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Mass Production Cooking/Food vending at festival


Hi. I am one of the chef/owners of a soon to open cafe. Next weekend we are going to be vending for one day at a festival featuring music, art, and food. The expected attendance over 2 days is 10,000-12,000, with more people on the day we are vending. There will be approximately 10 food trucks, and several other food tents, some specializing in dessert. We need to have food to serve over about 12 hours.
We are serving a watermelon gazpacho, an open faced sandwich with rarebit and greens/salad topping, and iced hibiscus tea.  Any suggestions on number of portions? Anything else to keep in mind? I have done large events before, just not this large! Thank you very much!

Hi Rachel!

There are a few more bits of information I'll need before I can help you. Is this a free food festival? Do people get tickets for food or are they charged cash?

I ask because I've done many Wedding Shows where thousands of people come through to sample food. It's an incredible challenge to anticipate how much FREE food you'll give away.  

I'll assume you're in this for profit and you're selling for cash. You are one of 10-12 options, so you should figure a "popularity index" for your business. Certainly, 12,000 people aren't ALL going to choose your food. So, figure a percentage of the 12,000 that will choose YOU.

Let's say it's 2000 people. That makes your challenge a bit easier. If you're a chef/owner, you should know how to anticipate portions. If your sandwich has 4 ounces of meat, you'll need 8000 ounces or 500 pounds of meat. If you give 2 ounces of greens/salad topping, then you'll need 4000 ounces and so on. If your portion of watermelon gazpacho is 8 ounces, figure the total volume you'll need.

After the number of portions, you need to consider your production schedule. Will you be able to cook on-site? Will you have room to assemble sandwiches there? Will you have a back-up kitchen to shuttle to and from?

I'd consider "batch-cooking" items to save potential waste. If your main kitchen isn't too far from the festival, get two staffers to run a shuttle and bring 200 sandwiches at a time.

Lastly, you have an AWESOME responsibility, as any food business owner does, to assure the safety of your food. How will you keep cold things cold? What about staff personal hygiene?  All these things need careful consideration.

I've been involved in A LOT of these types of festivals and I have to give you some experienced advice. Don't do it.  If your cafe hasn't opened yet, this is really jumping into the fire! I know you hope to introduce people to your new venture, but I've seen it backfire more times than not.

Is this really in your "strike zone"? Are you comfortable and confident in serving this many people? There is great potential here to alienate customers before you even open because they'll make judgements about your business based on the avalanche you experienced there.

Your money is better spent giving away free food for a period of time on your opening day. Do something outrageous that gets media attention. But, taking on the hardest catering task of all time is no way to advertise your business. Sorry, but I think it's a bad idea.

That being said, I'd be glad to help you if you have more specific questions.  Good luck!

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Chef Todd Mohr. CCE


I'd be glad to answer your questions about how basic cooking methods apply equally to cooking for two in your home, or 1000 for an event. Please don't ask me how much to order from the caterer or deli. That's up to them to consult you on. If you are doing the actual cooking, I can help. My expertise is in cooking for more than 100 people. Your questions concerning cooking methods, amount to purchase, portioning, strategies for food service, and food safety for large production are welcomed. There are plenty of recipe websites on the internet. Please don't ask me for recipes. I don't believe in written instructions for cooking anyway. The more information you give while asking your question, the better response I can give. "How do I feed 100 people at my daughter's wedding?" is too broad of a question. "If I plan to offer chicken and beef for 100 people, how much chicken should I purchase?" is a better question. Visit my website at LIKE ChefToddMohr on Facebook Subscribe to ChefToddMohr on YouTube


I'm certified by the American Culinary Federation as a Certified Culinary Educator. I'm currently a Chef Instructor at three different culinary schools in Baltimore, Maryland. Previously an Executive Chef at a large hospital, feeding 3000 people three times daily over 8 different menus. Also a Chef at The National Security Agency in Washington, DC, part of a team feeding 15,000 people twice daily. Then, General Manager/Executive Chef of various Business Dining Cafeterias, feeding thousands daily. My catering company has hosted many large events, feeding up to 1000 people.

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Bachelor of Arts, Long Island University Associate of Arts, Baltimore International Culinary College

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