Whether you want to sell salty kettle corn, cotton candy or juicy hamburgers at a state or county fair, you will need to get approved as a food vendor before you set up shop at the fairgrounds. The process starts by filing out an application and proving you have the financial ability to cover any mishaps that could happen while you and your employees work the fair. Other requirements, such as sales tax and health permits, can be acquired after you have gained approval.
Fairs require vendors to apply for their food booths, sometimes months before the fair. The Erie County Fair in upstate New York -- the second-oldest and third-largest county fair in the U.S. with nearly 1.2 million paid attendees in 2013 -- will ask for information about you and what you intend to sell. You will have to supply references from past fairs and shows. The information will help fair officials to determine if you and your products make a good addition to the fair and complement other fairground offerings.
General liability and workers' compensation insurance is required before a fair will accept you as a food vendor. For example, the Los Angeles County Fair requires food vendors to have at least a $1 million general liability policy at the time a vendor signs her contract with the fair. Vendors also need to have workers' compensation insurance to cover any accidents or illnesses employees could suffer while on duty.
Sales Tax Permits
You will need a current sales tax permit from the state and municipalities of each fair where you intend to operate as a food vendor. The Minnesota State Fair -- one of the largest in the U.S. with about 1.7 million attendees in 2013 -- requires fair vendors to obtain a tax ID number to collect sales taxes and forward them to the state. In Minnesota, for example, sales taxes are to be paid within five days after the fair shuts down
A food vendor must apply for and obtain a temporary food service permit to operate before she begins selling food at the fair. Some locations, such as Fairfax County, Virginia, mandate that food vendors attend a food-safety course before a permit can be issued. Your food stand likely will need to be inspected before you can get a permit to operate.
Deposits and Payments
Expect to make a deposit to secure your space and then to pay rent. In 2014, the Los Angeles County Fair charged returning vendors a deposit equal to 31 percent of the previous year’s fees for space; new vendors paid $1,500 to $2,500, depending on the size of the stand and its location. The charge for rent equaled 26 to 30 percent of sales, again depending on location of stand
- Erie County Fair Hamburg, NY: Concessions Application
- Los Angeles County Fair: 2014 Food & Beverage Application Instructions
- Minnesota Revenue: Minnesota State Fair -- Sales Tax
- County of Fairfax, Virginia: Temporary Food Establishments: Permit Application Process - Food Vendors
- Erie County Fair Hamburg, NY: About the Fair
- Minnesota State Fair: 2011 to 2013 Detailed Daily Attendance
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