help me put together the best festival concessions stand ever!
September 20, 2016 8:44 AM   Subscribe

I just spent the weekend slinging beverages at a music festival, and have already signed up to be on long crew next year. In anticipation of this, my compatriots have asked me for suggestions to improve our setup, to be provided ASAP so we can find, get donations for, make, or otherwise procure everything before our next fest. Can you assist in drawing up a list?

Here are my most pressing concerns, in order:

1. Collecting and confirming orders from Deaf customers
A significant percentage (>10%) of the ~1,200 festival attendees are Deaf. Interpreters abound at the festival writ large, but not in the concession tent. I am an expert lifelong finger-speller who knows a small handful of other words in ASL, but finger-spelling stuff like "3 iced almond milk lattes with 2 squirts of caramel, right?" to confirm orders when there were usually 30+ people in line behind my one customer was not fun for anyone. I am absolutely willing to learn more ASL, but I know that's not going to be feasible for everyone working concessions. Would making a set of laminated paper menus that could be pointed at/written on with dry erase markers be seen as inappropriate or condescending toward the Deaf community?

2. WASPS and BEES (obligatory)
OMG. We had dozens of wasps flying around and drinking out of the coffee syrup dispensers at all times and a couple of my co-workers got stung. We put out traps, which were very successful in attracting wasps/bees, but our customers were totally freaking out about their proximity to the cash register. I put plastic cups over the syrup dispensers but eventually the Stinging Ones figured out my ruse and started crawling directly up into the dispenser nozzles to feast. *shivers* How can we keep the wasps not just enticed toward and then trapped in a bottle nearby, but away from our work area altogether?

3. Drink offerings
We had carbonated and non-carbonated, caffeinated and caffeine-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, dairy-free, and vegan drink options, including a full line of Coke AND Pepsi products, root beer, lemonade, sweetened and unsweetened iced tea, a variety of hot teas, iced and hot coffee, water, and six (!) different kinds of dairy and non-dairy milks. If you've attended a festival that had an impressive N/A drink menu, are we missing anything? Ginger ale or ginger beer, maybe? Red Bull or Monster? Fruit juice?

4. Lines turning back into crowds
Even though I was very clearly the only person making drinks and taking money, customers in the original single line gradually spread across the width of the entire counter to make FIVE lines, and were then very upset with me for not knowing who was next. I had a sign up that said "Please form a single line" but apparently no one noticed it or cared. So aside from occasionally pausing to yell out what was on the sign (which certainly isn't ideal because it leaves our Deaf customers in the dark) or buying a set of stakes and ropes to physically corral them in (not thrilled with this option but I'll do it if I have to), is there anything that will prevent concession line entropy from reigning supreme?

Any other tips or tricks from fellow festival concessions workers or attendees would be much appreciated!
posted by amnesia and magnets to Food & Drink (10 answers total)
For number 4, I would definitely find some stanchions and ropes/lines and force the issue. People will naturally kind of slump into crowds given the chance, and a physical barrier from doing that keeps everyone from having to make decisions about who is first and where to go.
posted by xingcat at 8:51 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

4. Lines turning back into crowds

Sign saying "ORDER HERE" slightly above head level. Maybe even another one saying "PICK UP HERE" just far enough away that you can stand at the "ORDER HERE" sign, take an order, take the money, turn to make the drink and put the money away, then turn back to the "PICK UP HERE" sign with the drink and the change. Put another sign or somesuch on the counter between them to cut down on the counter space.
posted by Etrigan at 8:51 AM on September 20, 2016

1) My favorite lunch place serves sandwiches/soups. They have a pad of paper on the table with the menu. You choose the bread, filling, toppers, chips, etc. I LOVE the set up. I get check the boxes and when I've decided hand it in. Then the cashier knows exactly what to charge for.

With the chaos and noise of a festival I would think this might work well. A high top table with pads and a zillion golf pencils might be helpful to everyone that has to take an order for a group. No one has to remember anything.

It also makes it possible for a deaf person to actually work in the stand which could be very helpful in assisting deaf customers.
posted by ReluctantViking at 8:52 AM on September 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

4. I think you'll either have to corral people or do a take a number thing for this one. A sign isn't going to cut it.

Also, will you have more people helping you this time? It seems like with that many drink offerings, you could separate them a bit. Do you have data on what sold best last year? If so, you could use that to create a couple different stations/lines. One for water, one for sodas and one for everything else (including water and soda). This way if someone wants only water or only soda (just my best guess at what would be most popular), they could quickly get their stuff and go. It would make the people in the "everything" line feel like their line is going slow, though, so I would set up the lines to not be next to each other. Ideally, you would have separate tents but if you can't have that, I would set up in the middle of the tent with spokes coming off the area just so you could put a little distance between them (this will help with the line thing too, I think).
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:56 AM on September 20, 2016

Imagine turning your setup from an open booth with a long counter into a screened in "kitchen" with sliding windows, which are the obvious only place to stand to talk to a person. (this is what ice cream stands are like in my area, I'm not sure if that's a clear visual) If sufficiently enclosed, that could address your wasp issue. Even with an open counter, maybe you could still control crowds by creating an obviously blocked region; fill that area with a stand-up menu sign, or a display stand that blocks eye contact with the servers, and customers won't think they could possibly be in line while standing there.
posted by aimedwander at 9:08 AM on September 20, 2016

Is there cell phone signal there? A system where people can order ahead via a web site or app would help alleviate some of the queuing and ordering problems. The wide selection of beverages is great, but it also increases the level of indecisiveness of people trying to figure out what to order and gives more opportunity for confusion to cause problems in accurately fulfilling the order.

Ginger beer would be a nice addition though.
posted by Candleman at 9:53 AM on September 20, 2016

Would making a set of laminated paper menus that could be pointed at/written on with dry erase markers be seen as inappropriate or condescending toward the Deaf community?

OMG I would love this.* This could also help out people with poor English speaking skills, or heck, even people with sore throats from yelling at a concert. Picture of a latte, the words skim, soy, etc. and a dry-erase pen to circle them. Just don't put "FOR DEAF PEOPLE" on it and you'll be fine, I don't think it's condescending at all but I'd let them try to order as they are comfortable before foisting it on them. Perhaps just set it on the counter so they can pick it up if they like.

*Although I think the harder part is you communicating to them. If they're in line they've probably already figured out how they're going to try to communicate to you. I'd try facing them and talking first (because lots learn how to lipread) before writing something down (e.g. we're out of soy).
posted by AFABulous at 9:59 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Fans help discourage bees and other insects.
posted by metasarah at 9:59 AM on September 20, 2016

Even though I was very clearly the only person making drinks and taking money

I think the biggest improvement you could do would be to make sure this doesn't happen again. Have adequate manpower so people aren't standing in line forever to get a drink. I'd far rather save twenty minutes in line than have 6 different options for milk.
posted by valoius at 10:59 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you need to balance your goals here. More drink options is going to make things more complex, which is going to slow things down. And part of making the experience great is making things move quickly! I agree that you need a second person, for sure, and a good plan/flow for how you'll handle operations and communication.

If anything, I'd cut back on the number of drink options! Fewer items means less planning for ordering, and an easier station to organize. You could easily cut out one of the soft drink brands, and drop a few of the milk options. Really, I think you only need whole, skim, soy, and one other non-dairy.

A sandwich place near me does the laminated card with dry erase marker thing to take orders. I think that would be a great idea! Especially if people are getting fancy with the drink orders.

I agree about stanchions*. They are great for controlling crowds. If you can't buy/rent them at a decent price, you can make your own. There are a ton of instructions online. I think we filled 5-gal buckets with concrete and stuck in PVC pipe. I can't remember exactly how we connected the ropes.

*plus, you've now learned a new vocabulary word!
posted by radioamy at 2:51 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

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