Nice weather and flexible summer schedules help propel the thriving outdoor fair and festival season. More and more, the festivities – whether at a small county fair or a music festival that attracts 100,000 visitors – are becoming more exciting and inclusive, offering something for everyone. Many state fairs were built on a foundation of agricultural exhibits and competitions, but have evolved over time to include a wide variety of activities including large-scale entertainment. However in recent years, fair food has become a main attraction. Competition is stiff, but creative and visually interesting dishes are rising to the top.
Here are some fair and festival food trends to keep in mind while you’re crafting your menu to attract a steady flow of customers to your booth:
- Hybrids – With fusion cuisine on the rise, menu items that pair unlikely duos help drive word of mouth marketing. At the Wisconsin State Fair, the Chicken-N-Waffle Cone has been a top seller; meanwhile in Florida, a crowd-favorite is the Fried Ice Cream Cheeseburger.
- Light and healthy fare – More and more festivals have begun offering options that cater to healthy lifestyles. For example, an Iowa State Fair vendor offers Caprese Salad On-a-Stick and Firefly Music Festival in Delaware offers vegans their “Moc and Cheese” (quinoa with raw cashew cheddar). Cold pressed juice and natural smoothies also are a popular way to cool down at hot summer events.
- Alcohol-infused dessert – Specialty and craft beverages have always been a crowd favorite, but alcohol-infused desserts are now gaining traction at fairs and festivals. The Texas State Fair provides a few items to choose from like the Bourbon-soaked Churro and Fried Beer. At the Minnesota State Fair, Mancini’s Al Fresco offers beer gelato for hops aficionados looking for a cold, sweet treat.
- New takes on North American classics – From Texas to Toronto, consumers crave new renditions of the classics. At the North by Northeast Arts Festival, taxi service Uber provided Poutine, a favorite Canadian dish of French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. In Texas, Thanksgiving Dinner is now available in the summer, fried and on a stick.
Today’s consumers have high expectations and are looking for new twists when it comes to traditional offerings at fairs and festivals. No longer are they searching for that customary staple, but rather the outrageous concoctions that are buzz-worthy and trigger sharing on social media. While providing innovative menu items will entice consumers, keeping them coming back is another hurdle. Remember, a good first impression is important to repeat business. Be sure to train your staff on hygiene and customer service best practices, and you will be sure to wow the thousands of fairgoers stopping by to enjoy the delicious culinary creations.