Ever wonder what it takes to pull off the biggest weekly food truck event around? 

The return of Off The Grid: Fort Mason Center has been bringing an estimated 9,000 people to the historic former Army post every Friday night to enjoy a world-wise menu of food and drinks to the beat of DJs and live music. That’s the equivalent of putting a huge food and music festival together once a week and then taking it all down in the same night. You might be surprised how it all comes together.

“We build it from scratch in the parking lot, so if you were to come here this morning and come back at 5 the next morning, you’d have no idea it existed,” Melody Yeung, Off The Grid’s Head of Operations, explained one recent Friday while directing the impressive 100,000 square foot scene.

Each Off The Grid: Fort Mason Center event lasts for five hours (from 5-10pm), but requires at least eight hours of setup and up to eight hours to dismantle everything and clean up in order to leave no trace behind. This is accomplished in three shifts by three different teams: a setup crew, an operations crew and a breakdown crew. The setup crew, a team of four or five people, starts the process at 9 a.m., while the breakdown crew works long after the last visitor has gone — often until around 5 a.m.

All equipment — which weighs literal tons — must be built to look good, withstand bouts of wind and other inclement weather, and last throughout the event’s long 37-week season. It also needs to be able to be stored easily. Off The Grid has been investing in audio gear and other long-term needs year over year, and visitors will notice upgrades such as those in the current season, which makes for an even more energetic vibe.

A lot of thoughtful choreography is involved in the pre-planning each week. Many small details are at work that you would never think about. These details include how the string lights are positioned to visually guide you around the space at night and  draw you to the middle of the space, where a cocktail bar, fire pits, cozy chairs and dining tables await.

Before each event, the 25 participating creator trucks are given a zone placement on a map of the parking lot. Each zone gets a specific load-in time, where they’re directed to their specific place on the map in order to get ready for the event.

“They’ve got it locked in this year!” Miguel Escobedo, the chef/founder of Al Pastor Papi, said as he was preparing to serve hundreds of tacos. 

The placement of the creator trucks ensures that the ones that draw the biggest lines, like Escobedo’s, don’t get in the way of the flow of traffic. (Pro tip: split your group up upon arrival so that you can try more of the most popular items. You can also make the adult choice to eat dessert first and start on the sweet side, where there’s often little or no wait.)

If you haven’t had a chance to visit Off The Grid: Fort Mason Center this season, don’t worry — you’ll have plenty more opportunities over the next several months to check it out and see how this weekly party comes alive. The biggest compliment that can be paid to the people who make it happen is how smooth, easy and fun it all feels as a visitor.

“When we do our job well, it feels like a magic trick,” said Off The Grid founder Matt Cohen. “We’re here and then we’re gone and then we’re here and we’re gone again!”