie Wonder concert, but it’s all part of the show. And other than sneaking in food and drink, there’s really not much you can do about it, other than not eat or drink at all.

However, if you’re a business owner or a charity or looking to do a little fundraising, concessions are a veritable goldmine. I did a little digging on this, which wasn’t easy as it sounds. Most companies don’t want you to know food markup percentages, with very good reason. However, a friend of mine recently did a fundraising event and when I asked him about his supplies, he gave me the number and website of a business called Fun Food Products. As you can clearly see, the markups on some of these concession stand items are enormous.

food markup

We’re talking a 97% profit margin on a simple Sno-Kone! But on a hot day, with the sun beating down, those Sno-Kones are in high demand, and people will pay your asking price.

So, you can use this information to save money, or make it. As a consumer, if you’re going out to a gig or fair, go prepared. Grab a bite beforehand or if you are allowed, pack a lunch. We usually take a cooler with sandwiches and drinks if we know we can get away with it.

If you’re looking to make some money, whether it’s for fundraising, charity or your own pockets, concessions are a great way to go about it. You could even hire someone to man the stand for you, at $8-$10 per hour you’ll easily cover the cost of that person’s salary with the huge markups you’re making from the menu.

Bottom line – concessions are very healthy for your bottom line as a business. But buyer beware, as a consumer this is daylight robbery and no mistake.

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Concession stand treats – a license to print money.

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Linsey Knerl's picture

I swear you wrote my mind!  I was just thinking about our upcoming county fair and how much I love the funnel cakes.  Here it isn't so bad:  $5 for a funnel with powdered sugar, and it's big (greasy) enough to give each of us a taste. 

We also try to either eat right before we go (thus giving our tummies a chance to settle before embarking on dizzy rides) or wait until we are done with the fun and stop by the fair church kitchen for a hot beef sandwich, one side, and a drink for under $7.  The 4-H kitchen is fairly reasonable too! 

Just look for those who are doing it as a service and buy food from there.  Many fundraisers are more concerned about providing than profiting, and the prices give it away!

Thanks, Paul!



Guest's picture

And no, I'm not talking about sneaking a flask in under your hat.

Good old Veterans Stadium in Philly always allowed folks to bring in their own food and non-alcoholic beverages. When the Eagles moved their new facility, they tried to prohibit that practice, but the uproar was so pervasive, they were forced to back down.

So even now, both the Phillies and the Eagles still allow you to bring food--packaged in clear plastic so they can identify it, and sealed, unopened non-alcoholic beverages to games.

So even though I've got to shell out for the beers at games, bringing a sandwich, soda and water (Oh, what they charge for water!) for the family helps contain costs. The Phillies also offer dollar-dog nights--a dollar for a hot dog isn't too bad, right?

The kids still get a kick out of the big box of popcorn, but that's about the only thing I'll buy at the ballpark.

Guest's picture

Having been there, done that... concessions can be a very good way to make money, but there are many trade offs.

The hours... long, hot, hours. Weekends and evenings off are not an option. And as an owner or manager, the time not actually spent at an event is spent doing one of three things. Cleaning up from the last event, preparing for the next event, or trying hard to line up your next event.

And while the margin is good, the risks are high. The weather can turn a booming weekend into a bust in no time flat. We had a summer years back that was one of the rainiest ever for the area. We were only one of two food vendors at a Memorial weekend 4x4 truck rally with thousands of captive customers, but the rain was so bad they had to close the trails because too many of the trucks built to deal with the mud couldn't handle THAT much mud. When they weren't able to drive, folks just camped out in their trailers and such, not venturing out.

So what should have been a great weekend, turned into huge loss after paying for labor, transporting equipment etc.

But on the plus side, I did come up with some creative uses for corn-dog batter (hint: try apple slices).

Guest's picture
Lucy Shaffield

There are opportunities to make some money at this. The money made by concession sales are usually off set by different factors. Most people don't know that festivals charge a vendor fee and some have so many vendors of the same item that you do not break even. Expenses include s supplies,cost of your trailer if you have one, gas, labor, health department fees. All of these costs have been incurred before you even make the first dollar. Then you have to worry about the weather, if the person you sent is taking breaks at peak sale times. I bought a concession trailer, and I have learned how to make money by learning from my mistakes. If I had to do it all over again, I would not do it.

Guest's picture

We decided we are not hitting the county fair after last year. In total between entrance fee, just a few ride tickets and food we spent enough to go on a far better trip. For the same money we could have driven to one of the larger cities, gone to a major zoo and grabbed something to eat somewhere. Or we could have driven to one of the larger cities and hit an actual amusement park with decent rides. Being that we could have traveled, paid to attend a better event and grabbed a meal, it would be not so smart to go to the fair again.

We tend to avoid most of the events that do this captive audience style of making money. It has to have a really good attraction and we usually eat before we go and bring in our own water. Water is the one that really makes me annoyed. I have noticed most of the big outdoor events will remove access to running water and charge $3 to $6 for a bottle of water. At events during the day in the summer. This is just setting up people to get dehydrated and drop over. Not just because they are holding water hostage but because the lines are so long you will fall over before you can buy any.

Guest's picture

I read this article and would like to mention two things:

1. Sno-Cones with a 97% potential profit ( they are made from mostly water, the cups are probably the most expensive cost.)

7-11 used to have a profit of 98% on their bags of Cubed ice - they had the machines.

2. There is a music festival that happens in BC, Canada that is owned by one guy - he's got a sweet deal.

* As a vendor you are required to buy your supplies from his guys.

* If you require electricity, gas or water - You are required to get it from him.

* You are required to give 30% of your income off the top to him.

* The festival uses it's own currency - the 30% is taken when you exchange your bucks for dollars.

* Any vendor caught accepting money - will be immediately shut down, and removed.

* Any person working in the festival- must have a ticket to enter the grounds ( somewhat cheaper, but not by much.)

And of course they inspect every bag that comes into the festival for "contraband"

This does not even cover the costs etc involved with the attendants.

Guest's picture
concessions worker

For sure this. We sell shaved ice and make a great profit on it (cups and spoons are our most expensive costs since we freeze water at our park stand) but when we work events, it gets kinda pricy for everything to be moved out there and set up (paying wages/travel) plus fees and stuff. We pay so much before we even sell 1 shaved ice. It's a high risk-moderate reward venture.

Guest's picture
Grill Man

Expensive, yep that's true.

License to print money?. If you only knew what you were talking about, but you obviously don't, at least when it comes to fair and festival concessions,
Do you have any idea how much goes out before one red cent comes in...and it only does that if the weather co-operates and that's just one hurdle we face...this ain't a job for the squeamish.

Insurance costs go up each and every year.
Fairboards jam as many stands as they can at their events..they don't care if vendors have way too much competition per cap.
Lets not even mention fuel costs...nuff said!
Product costs themselves may not amount to much, but a lot of stock has to be a premium.
Help, high rent often hundreds of dollars PER FOOT (known as "privelege") or 20%-30% on gross/
As mentioned on another post, some product has to be bought on site, at whatever they say you have to pay.
Sometimes you have to purchase a particular brand of soft drink and if your not set up for that particular product, they'll be more than happy to sell you what you the "catalog suggested price"...or rent it at a high premium.
Oh yeah, there's all the legal stuff from all the various health depts.(often from town to town, state by state) to the DOT and anybody else that can get their hand in your pocket.
Then there is the help, electric charge, garbage collecton charge, parking charge, camper hook-up charge(unless of course you pay for a hotel/motel).
These are known as "dings" and we sometimes get dinged to death whether we make any money or not at a particular spot and you usually have to put your money up front, sometimes many months in advance.
And last but not least, do you have any idea how much a decent looking outfit costs...some cost nearly as much (and sometimes more) than a brick and mortar joint.

This is a business that you can in fact make a good living, if your willing to work your ass off and take BIG risks, but you make it sound as if food vendors are just rolling in dough...license to print money indeed!
Get a grip...or at least your facts straight!

Have a swell day & and support your local fairs and festivals!!!
Daddy needs a knew pair of shoes...can't hardly afford to drive.

Guest's picture

Grill Man you have said a mouthfull and unfortunately it's all true and well stated.

I have four food concessions that I work at fairs and festivals in Illinois and Iowa. I'm sitting at one now and we closed tonight due to a storm after being open for an hour. I still have to pay a premium price for my locations and I still have to pay my 10 employees full pay eventhough I didn't turn $100 tonight.

Every single item we sell has to be delivered to us. This once upon a time was a free service. When you buy $7,000 - $8,000 worth of supplies a week the food service companies used to deliver them to your location for free. Now we have a little charge called 'fuel surcharge' added to our bills. When you are open Tues-Sun then move Monday to our new location and reopen again the next day it doesn't leave a lot of time to run around time and comparison shop for the best prices on hamburger patties and bottled water. We get it where we can and pay whatever we have to because we have to have it.

We also run Caterpillar diesel generators that are hauled in 28ft semi trailers to power our food operation. Our diesel has to also be delivered to us twice a week at $5.05 a gallon. Plus our trailers don't go down the road on their own. Our big trucks require that diesel as well. It takes 6 supply trucks to haul enough supplies to service my four trailers. We have two trucks for nothing but ice machines and freezers for our bagged ice. It always irritates me when a customer comes up with a 44oz cup they didn't buy from me and wants it filled up with ice for free. They just don't have a clue what it takes for us to keep up with the supply of ice for our paying customers, I'm sure as hell not going to give it away. They then call me every name in the book and usually throw something at me. I once had a patron throw a soda back at me because we don't have lids (that would require a whole other truck to haul enough lids to put one on every drink we sell).

We also carry workmen's comp insurance, public liability insurance, city 'entertainment' taxes, health dept. fees, etc. I have one concession that costed me $165,000 and I had to buy a big straight truck to pull it. That's a lot of bottles of water to sell to make the payments. And grill man didn't mention the blown tires and break downs we experience as well. Wal-Mart doesn't carry semi tires, those are a little more expensive.

It's a hot, dirty, dusty, miserable business where you are forced to deal with the nastiest, unappreciative people. It requires you to work 7 days a week and put in 12-15 hour days on your feet and in the heat. It always amazes me that people will go to a theatre and pay $4.00 for a popcorn but at the fair that's expensive (we charge $1.50)!

So the next time you go to a fair think about what those professional vendors have been through to bring you those products and don't complain when you have to pay $3 for a water and cups of ice aren't free.

Guest's picture

Man, you bleeding heart guys really confuse me. So now it's ok to ream a customer $4 for a Coke because you have it tough? Who asked you to get into that business anyway? I suppose by your reckoning gas prices are fine because oil companies have overheads. THe fact that you guys chose to make a living this way means that you clearly saw a way to make money. Only after the fact did you find out the true costs on your end, but one thing is clear...whatever your costs are, is it fair to pass them on to the consumer who has no choice but to pay your overblown prices?!

Guest's picture

It's fair to charge enough to pay our expenses and make a decent profit for our hard work. We are not there to work hard and make a profit. We charge what the market will bear.
It's called supply and demand. You might need to take some business classes and you might get an idea of why we charge what we charge or better yet why not volunteer at one of these concession stands on a hot summer day without any air.

Guest's picture
I go to the fair SOLEY for the food & gladly pay!

Chris - No one goes into a business to lose money. So, yes, of course, it was to make money. The point is you work hard to make your money and that there are a LOT of costs that the Average "Chris" doesn't see. And, welcome to the world of business. Costs incurred must be passed on to the customer in order to be profitable. That is why the cost of your goods and services are always on the rise. More regulation, more taxation on businesses, thanks to a liberal government who will say they are gonna make them pay. Guess who pays? That's right. It's the customer. In order for a business to remain profitable, some costs must be passed on. That is the dirty little secret the government doesn't tell you. When businesses pay, everyone pays. Want cheaper products? Work for less government interference which will allow you to get your Coke for less than $4. And, I don't recall seeing that anyone reamed a customer. It is usually the other way around, but if I'm understanding your vibe right, you think that's OK. Moronic.

Guest's picture
Nate Slemp

Sooo let me get this straight, you're angry at him because he forced you to buy his product? Was it at gunpoint?

I was in the food vending business to attempt to pay for college when I was in highschool. The profit margins are skewed considerably. I noticed a 85% profit margin selling snow cones and that was just after paying for JUST SUPPLIES.

After paying employees, taxes, fuel fees, electricity, water, space fees, certification fees, vendor fees, etc. I had it figured that I had to do $11,000 worth of business to break even. And, when you consider that my overhead costs were approximately $18,500, you can start to see that this wasn't an easy task.

After two summers, I finally broke even. The third summer, I made about $14,000. Three hard summers that I worked 50+ hour weeks eventually made me $14,000 and that is when I got out of the business while I still could. It was a great learning experience for high school, but vendors who provide a product not pre-made at a bottling company are not getting rich by any means.

If I could go back and do it all over again I would get a regular job. It was more work than it was worth, and I provided a product to people that were not appreciative what I did at all. You really have to try and do it yourself to conceive what goes into it. I would encourage all the ignorant haters to consider things from other perspectives before you gripe. Educate yourselves before you hate, and then decide if it's worth it.

Guest's picture

I would try to avoid foods served at concessions as much as possible. Not only they're more expensive but also unhealthy. As much as possible, I tried to sneak in foods prepared at home*laughs*

Guest's picture

The concession guys can cry me a river all they want, I'm not spending $5 for a bottle of water or a soda. It sounds like more people can't justify the cost vs. benefit of events built on this model. Maybe the concession guys should look at new avenue's of income.

Guest's picture


Prices are determined by supply and demand. Expensive supply (in this case due to fees and transportation costs, among others) and high demand (in my experience, there are always long lines at stands) elevate prices. Also, gas prices are reasonable. Same thing. Oil is becoming scarcer, and people are reluctant to drive less. Incidentally, oil profits are relatively smaller than those of S&P 500 companies.

As far as consumers not having a choice, I've never been forced to buy anything. I prefer not to buy an $8 hamburger, so I don't. If I do, it's because I'm really hungry and the hamburger is worth $8 to me. If you don't like the prices, don't buy anything. If you think gas is too expensive, drive less.

Costs are passed on to the consumer. That's life. It would be great if everything was free, but it's not. The alternative is for the vendors to eat the cost and go out of business, making it impossible to get a hamburger or Coke at any price.

Thanks to those who offered a perspective from the other side of the counter. I agree that the article is one-sided. If concessions were such a slam dunk, Donald Trump would be buying hot dog stands, not real estate.

Guest's picture

Noone's forcing any of you to buy concession products. It's a fact of life and business that when the cost of supplies goes up, the price of the end product goes up. The people that are slamming the concession owners apparently have no empathy or business knowledge. There are plenty of ways to go to a fair or carnival and not break the bank.

Guest's picture

Americans have become a nation of whiners. If we can't buy something at the price we want, we whine to our mommy politicians to pass a law to make the big bad businessman lower his price, or to help us buy it.

grillman wrote an excellent piece. The venue sponsors know the audience is captive, so they want a piece of the action. Because his costs are higher, he charges more.

If you are going to go somewhere, you better factor in the cost of food and drink. Otherwise, bring your own. If you can't, then don't bother. When our local ball club jacked up their prices to pay for the new team and the new stadium, I decided I had enough. I simply stopped going. If I am invited to go, I eat before and bring along snacks and a drink, which we are allowed.

Guest's picture

It's a little hard to look for another avenue of income when you have over a half a million dollars invested in your company Lucille. What once was a profitable venture has taken a turn like so many other businesses. We are taking in the same amount of money that we did five years ago but our expenses have sky-rocketed. So when it's all cut up in the end the amount you take to the bank is very minimal. The profit margins mentioned in the article may be accurate if you had no other over-head other than the product. When you factor in the above mentioned expenses the profit margin is much less.

Guest's picture

Grillman, and co:
I don't get it. Which part of "it's several TIMES the price of the same item from a corner shop, while being several times lower in quality" didn't you get?

By the estimate given, you're still making an average 40-50% profit on items you sell.. scary thing is, a shop that makes 25% profit on average is doing well (I work in retail where we make less profit and yet are quite far from needing to beg for money).

The markups quoted above are also for reputable, good quality items.. not the cheap, recycled, barely-in-date stuff I tend to see being flogged at fairs for many many times it's market price.

$4 for a little bag of popcorn has to take the cake. Specially since you can buy bags of the gourmet brands for less than half that.

Guest's picture
Grill Man

Yeah, wah wah wah, 'kay!

Your right, no one makes any of us do what we do...yet anyway.
This business is not for everyone that's for sure, but it does get in your blood.

I won't lie, when it's good it's good...which is fantastic because it sure does help keep the balance when it's not, which can be unbearably often.
That's when you hear the cries of the wannabe's whinning on the way to the poor farm because they never learned the delicate art of the balancing act.

I'm not whinning or crying just as the other poster wasn't.
I'm just defending against a bogus claim, written by someone who obviously knows not what he speaks.
Feast or famine as they say (right Pizzagod ;-) , that is you out there got a style I think I recognized?)

I'm not crying, or even complaining, I'm saying that we're not the money machines as the writer of this story thinks we are.

That said, we do need to make a living...why is it that folks that do this for a living are vilified for doing just that...we're not getting filthy rich, just trying to make a decent hard earned living and for that I sorry.
(I'll be on my way to skid row now and apply for all the proper assistances...there now, all better right?)

Oh hot damn...I hear Jiffy Lube is hiring!!!!

I'm saying that the majority of FULL time vendors can easily justify their prices whether anyone believes it or not...numbers don't lie, costs constantly rise and our prices really can't keep up...honestly!
We really do try and keep them down, but it's a just a simple fact that we just can't do it and make a fair (get it, fair..ha , I kill myself sometimes) living.

When a man puts his money (and sweat equity) where his mouth is, are some of you saying he should be happy with minimum wage...should he make less per hour than the help (which I've personally seen happen quite a bit ), or better yet, let's just give it away?
Only in this business huh? Sure, why not!

Be sure to inform them of that on your jobs, you know they'll understand...right?...Right??...RIGHT???

Get a grip and by a can slather all the catsup and mustard ya want!
(except them folks down there in Lousiana, they just pour on the mayo..yeah ,I know)
Feel better?

Paul Michael's picture

...i have to say that many people, including myself, take major exception to the fact that when you concession folks have good days, you do so at the expense of other people who have to pay several times the RRP for an inferior product. For those who say "no one forces you to buy it" try telling that to your child who is crying because he/she is very hungry or thirsty. And on those very hot days, water is a right. It should not be a privilege that you have to pay through the nose for.

Guest's picture
Chris P

Anyone who talks about free trade occurring at the "expense of others" has absolutely no business giving out business advice. Period.

If your child is hungry and thirsty it is YOUR job and obligation to feed them. It is not the job of some random business owner you just happen to walk by. You are not entitled to my food or my water or anything else, nor do I have food and water at "your expense." Rather, I have it at MY (often significant) expense.

With that said, during the summer not a day goes by when I don't give away free ice cold bottled water to overheated parents and kids. I do that at MY expense, I buy the water and the ice, and pre-cool it all at least a day in advance. I also sell it of course, but in the last month only ONCE did I make a net profit on it -- generally I manage to sell enough to replace what I gave away.

I am not saying this because I feel like giving away free water is some kind of obligation or the right or moral thing to do. I see food vendors do the same thing all the time. So why do I give it away when I could be making some extra money? First, it's a BUSINESS decision -- I want people, and particularly kids, at my booth and I want them to remember me and come back again. Second, I care about them and I guess I allow this to sometimes overcome my business sense. That's okay though, it's MY money, I work damn hard for it, and if I want to give it away to you or your kids it's my business and pleasure to do so.

Guest's picture

Drinking fountains are in fact .. still free!

Guest's picture
Chris P

This article is hillariously wrong.

Let me start by saying that I do not have a food concession. I looked into it and decided that the real margin was not HIGH enough to justify the incredible up-front costs and hassle. Instead I stuck with my area of expertise -- doing high-end face painting and makeup at fairs and trade days and events.

Like anyone who works these shows will tell you, it's a feast or famine kind of business. If it's too hot it's dead, too cold and it's dead, raining and it's dead, lovely warm day with a gentle breeze -- the only kind of day you have probably ever seen us -- and then you make some money. Hopefully enough to pay for all those other days you sat sweating in the heat or shivering in the rain, wishing someone would come and buy anything from you.

But while the customers may not be there to buy, the folks waiting in line to TAKE your money never take the day off. You paid for that slot, and paid through the nose, whether any customers showed up or not. I had a day this month I made exactly zero dollars. Not zero after expenses -- zero sales at all. The next day my gross was six bucks. I worked twenty hours for six dollars! Except actually I didn't, because I still had to pay for renting the space, and my gas, and MY water and food.

And like I said, MY margin is far higher than any food vendor. They weren't selling anything either. There was no one to sell anything to. But unlike me, they are paying ten times as much to rent the space, and they have perishables and health inspections and a dozen other fees and expenses I don't even have to worry about.

So to wrap this up, I seriously hope no one reads this and decides to use it as investment advice. If you want to get into the business then I will wish you nothing but the best -- you aren't competing with me and if you say hell I might even buy a corndog from you -- but do you HOMEWORK first and start by disregarding everything you read in this article and instead go talk to a real vendor.


Guest's picture

Wow Randy, concession stand food is expensive. You're a friggin genius. How long did it take you to figure that one out? I bet you're the tard at the fair arguing with your kid over getting the ice cream cone.

Guest's picture

Oh man, I was just at the fair. It was really expensive. I saved a lot of money on myself, because I ate a cheese sandwich outside. I'm a vegetarian, and, as expected, my food options were limited to fries, candy, and cheese pizza. My gf spent the money. LOLz.

Guest's picture

Cheese is made using the lining of a calf that has eaten nothing but it's mothers milk........ if you're vegetarian you should be more careful and do your research better.

Guest's picture

Wow... I never knew that there were so many aspects of concessions that I didn't know about. Thanks so much to all of your commenters who have given me some great insights into the business.


Guest's picture

Dear Paul Michael,
I am not a concession vendor YET, but I have been trying with my limited income to become one. I have spent 2 years creating a themed gypsy trailer that I borrowed 5 grand to buy off ebay. Then, It cost me $500.00 to get it and bring it home from LA. Then, It cost me another $500 to install a hitch, break light connection and buy necessary part for it so I could tow it properly. And after the State building department was done with me it will cost me an additional $6000.00 to put in the a hood for a 12 inch grill I wanted to use in addition to all the other strange rules I have to abide by that make no sense and now need to buy $ 800.00 worth of water tanks that are 100 bucks each AND... before I can get a permit from the health dept. I have to get a building dept. INSIGNIA, which cost me $300.00, and then I have to pass inspection which no one passes the first time, and is an additional $237.00 each inspection thereafter, and the best part, the building dept. can't even answer the questions that will pass or not pass me. THEN if I am lukcy after another $300.00 fee the health department will give me a permit for the year, and then whatever unspoken violations I commit I will be charged accordingly. Then there is the product I have to buy AND NO COFFEE IS NOT CHEAP TO BUY. Then my trailer is 12 feet, which is very very small by concession standards, but I am charged for a double space because it is 2 feet over the 10 foot cheaper booth, so I have to pay$700.00 for booth rent plus a 40$ outlet fee. OH, AND did I mention that the SUPER QUIET inverter generator required at some events is $4 grand ? Not to mention, all the other food items and containers. Did anyone tell you that if you don't sell all the food you buy it pretty much goes to waste? The local fair here takes $700.00 plus 30 percent of profit? So, I am lucky if I make $100 bucks when it's said and done. So $20,000.00 and I have not made a dime and have not quit my day job AND I WILL charge more than starbucks for a double mocha because it COST ME more to provide the convienence to you of a MOBILE FOOD FACILITY, it is and honor to serve the public, but EVERYTHING costs, if it did not THEN EVERYONE WOULD OWN THEIR OWN BUSINESS AND NOT WORK for someone else, like you most likely do... Simple point, your cell phone cost more than your land line phone because it is so much more expensive to offer mobile phone service, get my point? If you think that concession vendors rip the public off then why are they all spending their weekends in hot concession trailers or booths for 12 plus hours when they should be tanning on the yacht your assuming they all own?

The Coffee Gypsy

Guest's picture

You are forgetting to factor in the cost of high VENDOR FEES that are burdening the vendors. If the fees were reduced by the venues to a reasonable and fair price, the savings could be passed onto the consumer.

Guest's picture

I spent most of my childhood on the fringes of the carnival and festival circuit, and always gravitated to the food vendors. As time and life passed me by, I realized that this was an area that I really wanted to get involved with. I thought, like most "uninitiated" people do,that this would be a cash generator. I have been diong some research on getting into the food concession business and have learned a few sobering things. The value of a food concession trailer, which can provide the customers with every conceivable item they may want to eat is five times more expensive than it would appear. An average trailer (new, and built to a littany of multi-governmental code requirements,) will easily run $60,000 for a fairly unimpressive-looking rig, to a cost of $180,000 for a unit that will attract customers. Have you asked the bank how much a mortgage on a $180,000 house will cost you EVERY MONTH?

A concession vendor has only 5 to 6 solid months in wich to do business (3 maybe 4 days out of a week - if the weather is perfect) the off months (at least up here, closer to the 48th parallel) there are painfully few events at which business can be had. Still, the bank will want its loan payments on time just the same.

Never mind the fact that the venues are gouging their most captive rate-payers. As a carnival customer, if the weather is bad, or the entertainment is weak, you can leave, having lost out on around $20 for admission. The vendors have to stay for the duration, burning propane, electricity, covering the cost of food (that you didn't buy because you left early) paying wages, inspection fees, booth space rental and on and on...

Of course these costs are going to be passed on... One would have to be a fool not to expect it. What, the vendors are suppose to pay you for the privilege of having something to eat? Give your head a shake! Should they not be allowed to cover expences AND take home enough money to feed and finance their families? Yes, they have to mark up the price a little higher, since there is a chance that the best they can do in the winter to earn money is pump gas for minimum wage.

Yes, being a concession vendor is a choice, as is being a vendors' customer. But, like everything else we do in life, this occupation is as much a lifestyle - something that is in your blood. It is for this reason (and the fact that the banks have a viselike hold on lives - until the trailer loan is paid,) that vendors keep going.

It is for this reason that concession suppliers (food and disposables) jack up their prices. That, and the fact that the many MANY different government regulations restrict the type of food we can serve. To answer to the complaint that so many have over the quality of the food... It is the best that vendors are ALLOWED to sell. Many health departments insist on us using precooked and prepackaged everything. This stuff is way more expensive that we could make ourselves - but we aren't allowed to use homemade. Our suppliesr know this, and hook us through the nose for it.

As for me, I'm going to define insanity and still try to get into this business, even in light of all the real and potentially devistating pitfalls involved. Why? Because for the dozens of malcontented cheapskates that are grumbling over the price of popcorn, there are hundreds of people that enjoy what we do because we fill a basic need and allow them to take part in what a carnival or fair is all about -

The experience!

Wish me luck, and see you at the fair!

Guest's picture
diane beverly

Tomorrow I leave for a 10 hour journey in my new used 3/4 ton truck to pick up a 16 ft.consession trailer... I've given this venture a lot of thought and it's a go...I will make a good living.. why?
Because I have to..I will sell off the wall foods at fairs etc.. a boxed kids lunch? hey im not mickey dee's but i can put to gether a dinosaur outlined PBJ and a jiggles jello w/ real fruit in it and a small water or juice for $4.00 beats a hot dog or fries for a child, my adult menu will be different as trailer will have two serving windows one will be titled the "CLUB HOUSE" and all my club sandwiches will be GOOD!! And a parent can actually take the four triangles of a club sandwich and split it up for themelf &/or their kids. Breaded deep fried Cauliflower? you bet! look for me in Central Florida I'll be there Making Money and serving good eats!!!

Guest's picture
diane beverly

Tomorrow I leave for a 10 hour journey in my new used 3/4 ton truck to pick up a 16 ft.consession trailer... I've given this venture a lot of thought and it's a go...I will make a good living.. why?
Because I have to..I will sell off the wall foods at fairs etc.. a boxed kids lunch? hey im not mickey dee's but i can put to gether a dinosaur outlined PBJ and a jiggles jello w/ real fruit in it and a small water or juice for $4.00 beats a hot dog or fries for a child, my adult menu will be different as trailer will have two serving windows one will be titled the "CLUB HOUSE" and all my club sandwiches will be GOOD!! And a parent can actually take the four triangles of a club sandwich and split it up for themelf &/or their kids. Breaded deep fried Cauliflower? you bet! look for me in Central Florida I'll be there Making Money and serving good eats!!!

Guest's picture

Hey Diane I am interested in how things are working out for you I too am buying a concession trailer in just a couple days....and I thank all who have given all input, even those of you who wonder why does a can of soda cost $1.29 at 7-11 when I can get a 12 pack at Publix for $2.99. There is a reason they are called convenience stores, do you go to Outback Steakhouse and complain about the price of their steaks??....well yeah probably...I have been in restaurants for over 20 years and i know what it takes to run a successful business even a mobile one hard work, determination, lots of pre-planning and a good product...and I am with Wishtobe I am not in it to rape and pillage from those who have come to experience the Fairs or Festivals I will choose to work, rather provide a worthy product and service to all those who choose to patron my "Establishment". I do feel a little luckier than some on here, living in Florida we get to work year round if you're willing to travel enough, seeing as how i love to drive and drive it all works out.

Good Luck to all working on the same endeavors as I.

Guest's picture

Mobile concessions sales may APPEAR to be very profitable to those who have never tried the business, but I ASSURE you they are wrong. The margins shown in the misleading chart do NOT take into account all operating costs. Those who make great profits are the fixed location contractors at large stadiums, race tracks, and other places that draw massive crowds week after week. The bid solicitations for those venues are written so ONLY those who have tens of millions to spend on the required equipment have any chance of winning a contract. Those who have a little trailer that they pull around the country with a pickup truck are always sweating about the weather, the local health department inspectors, the local business license issuers, equipment failures, supplies of every sort, water hook ups, electricity hook ups, the event promoter renting their (prepaid and non-refundable) space to someone else because they were fifteen minutes late arriving, etc., etc. When someone has a little business that takes in money only on weekends, plus travels from place to place most of the week while the operator stays on the phone trying to find a place to work and help for the next weekend, it's not easy to make a decent living. One large auto swap meet operator in Georgia only allows six concession operators to work his property, plus the rent for one 10' x 10' space for one week is $10,000 (cash only - six months in advance) + 30% of the GROSS income. Last fall, the weather was bad and very few people showed up, but there was no refund for the vendors. As "they" say "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence". It's funny how everyone believes every business but the one they're operating is a gold mine.

Guest's picture

If you are really wanting to make money with your concession stand you need something that stands out in your window or something people can smell. You need Cotton Candy, Pickles, or Lemonade if you want to attract a buyer. Try a local specialty concession distributors or online places like if you want items that will help you stand out. Your profit can be more if you sell items people are not accustom to what the price is or what your cost is. Avoid all the standard items everyone buys from the clubs. Most people will not go out of their way to buy a Snicker bar…..but they will for Funnel Cake and Cotton Candy. If it is allowed here is a link to the place we buy our Funnel Cake Mix and Cotton Candy Floss this alone took me weeks to find a good source:

Maybe this will save someone else time…and I hope this helps?

Guest's picture
willy dog

With this economy, it is no wonder that even a simple hotdog would be priced that high. If you are going into the business, we at World’s Best Hotdog have a formula on how to get started and the proper pricing to turn a profit on your investment. You can read it here at

Guest's picture

I agree with some points, about concerts, zoos, stationary attractions, but I am a concessionare, and you forgot to include that events charge us 25-35% of what we make, just to be there. Most of us drive 200+ miles to get there, usually making 2-3 trips with trailers, and have you seen the gas prices? Were just trying to pay the bills like everyone else. We buy health permits and business licenses in EACH COUNTY we go to. I don't know where you got your numbers, but they are not accurate. Maybe the the stingiest of vendors. There are a few out there. My circle of friends take pride in serving only the highest quality of products so that our customers will have a pleasant experience at the fair with memories of great food and will look for us year after year.

Guest's picture

figures lie and liers figure. It cost about a grand to make your first bag of cotton candy, pay the help, ins. , bags, commision to show, marketing, tent and or trailer excluded!. I paid 380.00 for a wire to run from my stand to the power panel, just the wire!

Guest's picture

First let me say that I wanted to start this business but after reading all these Horror stories it has me worried.. My in laws ran a awesome snow cone stand in East Texas and made more money on frozen water then I ever saw, But he always gave back to the community, he sponsored little league teams, girl scouts, boy scouts , bowling teams and one that asked him, ( cost=HUNDREDS OF DOLLAR ) he would loan out his stand for fundraising and give 50% of all profits to the organization.. He would go to the local schools elementary and high school and give out THOUSANDS of free product coupons .. He did all of this because he knew that he was making good money and wanted to share. The customers all knew that he could be counted on and they happily bought from him.. The other thing that bothers me is people will go out to dinner and happily spend 100 dollars on dinner and drinks and never think twice.. They go to movies buy ticket 10-12 bucks EACH then pop corn and pop for 20 dollars and never complain. And that’s robbing right there in their neighbor hoods… The they go bowling, shop at the mall and eat mall food. EVERYONE knows mall food is way more because we have to pay rent. Utilities etc.. and the lines wrap around the store and no one says a THING about that.. But everyone complains when a fair or carnival comes along once a year and everyone also knows you are going to drop a 100 bucks easily.. I know each year that my family and I will buy those yummy fries, those sweet elephant ears with dripping toppings, sicky sweet drinks and enough cotton candy to hurl and I will happily do it.. I will over pay for anything on a stick and be glad I did.. At the end of the day I will leave the fair tired, dirty and full and even tho broke. I will start looking forward to next year.. everyone does it and everyone has memories from those days.. we are buying memories my friends..stop crying about the cost of everything because you could be dying of cancer and would give ANYTHING to be able to go to one more fair and spend 4 dollars for a bottle of water. After a loved one passes away you would beg for another over priced hamburger to share with them.. Its only money .. you will always spend it. Think about it…

Guest's picture
concessions worker

I work a concession stand and our gig is shaved ice. Our shaved ice is $3 for a small (8 oz+ a snowball-sized dome) but the flavors are really good so it's quality, but we use the profit from that to subsidize our other products (because for some reason the owners wont mark up candy or soda enough to profit and we practically sell food for under cost) but since shaved ice (it's like a snow cone) has such a high profit margin we can barely break even. Us working events (we dont inflate prices but only sell shaved ice which costs us pennies to make) we can sell food for cheep at the park in the ghetto where I am now. Markup seems rediculous to you, but they have to pay workers (I make 8.50 an hour) and expenses (food/driving/equipment) so they arent pulling in 3 dollars on a 4 dollar corndog, they're making like 75 cents (if that) yeah it's kinda selling you the short end of the stick, but your other option is to bring your own food/tailgate, which will be a bigger hassle and cost you plenty

Guest's picture

I am in the concession business, and some of these numbers I question. Yes, there is a high mark up on certain items (nachos being one of them), but, don't think that a concessioner is walking away with 85% mark up ion his pocket. Many people only see the cost of the actual product and forget to add pall of the other costs into the ACTUAL cost of producing and selling the item.
Cotton candy..Really cheap ingredients and packaging.
The machine cost around $600.00
The really pretty fancy trailer with the colorful marquee can START at $250,000. The really nice ones are much more.
The help that you pay (even when it is pouring rain outside and no one is at the fair or when it's not a busy time, but it will be in a while)
The rental for the space (this varies a lot, so I'm not even going to insert a number here) OR, if you can pay a percentage to the carnival, which can easily be 25%, 30% or more (off the gross amount sold).
The travel expenses to pull that nice trailer around..A heavy duty truck, camper, stick trailer, multiple trips, gas, etc.
Insurance in case you get sued
Not to mention that all of this expensive equipment may only get used a few months a year depending on where you live.
Then, you can be stuck at an event with rain 4 out of 7 days!

This is just cotton candy..A simple snack food. When you get into items that require grills, fryers, oil, propane, etc. You have a lot more costs associated with them.

So, yes, you could make the items at home cheaper...But, please take a minute to realize that these people are offering a service, they are not becoming rich and that everything in life costs money! They are not there to rip you off. When it is all said and done, they are not making ANYWHERE near 85%.

I always tell people who comment on "How Much" money we must make...Come and work with me for 1 week. You will be running for the hills. It is hard work and there is no guarantee. I have been in the business my entire life (literally) and I am turning 40. I have seen SO MANY people try to make it and last a season or 2. It all looks like we have a license to print money, but I promise you it is not!!

Guest's picture

I'm starting up a small concession stand. I mitigate my costs by only selling cotton candy and drinks. I sell out of the flea market so rent is 120 dollars a month, and at church events and birthday parties. Ive nearly broken even in the month I've been doing this. I make about 200 to 300 a weekend. And with summer I hope to triple that. Not too shabby. The people who are complaining are going after the bigger money with bigger risks. Start smaller and grow slowly. (Aka specialize in one product and sell out of a tent until your profits can pay for a trailer.)

Guest's picture

We started last year with a tent with sides curtains. We like doing the long yard sales and some festivals. Snow Cones $2.00, lemon shake ups 20 oz $3.00, pickle on a stick $1.00, can coke 1.00 bottled water 1.00 A few more items, none real expensive. We now are working on a camper trailer converting it to a concession stand. Yes, everything is expensive that we have to do to it. One part will be our sleeping quarters with separate door. We have always gotten 100 % rating from health inspectors. We are as clean as we would want to eat at another vendor. Weather has a lot to do with sales. I am 71, husband 69 just trying to make extra income to survive. I have seen lots set up selling food that I would not dare eat at. Gloves on hands and they are handling everything then food. Good luck to all who will work, without wanting free handouts. When food is to high I walk on by.

Guest's picture

While there are certainly profits to be made those figures only show food cost. There's space rent which can amount to thousands of dollars, labor, gas, trailer, signs, long hours and if just one thing goes wrong you can make less than the people you hired to help you run your booth or nothing at all. Even at "those" prices the average vendor makes 25 -35 percent . I've done 10 day fairs with bad weather and my profit for the entire 10 days was less than 1,000.

Guest's picture

Consumers forget that the concession guy or gal had to buy a license and rent the space. They are passing on the cost for your convenience.