Lesson 5: The Food Booth

While a Cottage Food business may work for you in the beginning, branching out into a local farmer’s market street fair or festival can give your sales a big boost.

In this lesson, we’ll look at options and opportunities to grow your business.



The Food Booth


It’s hard to find a community these days that doesn’t have at least one weekend farmer’s market, street fair or community celebration where the streets are lined with merchants. Residents love the variety and the idea of supporting local businesses, and businesses love the fact that they don’t have to find prospective customers. They are walking by continually.

Watching them walk by and getting them to stop is a combination of factors, from what you sell and how your booth looks to how you interact with them as customer’s eyes dart back and forth between the often overwhelming selections on display.

You may have a pretty good feel for the ebb and flow of a Cottage Food operation. Branching out to real-time sales in a market environment will require some new equipment, skills and marketing strategies.

Before you jump headlong into having a food booth at a street fair, farmer’s market, holiday bazaar or other public celebration, you’ll want do some research so you know what this new sales strategy will entail, not only from a labor standpoint but also costs, considerations and competition. Additionally, you’ll want to make some informed choices about the type of food booth space you want, the tent, layout, location and merchandising so you can make good decisions right up front.

Every event is different. Since farmer’s markets are held across the state and offer more than 4,000 days of market shopping in 95+ cities, we’ll spend most of our time preparing for these events. Every local festival or street fair has its own rules and regulations. But these tips will help you adapt to almost any event easily and quickly. 

NOTE: While we use the term farmer’s markets, most of these tips work for bazaars, festivals, street fairs and any number of selling opportunities.


What to expect

A food booth not only gives you the chance to sell more products but also refine your concept and business model. In contrast to a Cottage Food business, prospective customers are walking by you all day long. As such, it’s easy to expand your customer base, even if you don’t sell full-time at an in-person event or market.

Every time you set up a food booth, you have the chance to learn more about the market, customers, sales strategies, marketing and relationship building.

A food booth allows you to rapidly test new product ideas, pricing and promotions. You get instant feedback on what works and what doesn’t, things you can use in your day-to-day business as well. You may also be able to connect with others at the market who can provide you with ingredients at attractive prices.

A Cottage Food business may seem time-intensive, but a market is more so. Most are in the evening or on weekends, so you will have to plan your personal time around them. You will also need to up your game since you will need to rapidly increase production to keep up with increased demand, invest in display equipment and signage and be ready to pack in and pack out your booth and goods at the beginning and end of the day.

The Market/Event Manager

Every farmer’s market, street fair and event has a person who manages them. They may be a volunteer or they may be paid. They are responsible for all aspects of the market’s operation, from planning the site, selecting vendors, maintaining order, enforcing rules, complying with local health codes, marketing, managing complaints and opening and closing the market each day.

Application Process

There are more than 160 farmers’ markets in Washington and hundreds of street fairs and festivals. Each has its own personality, vendor mix and customer base. Before you get too far in the process, you want to visit several markets or events to see what they are like – what kind of customers they draw, the mix of products, the layout, etc. Talk to the vendors and ask why they sell there and what their sales are like. Speak with the Market Manager and see what new vendors and products they are looking for and what the high and low seasons in terms of sales are.

Go to the website and see what the rules are and the application process:

    • What are the policies and rules?
    • Are applications accepted during certain times of the year, or are they accepted on a rolling basis?
    • What is the application process? Is it online? Paper?
    • What are the membership or application fees?
    • What will the space cost to rent? Is it a fixed cost, a percentage of sales, or a hybrid of the two?
    • What other costs are there? Do I need insurance or other coverage?
    • What infrastructure is included vs. available for an additional fee (power, for example)?

Just because you apply, don’t assume that you are accepted. The Market Manager may have additional questions or need to put you on a waiting list. Whatever you do, don’t just show up. You will be notified by phone or email if your application has been accepted, and additional information will be provided to you by the Market Manager.

As a Cottage Food operation, what you already sell should make the cut when it comes to what you can and can’t sell at a farmer’s market. The list of sellable products is much broader and usually includes items produced through a food processor permit, such as meats, seafood and alcoholic beverages. You’ll also find an assortment of artisans and craftspeople.


In addition to an application, you may need some additional paperwork, some of which you should have on hand as a Cottage Food business.

Business License. Nearly every business in Washington State needs one. It is required to collect sales tax or to hire employees. Regardless of your business structure (sole proprietorship, LLC, S-Corp, etc.), you need to make sure your business license is up-to-date. If your business is a limited liability corporation or S-corporation, you will need to file an annual report with the Secretary of State in addition to renewing your business license with the Department of Revenue.

You also may need a separate business license if your Cottage Food operation or the farmer’s market itself is located in one of 60 cities in Washington that have this requirement.

Vendor Scale License. If products are being sold by weight, your scale needs to have a Small Scale License or endorsement to show that its weights have been certified as accurate and that the scale has been inspected.

Health Permit. In addition to a food handler’s permit for each employee, you may need a health permit from the county or local jurisdiction the farmer’s market is in. They are usually required if you are selling ready-to-eat foods or giving away samples. If you are selling baked goods through a Cottage Food permit, you usually don’t have to get a local permit. Since this varies greatly between locales, your Market Manager will be able to give you the best advice about what your particular situation may require.

Insurance. Carrying insurance is a good idea for any small business and especially important if you are a sole proprietorship or partnership since your personal assets may be included in any legal action. A General Commercial Liability policy or endorsement is a good idea for farmer’s market activities. A farmer’s market may ask you to add their name to the policy as an additional insured. This is a very common practice.


Safe Selling Practices 

As a Cottage Food business, you already have a good handle on safe handling of food and maintaining good hygiene in your home kitchen.

There are a few additional things to consider when modifying your activities at a street fair or farmer’s market.

      • Your display must be covered by a tent or other structure.
      • Tables must be clean and be able to be sanitized during the day, if necessary.
      • Storage containers must be clean, covered, and in good repair. Tops should secure tightly and there shouldn’t be any cracks that let air and critters into edible items you’re storing.
      • You want to be able to keep everything in your space six inches off the ground. This includes crates, display cases, shelving and storage containers.
      • Scales (if used) must be clean, in good repair and sanitized.
      • Food items and containers storing edible products need to be out of the reach of pets.

Some of the practices outlined below for individuals working in your booth may be no-brainers. Still, we must mention them anyway.

      • Anyone who is experiencing obvious symptoms, especially running a fever, or is ill, should not be anywhere near your booth.
      • Those with open sores should not handle products.
      • Staff should be cleanly attired and have clean hands, body and hair.
      • No smoking, eating or drinking is allowed where food is being handled.
      • Regular use of hand sanitizer or frequent hand washing is highly recommended. The use of gloves for handling food is another good practice.

If you are handing out samples, make sure you have a garbage receptacle nearby to dispose of sample cups, toothpicks and other items that a customer will need to dispose of. Be watchful for passersby (especially children) who may handle your products and move on. If possible, set up your space so someone stopping by must either ask for a sample or take one from a tray you are presenting them. This is not only a smart food handling practice, but gives you a chance to engage the customer on a personal level.



Food Biz Academy

Main Office


Academy Staff