Last week, Michael and I ran Lino’s Italian Restaurant’s very first festival booth. We slung homemade meatball submarines and lasagna for $5 each and worked hard to entice people to visit our brick and mortar location near by. We made t-shirts, signs, and even did a little dancing. Although less than profitable, it was four cold, rainy days of learning. Although I cannot say I am an expert of hometown festivals with only one under my belt, I’d like to offer my insight for independent restaurants looking to gain more exposure.
1. Attend the festival as a guest. This might have been our biggest mistake. Our choice of Troy Daze was based on the relatively inexpensive price of setting up and the smaller crowd. Not knowing what to expect, we wanted to start small. Taking the festival’s chairperson’s word that there would be 50,000 people all hungry for meatball subs, we were a little shocked to find that the much smaller crowd (5,000 people) wanted only fried carnival food. Had we attend the festival for ourselves the previous year, we might have been able to tell that Troy Daze’s clientele was not for our restaurant. We might have fared better at a festival geared towards food, not rides.
2. Critique your menu to the weather. Our only saving grace was the fact that the weekend of the festival was frigidly cold. Our piping hot lasagna warmed up chilled hands and kept people toasty as they enjoyed the festival’s rides. Although it can be difficult to plan your food’s temperature for the impending weather, it’s a good idea to leave some room for hot or cold drinks. Had we also offered hot chocolate or coffee, our booth might have been packed.
3. Market your hottest feature. At Lino’s, everything is homemade. My boyfriend’s grandma and great grandma spend their mornings making sauces, pastas, soups, stocks, and meatballs from scratch, the old Italian way. Since this is unique to us, it made sense for us to play it up. Making signs highlighting your unique selling point is a sure fire way to get people’s attention. In addition, Michael’s ten year old sister helped us out, and who can say no this adorable girl?
4. Use social media! If your restaurant is not on Facebook and Twitter, it should be (more on that later). If it is, USE IT! Post reminders that your business will have a booth, post links to the festival’s website, travel directions, whatever, a week or so before the event. When the event is live, post photos of you and your gang having fun, serving food, and enjoying the festivities. Someone sitting on Facebook will likely think you’re having more fun and come and check you out.
5. Beautify your tent. We didn’t really take into account the aesthetics of our tent. White tablecloths, white walls, and a big, silver warmer was pretty much the visual visitors got of our fine dining establishment. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t memorable. Take the time to pick out fun tablecloths, make eye catching signs, and hang things from your tent wall. If it doesn’t give you more traffic (and it should) at least you’ll have a more pleasant living space.
Here at Lino’s we are checking the surrounding area’s calendars for our next festival. With one under our belt, we’re hoping to knock ’em out in round two. But what about you? Has your restaurant set up a booth before? How’d it go? Would you do it again? Let us know by commenting below, we’d love to hear from you!