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How to start a mobile food business

3 March 2020 Small Business Advice

After a late adoption from Asia and America, street-food is no longer a fleeting trend in the UK, but something that has cemented its place as a much-loved experience for most demographics, young to old. 

In fact, last year the street food scene became a billion pound industry with as many as one-in-four of us eating street food from a mobile food truck, vendor stall, or food market in a hip abandoned warehouse.   

With more people opting towards food markets rather than restaurants, the mobile food business isn’t showing signs of slowing down and could offer great business potential.

Why should you consider being a mobile street food vendor?

If you’ve been hoping to show the world your amazing culinary skills but you can’t afford the overheads, or lack enough investment for a bricks and mortar restaurant, a food stall could be the perfect opportunity to kickstart your dream. 

A food truck requires a lot less investment and it’s even possible to start up without any external investment or loans if you plan enough in advance. 

As well as being more financially attainable, a mobile food business is also lower risk. This is because you’re able to assess your profit margins to determine which locations, markets and festivals/stalls to focus on, and which ones to ditch, without being tied to lengthy rental contracts.

Why should you consider before you begin trading?

Although the popularity of street food seems like a great opportunity to cash in, it also means that there is a lot of competition. With another 40-50 stalls all around you, first impressions and authenticity are everything. 

In order to make money in a highly-saturated market, you need to ensure that you’re selling something original, your pricing is competitive, and that you’re providing the highest quality possible within your budget. 

Aside from ensuring you have a great product which adds value to the industry, there are a few other considerations for becoming a food truck vendor. We’ve broken down the top five things you need to consider, before making the leap of faith.

The right equipment

Once you’ve decided whether you’re going to trade from a van or a stall, you next need to figure out the basic essentials you will need for day one of trading. These are things that will likely be expensive, but will need to stand the test of time, so will be a worthy investment in your business.

While it is possible to find great quality second-hand equipment, be aware that these items will have no warranty unlike a lot of newly bought items. 

Depending on your preferred cuisine, you’ll need specifics, however there are baseline items that every mobile food business should operate with:

  • Refrigeration and safe storage units
  • Griddles, fryers and heating equipment 
  • Washing and preparation stations
  • Sanitation gloves
  • Ventilation
  • Fire safety equipment  
  • Safe and tested commercial gas and electricity supplies
  • Countertop warmer
  • Thermometers 
  • Serving utensils and cutlery

The right location

Depending on whether you have a food van or just a mobile vending stall, you’ll need to figure out in advance the locations that you can trade in. Put some thought into the following:

  • How much does it cost for a license to trade here?
  • How far in advance do I need to apply for a trading permit here?
  • What is the footfall of this area?
  • Are there any events on in this area that will increase/decrease my profits?
  • Are there other traders selling what I sell there?
  • Will my location be affected by changes in weather? 
  • How far do I need to travel on a round-trip to get to this location?

One of the perks of the mobile food industry is being able to make big profits from in-demand locations and events across the country, and even globally.

The most common example of this is festivals. If you’re able to plan and research in advance, you can attend a number of different festivals across the year, monitoring the success of each one.

The right legislation

If you’re going to start trading in the food industry not only do you need the necessary legal documentation, but you must understand what practices are important to your customers’ health and wellbeing. In the UK, the below are a necessity for mobile food vendors:

Alongside the above, you should also keep yourself trained on health and hygiene courses, fire safety, and overall health and safety to ensure your employees’ and customers’ health is never compromised.

The right insurance

Amidst the excitement of kickstarting your new venture, it’s easy to forget the more boring legal stuff. Before the fun begins you’ll need to purchase some insurance to protect your new business from failing in the first instance.

As a food van business you’ll need a specialist vehicle insurance policy which not only covers your van or trailer, but that also covers its specialist fittings and equipment, in case of any damage. You should also check that your policy includes full-fire cover, something especially important for mobile catering. 

 Other insurance you should consider as a food van business owner is: 

  • Public liability insurance: if anything happens to a member of the public, forcing them to take legal action against your business
  • Employee liability insurance: if a member of your staff has a work-related injury or illness and makes a legal claim against you
  • Income loss insurance: if you’re self-employed and you become sick and unable to work, this protects you for loss of earnings for this duration
  • Event insurance: if you’re catering for a specific event such as a wedding, this protects you against injury, property damages and sometimes even cancellations

The right payment methods

Once upon a time, all street market vendors were a strictly cash-only operation, but times have changed. Last year it was reported that one in 10 adults chose a cashless life, relying solely on card and mobile payments such as Apple Pay or Android.

A government report on London markets found that in 2017 less than half of traders were accepting non-cash alternatives –a figure sure to have increased between then and 2020. So in order to get paid and stop customers from heading to a competitor inches away, make sure you’re able to accept card payments on your stall with portable card machines.

To help manage queuing, and the time spent processing transactions, it’s worth considering an integrated card machine that connects with your EPoS. That way you’ll also make less keying in errors too.   

Now you’ve researched some of the basics, it’s time to move onto the fun part—whipping up delicious cuisine to feed hungry street revelers! 

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