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How to run an Election Day ‘Democracy’ Sausage Sizzle and Cake Stall

Polling Booth, Melbourne eastern suburbs
The calm before the storm

For the 2022 Federal Election, the parents of Ashburton Primary School (located in Melbourne's Eastern Suburbs) ran a Sausage Sizzle and Cake Stall. Since I write a lot on this blog about the importance of community and a school’s role within it, I thought I should do my bit and volunteer to run it.

Here is some information on what I learnt running an Election Day version of these two combined events in case you are thinking of running one yourself.

Before I begin, I need to acknowledge the advice of two bloggers who wrote about how to run a Bunnings Sausage Sizzle and holding a Cake Stall respectively. Check their posts out for insights too.

Is it financially viable to hold a 'Democracy' Sausage Sizzle on Election Day?

BBQer hard at work

It depends.

Consideration #1: Infrastructure

If you have BBQs, tables, and marquees on site already, or you can borrow these items at no cost, then it is worth considering. If you have to hire them, then it’s probably not financially viable because you will also need refrigeration, tongs, slicers, aluminium foils, trays and other accompanying items as well as the perishable food.

But if you have all these already, read on.

Consideration #2: Perishable food costs

In addition to infrastructure, a sausage sizzle also requires an upfront financial outlay for sausages, bread, onions, tomato sauce, oil, serviettes (napkins), ice and drinks. At our sausage sizzle, we had the oil, sauce, a supply of serviettes, all the tongs, aluminium foil and trays already. It still cost around $500 (mostly sausages and drinks) and that’s with discounts on perishable food.

Consideration #3: Can you get local business support?

Ask your local baker, butcher, and vegie market for a discount, voucher or some donated items. In our case, we received a $50 gift voucher to offset the sausages, discounted bread from the local baker, and a free bag of onions. If you can get good deals, its looking financially viable.

Is it financially viable holding a Cake Stall on Election Day?

A brisk trade at the Cake Stall

Cake Stalls don’t require as much financial outlay as a sausage sizzle but they do require sufficient numbers of bakers to make it worthwhile. In a school of 550 kids, I decided more than 50 baked items made the effort worthwhile for us, you can decide on a suitable number yourself based on your school/church community numbers.

I can tell you that Australians LOVE a Cake Stall. It taps into some deeply-rooted nostalgia/affection for grandma feeling in our hearts.

At our school, I sent an email alert around and got responses from 45 individual bakers. Many baked several cakes/items. So we had around 75-80 separate items in the end. We sold almost everything between 10 and 3.30 pm.

What are the benefits of the Cake Stall/Election Day Democracy Sausage sizzle?

#1 Voters love the ‘Democracy Sausage’ concept.

The famous Democracy Sausage

Voting is compulsory in Australia and everyone has to vote somewhere. It is now all but expected at Election Day polling places that there will be a sausage sizzle, especially by new teenage voters. There is even a dedicated website to register your event on.

Even with record numbers of people voting early in this Election and high Covid numbers, people still came down just for the sausage sizzle and stayed for the cake stall. The cake stall had a steady stream of customers all day (lots of ‘ooh a cake stall! I’ll be right back!’) while the sausage sizzle had a rush around lunchtime and tailed off after 2 pm.

#2 You already have customers in your school/church community.

Send an email alert out to all parents/congregation members. The majority of them have to vote anyway and since most probably live nearby they will come to support you. You can also put up a notice on your local community Facebook group page to encourage locals to come down.

#3 Remember that schools are important meeting spaces for the local community.

Lots of new parents come to vote and check out the school for their kids. Lots of people with adult kids who attended the school years ago come back to vote there and take a look at how it’s changed. It is a great opportunity to present your school spirit to your local community, especially after/during the Covid Years.

#4 You will make money. With adequate planning and keeping your costs low, the two together can make a few thousand dollars for your efforts.

What are the drawbacks of hosting a Cake Stall/Election Day Democracy Sausage sizzle?

#1 Getting sufficient volunteers.

If you’ve been on the PTA or parents association for a while you’ll already know that the same people volunteer their time for everything. After awhile, they get tired of it and maybe don’t step up again. Add in that Elections are held on Saturdays and clash with Saturday Morning Sport and it can be really hard to get sufficient people, especially for the earlier morning shift.

#2 You are limited to sausages.

The reason its ‘Democracy Sausage’ and not ‘Democracy Hamburger’ or ‘Democracy Bacon and Egg Roll’ is because sausages are the only thing that is covered by basic food safety guidelines and your volunteers don't need special permits or additional food handling training. Any additional training combined with the volunteer issue may result in not having the qualified people needed to cook on the day.

#3 Estimating quantities is hard.

How many sausages should you buy? It will come down to everything from how popular your polling booth is to what the weather is like on the day. I estimated 500 based on the advice in this Bunnings Sausage Sizzle blog post.

A week out, The Age reported that in the 2019 Federal Election, our school had about 1,100 voters through it. I thought I had really over-estimated. Fortunately, in 2022, we were a polling booth for two electorates instead of the usual one. It was a beautiful (if cold) sunny day and we sold out by 2 pm. After then the lunch rush died down anyway, so we probably would have only sold another 50-100 anyway.

#4 The AEC have some rules.

You will need to comply with the requirements of the Australian Electoral Commission to run your event. This will mean there will be access restrictions to the buildings where the voting is going on. This may affect your food storage. You don’t want to get arrested for tampering with the election, so you need to do whatever they say.

For us, this meant our stall could not be more than 5m away from a supply of running water. We don’t have a lot of flat land near the Voting Hall so it was a bit tricky figuring out how to pull that off without being in the way of Voters. We figured it out eventually.

We also weren’t allowed to give public access to the toilets. This was a real hassle too.

Tips for running an Election Day Cake Stall

  • You need an EFTPOS machine. Do whatever it takes to get one. You can hire one from Bendigo Bank if you have to. Fifty per cent of our profits came through EFTPOS so it is ESSENTIAL.

  • Put a jar on the table for ‘Donations’. People paying cash for things often put the change in it.

  • Food safety is really important so make sure your volunteers are aware of it when baking.

  • Pricing. Is tough. The End.

OK, you want to work on the assumption that people will not pay more than they would in a cafe for the item. They know it’s been donated so they don’t mind paying for the purposes of fundraising but not too much.

The sweet spot for brownies, honey joys, slices etc was between $5 and $10. Honey joys and chocolate crackles are cheap to make but you’re making a solid profit selling 5 for $7. If you have a collection of 3 or 5 items, you can price these within that scale and they should sell.

Fancily decorated cupcakes (plate of 4-5) and bigger cakes can go for $12 to $15, possibly more.

If you find items are not selling, you can always mark them down. Were the prices set too low? I don't know. Maybe. They didn't cost us anything to buy, so we made money no matter what.

  • Whole cakes are VERY POPULAR. Personally, it would never occur to me to buy a whole cake at a cake stall but apparently I’m an anomaly because they walked out the door. People buy them for afternoon tea with Grandma or for the family. We had a lot of small loaf-style cakes and these sold easily for around $9 (baker’s suggested price).

  • Gluten-free is VERY POPULAR. People are under the mistaken belief that gluten-free = healthier so you can exploit that by charging a bit more for it. Also, people who genuinely can’t eat gluten love having a homemade item they can eat and will seek them out.

  • You may want to suggest items to bake to people. Next time, I will encourage more whole cakes and more gluten-free items from bakers. However, I don’t want to put people off baking quick things because any item is better than nothing.

  • You need to wrap everything in plastic. It’s heart-breaking but it’s the rules. If you’re organised, I suggest buying recyclable cake containers and giving them to bakers in advance. These can just be takeaway containers (great for honey joys) or another style. Buyers do like to be able to see what is in side first, so keep that in mind when selecting packaging.

Cake Stall Cakes wrapped in plastic

If you’re pulling it together at the last minute like I did, ask the bakers to wrap things themselves. We also had leftover supplies of plastic and ribbon from our now defunct School Fair so I used them on the day for those who did not have supplies at home. I don’t recommend doing this as it took up way too much time.

  • Each item needs to have an ingredients list. This is a deal breaker. It doesn’t need to have quantities but it needs to have everything on it and be sold with the item. A small card or even a post-it will suffice.

  • Have some nice tablecloths and coverings. The more you look like a CWA stall the more the nostalgia/grandma feeling will kick in and the more you’ll sell.

  • You will need one person on the stand at all times and another who can go out and re-supply the cakes. Try to maintain a nice selection of different sorts of items for as long as you can.

  • It is harder to move less items so when stock is running down and it’s close to finishing time, give it to the political canvassers out the front. In the morning they hate each others’ guts but by the end of the day they are all friends and standing around chatting. They are usually really hungry too and very grateful.

Tips for running a Democracy Sausage Sizzle

Queue for the Democracy Sausage

  • Decide you’re doing it (or not) the week the election is called. There will be competition for good deals on sausages and bread, so get on it quickly.

  • Start sourcing volunteers. Then get some back-up volunteers because someone will get Covid or be otherwise unwell on the day.

  • Ask about discounts, sponsorship, donations from local suppliers.

  • Try and estimate how many people will come through your polling booth. This will help you work out how many sausages you need. The AEC may have some of this information available from the last election. If you’re in the city, remember numbers may be different for Federal and State elections because electorates are zoned differently. In the unlikely event of a Referendum it’s everyone no matter what so go big for that one. There is the possibility of one coming in a year or two.

  • Order your sausages and bread well in advance. Even large supermarkets don’t have hundreds of sausages to sell at once on the day, so don't leave it until the last minute. These were my ratios (you can take them or leave them):

    • 500 sausages (probably should have got 600 in hindsight)

    • 200 soft drinks and juice (it was cold so didn’t sell that many)

    • 24 loaves of bread (don’t forget the crusts are not used)

    • 10 kg of sliced onions

    • 4 or 5 bottles of tomato sauce

    • Well over 750-800 serviettes

    • 1L of vegetable oil

    • 4 kg of ice

  • If storage is difficult at your venue and its going to be hot, then arrange to pick up perishables in the morning. 500 sausages takes up a lot of space and you will still need to store them before cooking. Use a decent sized Esky if you don’t have ready access to a fridge but make sure it is big enough to store a lot.

  • Food safety is really important so make sure your volunteers are aware of it.

  • See above about the importance of an EFTPOS machine. That said, people still paid in cash, especially for small amounts like a sausage. You will need a cash float of about $150. We sold sausages for $3 to avoid needing 50c coins. This is 50c more than the Capitalist sausages at Bunnings but nobody cared.

  • Decide on the timing of your event during the day. This will be determined by the availability of your volunteers (see above about Saturday Morning Sport). We could not get anyone when voting opened at 8 am so we started at 10 am. There was a big queue at the polling booth from 8 am but these tended to be people who wanted to get out quickly. It dissipated by 9 am. There was some grumbling the BBQ wasn’t on but no-one was too upset.

  • Assign your volunteers with a task on the day. Adults/parents make decisions all day long so they are quite happy to be told what to do by someone else when they volunteer on these occasions. I broke tasks into:

    • 1 x Chief BBQer in charge of sausage and onion cooking and ensuring the supply is meeting demand

    • 1 x Food Compiler, to fill orders and give to purchaser (not to touch the money). We could have used extra assistance on this but fortunately one of the kids helped us. The Food Compiler should be wearing gloves.

    • 1 x Cashier, to take orders, tell Food Compiler order, accept payments, supply drinks (not to touch the food) - this person needed a police check to use the EFTPOS machine.

    • 1 x BBQ Greeter to ensure the queue is orderly, ensure supply is meeting demand, help keep things running smoothly. We did not have this person and suffered in the first 30 minutes because of it.

  • Cut up your onions in advance. It’s a bitch of a job but if you have a food processor, a pair of swimming goggles and a few lemons to get rid of the smell on your hands, you can get through it in about an hour without too many tears (pun intended). You’ll need a large container to store them in. Be warned your whole house will smell like onions. Alternatively, you can divide them up and delegate the task to your volunteers so their houses smell like onions too.

  • Make sure your stand is in sight of the voting lines but out of the way of the exit for people who want to leave. Food safety rules stipulate it will need to be under some kind of shelter (permanent or temporary doesn’t matter) and have access to running water.

  • Have some music going as this creates a convivial atmosphere and encourages people to hang around and maybe buy another sausage. My kid’s portable speaker lasted at least 6 hours before running out of puff, I was impressed. I created my own Australian Music playlist of 50-50 male and female singers (yes, I was making a subliminal political point about female representation) and put it on Spotify.

  • As soon as it looks like the BBQ may be going on, people will start lining up. So be aware of that and ready to go! That said, as long as people are not waiting in the rain, they will usually be patient and wait.

  • There will be a lunch rush from around 11 to 1.30 pm. It will be full-on.

  • After 2 pm, you’ll usually get the teenagers who have morning sport and they’ll be disappointed if they miss out on a sausage.

  • Clean everything up as much as possible!

I hope this information helps and good luck for your upcoming Election Event!

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