Chowing Down

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Holding a horse show is a lot of work, and you may feel overwhelmed with the details. You need to find a judge, order ribbons, rent a sound system and complete a seemingly endless set of tasks. In the excitement of organizing an event, it is easy to overlook providing food and drinks for your competitors and spectators. However, a good concession stand keeps your competitors and spectators happy and makes them want to attend future events. It also can increase the profits from the current show.

Food Options

You have several options for adding a concession stand. Each offers different benefits and affects the amount of work you’ll need to do. Consider how much time you can commit to running a concession stand, your budget and your event’s needs when making your choice.

Here are a couple of strategies:

1. Hire an outside company to provide food. Show manager Celeste O’Neill runs Winning Weekends Equine Events in Scotia, N.Y., which runs both open and APHA horse shows. She feels that hiring a catering company to provide food makes her shows easier to manage. Although she doesn’t earn money from food and drink sales, she also doesn’t have to worry about finding people to staff the concession stand, getting food permits or dealing with the liability involved with selling food.

If you decide to hire a catering company, talk to other show organizers in your area to find out who they use, or look for catering services in the phone book. Make sure the company you select understands your event. Let them know the number of people expected and give them a list of prohibited items (for example: no alcohol or glass bottles). Ask the company for proof of general liability insurance that includes product insurance, and discuss costs. Many companies don’t charge the show organizer for their services but keep all proceeds from the concession stand. Others contribute a percentage of concession sales to the show. Some require a guarantee that they will make at least a certain amount of money. If concession sales fail to meet their required income, they expect the event organizer to pay the difference.

Bev Nohr of Dunlooken Farm in Glencoe, Minn., suggests finding a local charity to run the concession stand. In her area, she says, most shows ask the local 4-H club to organize the concession stand. The club provides all the food, equipment and staff. This allows the club to advertise and promote itself while making money the club needs. Plus, the charity responsible for the concession stand can help advertise your show and bring in more exhibitors and spectators. Just as when using an outside company, ask the charity for proof of insurance.

2. Do it yourself. DeAnn Gutowski of Prairie Creek Farm, Chesaning, Mich., hosts four shows a year and judges shows throughout the area. For small shows, she suggests organizing your own concession stand. Although it is a lot of work, a good concession stand can add several hundred dollars a day to your show profits. Running the concessions also allows you to control the quality of the food as well as the selling price.

She says that in her area she can sell pre-packaged foods or ask for donations to help with the cost of food instead of selling for a set price—without getting a food permit. However, health regulations vary, so it’s best to check with city or county officials a couple of months before the show to see whether you need a food permit. Some counties don’t require permits under certain conditions, but most require you to follow food-handling safety procedures, and some require you to complete a course. You also need to talk to your insurance company to see if selling food is covered under your general liability insurance. If not, add product insurance to protect you in the event someone has a reaction to something they purchased from you.

If you opt to run your own concession stand, keep the menu simple. Too many food options can be hard to keep up with—and foods that require special cooking or handling take up too much time.

Food and Drink Needs

Regardless of which option you choose, you need to decide what type of food and drinks to offer. Jennie Condon and Gwynna Smith manage shows at N Bar H Riding Club in Barrington, N.H. In their experience, people generally expect certain types of food at a horse show and complain if the concession stand doesn’t provide it. Although they contract with a company to provide food, they provide guidelines. They require at least one hot and one cold main dish option (for example, hamburgers and sub sandwiches). They ask their food supplier to provide vegetarian options as well.

Condon says that salads and additional options to basic fare go over well (for example, cheeseburger and bacon cheeseburgers in addition to plain hamburgers). But she and Smith have found that their clientele don’t appreciate foods like pasta, Mexican dishes or other restaurant-style food.

Remember when planning your menu that competitors are often in a hurry to eat before climbing back on their horses, so provide items that aren’t too messy and are easy to hold. A chili-dog isn’t a good idea—it is messy and requires a plate, knife and fork—but a hamburger in a wrapper or a bag of chips is easy to grab and eat. Competitors also appreciate bottled drinks instead of cups.

Gutowski adds that the concession stand must be prepared to serve food for a long period of time—some people eat lunch at 10:30, before they show, others wait until later in the afternoon. Having food available throughout the day keeps both competitors and spectators happy.

Guests will also appreciate a breakfast menu. Cathy Atkinson of Northwest Equestrian and Event Center in Boring, Ore., used to run a concession stand out of her facility’s kitchen, and she found that her clients rarely had time to eat before getting to the show. Breakfast sandwiches, bagels and hash browns were big sellers at her shows. Donuts and muffins are popular for breakfast as well. Coffee is a must throughout the day.

Although easily overlooked, good food can keep the contestants at your shows happy—and anything that makes them happy will keep them coming back for more shows.