Charles loves to cook and enjoys trying new recipes every day. He specializes in recreating gourmet comfort food.
Hot Dog Vending, a Fun and Rewarding Hobby
Starting and setting up a new hot dog stand can be a daunting experience. I've been in the food vending business for many years, attending and providing food to thousands of customers. A hot dog stand at a food festival can quickly become a lucrative and enjoyable weekend endeavor. Follow along with me as I break down the basic products and equipment I personally use to run a very simple, successful, weekend hot dog vending stand.
You are going to need a basic vending booth to get started. A simple 10' x 10' pop-up tent is a must to keep you and your equipment dry and shaded while working. For more space, I suggest a 12' x 12' pop-up tent This covered location is going to be your storefront and prep area, make sure to keep it neat and presentable to your customers. First impressions are important.
At least three plastic rectangular folding tables are needed to provide counter space for your cooking and vending equipment. I like to arrange this in a horseshoe pattern. Place an eight-foot table in the front of the tent with two six-foot tables on the sides. This should be sufficient to hold your cooking and food holding equipment as well as any supplies. Try to keep your supplies covered and under the tables to allow floor space for moving around.
Pro Tip: Invest in washable, spandex, cloth type, tablecloths designed for rectangular folding tables. These table cloths are durable and will improve the appearance of your hot dog stand versus the cheap plastic type. They also provide a covered space to store supplies out of the view of your customers.
Basic Cash Register
A basic cash register is needed to handle your sales transactions. As your business grows, you may want to invest in a digital point of sale system (POS). POS systems can be used with either a cell phone or tablet and simplify the process of accepting credit cards with the use of an app. The cash register and POS systems can be found at Staples, online at Amazon, or Office Depot. Hot dog vending is primarily a cash business, with the ability to accept credit cards, you should be able to maximize your earnings by catering to customers that aren't carrying cash.
A decent size generator is a must. A 5000-watt minimum inverter type generator is ideal. An inverter-type generator is much quieter than a standard generator, you'll thank me later. It helps keep the noise to a minimum and prevents nearby vendors from complaining. You will need electricity for your hot dog roller grill and warming trays. If you plan on doing nighttime festivals, you will definitely need some lighting. A quality generator is necessary for your success as a hot dog vendor.
You will want to use heavy-duty 10 or 12-gauge extension cords. These extension cords should be rated for outdoor use. Keep a couple of 25' cords on hand. Keep these cords in good repair and inspect them regularly for cracks or breaks.
At least two 18-gallon heavy-duty plastic storage totes are required to transport and store food and equipment needed at the food stand. Storage totes provide storage and prevent rodents and insects from getting to your food and supplies.
Food Prep and Holding
Cooking Hot Dogs
Depending on how you intend to prepare your hot dogs will dictate the cooking method. My favorite cooking method is with a hot dog roller grill. I personally use a countertop unit from Olde Midway (available at Amazon for a reasonable price) that can cook up to 30 hot dogs at a time. This method allows for cooking large batches of hot dogs at once and provides for a wonderful grilled flavor that appeals to a wide audience. It can be placed on the front counter allowing potential customers to visually inspect your delicious hot dogs. The second method I prefer is either a gas or charcoal grill. Grilling hot dogs this way creates a crispy exterior and a smoky taste that the roller grill just can't provide. The only drawback with this method is if you intend to use a gas/propane grill, you will be subject to Fire Marshall inspection and will be required to meet the standards set forth by the local fire department. You will need to have the proper fire extinguisher on hand as well. Charcoal and gas grills are bulky as well. Something to consider when planning to transport everything to a festival or event.
Hot Food Holding
You will need something to hold your cooked hotdogs and keep them at the proper temperature. (See photo example below) You will also need a thermometer capable of checking your food holding temperatures frequently throughout the day. For holding cooked food, a countertop, electric food warmer is going to be your best best. These warmers provide even heating by producing gentle steam heat below the tray that holds your hot dogs. These are reasonably priced and can be found at Amazon or your local restaurant supply store.
Cold Food Holding
Keeping your hotdogs and condiments cold is important for safe food handling. You will need to invest in a couple of coolers to keep your drinks, condiments, and hotdogs cold during transport and while serving during the event. Keep drinks in a separate cooler away from any food items. Pack with plenty of ice to provide cold drinks for the customers.
Nobody likes dirty hands. To prevent food-borne illness, invest in plastic gloves for you and your staff. Remember to wash your hands frequently and wear your gloves when touching, serving, or preparing food for human consumption. Stay away from latex gloves as there are many people that are allergic to latex products.
Serving the Customer
Paper Hot Dog Trays
You can't just hand a naked hot dog to your customers. A convenient paper hot dog tray is a great serving vessel that provides a landing place for your hot dog and allows the customer to hold the hot dog in their hands without getting burned.
I like to keep it simple when it comes to hot dog condiments. Ketchup, mustard, and relish are the top three must-haves when operating a hot dog stand. These condiments are shelf-stable and should be refrigerated after opening. You will need to provide a cold location for these items. (See photo example below) Depending on your setup, condiments like chopped onions, sauerkraut, and chili/cheese can also be appealing. These particular items will require extra prep and a warm/cold holding space. Keep these considerations in mind when choosing condiments. Condiments should be kept on the side of your vending booth away from the cash register to prevent overcrowding.
Membership at large shopping club stores like BJ's, Costco, or Sam's Club is a must. To ensure the largest profit margin, it's best to buy your food and drinks in bulk. Saving money by purchasing in bulk allows you to pass the savings along to your customers and remain competitive with your pricing.
Customers prefer 100% all-beef hot dogs. Make sure to offer a quality hot dog to keep people coming back. In my opinion, a 1/8 lb. all-beef hot dog with a snappy texture is probably the most popular style of hot dog. Serve these in a soft, quality hot dog roll like Martin's potato rolls and folks will definitely return for more.
Keep several varieties of soda, water, juices, or iced tea available. It's good to provide diet versions of whichever drinks you offer.
The club stores offer great selections of vending size chips and snacks. It is good practice to purchase cases of different varieties of chips and snacks.
A good place to pick up your ice for the day. Club stores offer ice in bulk at prices cheaper than your conventional grocery store or gas station.
Hand Washing and Sanitation
Most food festivals will require an inspection from the local board of health. Inspectors will check to see if you have some sort of handwashing station. A great solution is the inexpensive five-gallon hand wash station from Igloo. This device is basically a 5-gallon bucket with a lid and a spigot at the bottom. It's also good practice to keep cleaning supplies available for wiping down surfaces and prep areas. Any cleaners should be food safe. Make sure to read the labels and select products that are safe to be used around food products.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Charles Kikas