Cultural food festivities are a way to share heritage, traditions, and ideologies of groups of people, geographic regions, or nationalities. Whether the main purpose of its own event or a feature of a larger event, there are some special requirements to conduct preparation, demonstration, and sales under a permit.
Applying for a Permit
Submit an Application for a Permit to Conduct a Demonstration or Special Event in Park Areas (Special Event Permit Application) to the Division of Permits Management in person or mail:
National Mall and Memorial Parks
Applications can be delivered Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4 pm, except federal holidays or other National Mall and Memorial Parks office closures. Special Event Permit Applications are not accepted via fax or email. Applications are accepted up to one year in advance and a minimum of 48 hours from the first day of setup.
Application Processing Cost
A non-refundable application processing cost of $120 is required with the submission of the Special Event Permit Application. Follow the instructions on the application form for submitting a payment by credit card, check, or money order. Credit Card Form (not accepted via email).
A permits specialist will contact you if additional meetings, discussions, or documents are required and continue to walk you through the permit process. A permit must be issued prior to holding the activity in the park.
Things to Know Before Applying
A permits specialist will guide applicants through the permitting process and can also be contacted before applying to answer any questions. Please also review the Permits Resources related to your proposed activity.
Additional Required Documents and Steps
Depending on the size and scope of the event, the permits specialist may require additional meetings and more in-depth event plans prior to approving the permit, such as site layout, setup/cleanup schedule, equipment lists, etc.
Location and Location-Specific Requirements
Cultural food festivals may take place throughout National Mall and Memorial Parks; however, there may be special requirements or restrictions for different areas, such as crowd capacity, equipment requirements, turf protection considerations.
Food and Beverages
Culturally-expressive food and beverage must be prepared using traditional recipes, ingredients and methods of preparation characteristic of the cultures represented. Commercially prepared pre-packaged foods and beverages are not considered culturally-expreessive and are prohibited. Aside from approved culturally-expressive food and beverages, all other food and drinks must be provided by a National Mall and Memorial Parks concessionaire.
Additional Associated Costs
A refundable cost recovery deposit may be required to pay for costs incurred by the National Park Service resulting from the activity, such as employees' services (permit monitoring, administrative, etc.), restoration and/or rehabilitation, or cleanup of parkland. Cost recovery is based on the size and scope of the event and can range from $500 to $500,000 or more.
Additional Planning Resources
A permits specialist will guide applicants through the permitting process and assist with event-specific details. Please also consult Permits Resources, including:
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)Find answers to common questions about events that include cultural food and beverages.
Traditional cultural items such as instruments, traditionally-made clothing, jewelry, etc. may not be sold, but can be displayed at the activity. However, as part of a special event or demonstration permit you may sell books, newspapers, leaflets, pamphlets, buttons, and bumper stickers containing a message related to the activity.
Corporate sponsors cannot advertise or sell non-traditional food/beverage items. However, books, newspapers, leaflets, pamphlets, buttons, and bumper stickers can be sold at special events.
Corporate sponsors can be recognized on signage throughout the event as long as the National Park Service determines that the size and form of the recognition is consistent with the special nature and sanctity of the National Mall or any other requested park area. The lettering or design identifying the sponsor must be no larger than one-third the size of the lettering or design identifying the special event.
Nonprofits can have signs without restrictions.
Yes. A Temporary Food Establishment (TFE) Application must be submitted a minimum of 70 days before the event and approved prior to preparing, serving, or selling culturally-expressive food and beverage. A TFE application form can be provided by the Division of Permits Management upon request or after receipt of the application for the activity.
Yes, liability insurance naming both the permittee and the National Park Service is required for all cultural food events. You can discuss the details including minimum coverage with your permit specialist. More information about insurance can also be found in the National Capital Area Events Guide.
In general, alcohol sales are not permitted on park property; however, an applicant can apply for a waiver from the superintendent to conduct alcohol sales of beer and wine only. These beverages would need to follow the same guidelines as the food and be traditionally-prepared and relevant to a specific culture.
Last updated: February 27, 2023