What I Learned from Selling at Coachella: A Q&A with the Grilled Cheese Truck

Now that people have caught up on some much-needed z’s, we thought we’d check in with some Coachella vendors to see how everything went. All merchants at the festival sold with Square both weekends, a lot of them setting new sales records. One of these vendors is the Grilled Cheese Truck. Director of Special Events Tim Walker tells us they slung more than 15,000 sandwiches over the course of the festival, by far their largest sales volume for any event to date. How’d they make this happen? Tim shares his strategy for selling at such a large-scale event:

Square: Is this your first year at Coachella?
Walker: This was our second year, but the first with credit card processing.

How is selling at a festival like Coachella different from your regular locations?
With our trucks, all orders are made to order. An event this size demands orders that are ready to go. With all the food options available, you really need to have a menu that meets the demands of your customers, and a concessions-based service that is fast and friendly.

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How did you prep for the festival?
The preproduction for the event is extensive — we began in January. As the date drew closer, we refined the menu, designed the layout of operations, and began sourcing product and equipment. We wanted to make sure that on Thursday when we rolled into the event, we were ready to grill.

How did you train your festival staff? What were the most important considerations?
Friendliness and the ability to stay positive during busy times. With the heat, there’s a constant challenge to keep our staff motivated to deliver the very best product, every time.

How many people did you have taking orders? Did you have people manning different parts?
We had four Square points of sale going in our booth, with cashiers taking orders. Then we had between two and four people running the food, fresh from our hot griddles. As the world already knows, nothing beats a hot and fresh grilled cheese sandwich, so that was our number one priority. Whether from our mobile food trucks or at a food booth at Coachella, our customers should get the same delicious sammy, every time.

How did Square help you run things at Coachella?
Square’s system was very stable. And the Support team was onsite. They were great and were always willing to help if we had questions.

What’s your favorite Square feature?
The overall design. I appreciate how Square has thought about the entire experience, from the owner to the cashier to the customer. Many other systems seem to be stitched together from multiple parts. Square has done the best job, I think, with making the experience pleasant across all points of the transaction.

What was your strategy for moving the line quickly?
The best thing a vendor can do to keep its line moving quickly is to plan and prepare. Typically, we’re a “made to order” operation on our trucks. But at large events, you need to operate as a concession and have food ready as fast as possible. Having a point of sale that can keep up is crucial. Square certainly kept pace with as fast as we could sling cheese!

Did you learn anything from the first Coachella weekend that you applied to the second weekend?
We looked at streamlining our back-of-house operations to keep up with our dinner service demands. With all the customers available at an event this size, it is really on the vendor to provide service as fast as possible.

What piece of advice would you give to vendors who are selling at large-scale events like Coachella?
Spend as much time as possible figuring out how you can streamline the purchasing process to pull in as many customers as possible. Otherwise, they’ll go somewhere else. Having a stable and accurate POS is crucial to this operation. Square was totally up to whatever challenges we faced at Coachella.