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A guide to street food and starting a food truck business

5-minute read

A guide to street food and starting a food truck business
Catriona Smith

Catriona Smith

27 May 2021

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Whether it’s tacos, sourdough pizza, or plant-based burgers, the street food industry brings cuisines from around the world to our doorsteps.

And as we slowly emerge from the pandemic and opportunities for socialising return, so are the food halls, outdoor events and office lunches – all prime locations for a mobile food van.

From the first spark of imagination and settling on your big idea to understanding health and safety regulations, this article explains how to start a street food business.

What is street food?

Street food is often sold from mobile food vans in public spaces like markets and events. It’s quick to order, ready to eat, and should be made from high-quality ingredients.

According to chefs interviewed by Food and Drink magazine on trends for 2021, comfort food and old classics like mac and cheese, stews and curries are high on the list.

Other popular street food examples include:

  • Mexican burritos and tacos
  • burgers
  • pizza
  • Indian masala dosa
  • bao buns
  • paella

Pros and cons of starting a street food business

It’s likely that you’ve already got some experience in the catering industry – perhaps in a pub or a restaurant – but now you want to go it alone and be your own boss.

As with anything, there’s going to be some pros and cons with setting up your food truck business – so it’s important to do your research.

Pros

  • start-up costs are much lower than opening a restaurant
  • low-risk investment with low-cost rents for a market stall space
  • cook and create recipes all the time
  • meet like minded traders at markets and festivals

Cons

  • long hours and early starts
  • regulations mean you can’t just park up anywhere, and pitches are limited
  • unpredictable British weather – a rainy day can really limit your trading
  • it’s a very competitive market

How to start a food van business in the UK

Starting a food van business in the UK requires excellent cooking skills, passion and a good portion of creativity. You’ll probably be self-employed too, so you’ll need a range of business and marketing skills, as well as the ability to plan and create menus that delight your customers.

1. Decide on your big idea

As we’ve mentioned above, street food trading is a competitive market. So what is it about your idea that’ll attract customers? Is it unique? Do you bring specific experience of a culture to your cooking? Think about your skills and what type of food is going to appeal to potential customers.

It’s always worth putting time and effort into writing a business plan and doing a SWOT analysis so you have a clear idea of how you’re going to start and grow your business.

Your business plan will cover important areas, such as:

  • a summary of your business idea
  • how you’re going to fund your business
  • a marketing plan
  • details of your menu and how much you’ll charge customers
  • potential locations and events you’ll attend
  • start-up costs and overheads (including equipment and initial stock)

2. Budget for initial start-up costs

It’s relatively low cost and low risk to get your food truck going – compared to opening a restaurant for example – but you still might like to start your business as a side hustle first to minimise any financial risk.

The good thing about a street food business is you can start small and scale up as you grow. The cost of renting a pitch is around £30 to £100 a day depending on the location (the market stall will usually take a percentage of your takings).

Try creating a limited menu first so you can focus on getting a few dishes right. You’ll have the flexibility to expand your options or change the menu later as you learn more about your customers.

To keep things really simple, you could even set up your stall with a gazebo before buying a van. Once you’re more established, you can buy a second-hand van, install your equipment and brand it with your business name and logo without breaking the bank.

Make sure you keep track of your budget and can afford stock and supplies.

3. Get to know the rules and regulations

Selling food to the public understandably comes with certain rules and regulations.

Register your business

As a food business, you’ll need to register with your local authority at least 28 days before you start trading and selling food.

You should also register as self-employed and be aware of your tax responsibilities.

Organise licences

If you’re in a public space you’ll probably need a street trading licence, plus additional licences if you plan on selling alcohol or playing music. The UK government’s licence finder is a helpful tool to tell you what’s right for your business.

Put health and safety first

You’re legally required to have a Level 2 Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering certificate if you’re preparing and selling food to the public. And all staff handling food in your business should have food hygiene training. The Food Standards Agency and the Health and Safety Standards Executive has more guidance.

If your food is pre-packaged but made on site, you’ll also need to be aware of food labelling regulations and changes in the law related to allergen information. Our article explains the details of Natasha’s Law.

Check out the Nationwide Caterers Association for more support and guidance on regulations – and you can become a member for access to additional training and advice.

4. Spread the word

If you’re parked up at a busy lunchtime market or one of many food trucks at a music festival, you’re going to need to stand out to potential customers. Think about your branding, social media presence, and if you want to offer deals to loyal customers.

As a street food trader, your personality is going to be a big part of your branding as customers will know who you are and feel part of the local community. You could also think about partnering with any micro-influencers or offering delivery services to local offices and businesses as you grow.

See our guide on how to advertise your business for more tips.

5. Protect your food business with insurance

Importantly, you’ll need to think about a food and drink insurance policy that best meets the needs of your mobile food van business.

Key covers include:

  • public liability insurance – this protects you if someone is injured or their property is damaged as a result of your business
  • employers’ liability insurance – this is a legal requirement if you have employees. It covers you if a member of staff is injured or gets ill as a result of working for you
  • stock insurance – in case your stock is stolen, damaged or destroyed

You should also buy vehicle insurance – this isn’t something we offer but is a legal requirement for driving on the road.

Is there anything else you’d like to know about setting up a food van business? Let us know in the comments.

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We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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