Street food has made a big comeback in recent years. Tired of bland corporate fare, and with more adventurous tastes than previous generations, Brits are searching out street food as never before.
In many cities, pop up lunchtime markets appear selling every type of cuisine, from basic filled bagels to the most exotic curries and much more besides. It seems like you can sample food from a different country of the world every day of the year.
If you love your food (and love making good food) this can mean a great opportunity.
For those looking to make their first steps into the world of owning their own business, manning a market stall is a great way to start.
If you succeed on the street, you can easily find the next step is a pop-up in conventional premises – and perhaps your own premises shortly after.
But of course, even opening your own market stall isn’t as simple as turning up with a table, and a freezer bag of you filled up after a session in your kitchen.
Starting a stall or operating a food truck is a business, it takes careful planning, and there are several legal matters to consider.
Laws Around Food
Looking to start a street food stall means getting to grips with food safety laws. The FSA (Food Standards Agency) and the Environmental Health Office (EHO) need to know what you are doing – and how you plan on doing it.
Wherever food is sold, cooked, prepared, handled or distributed – be it at a market stall or in the back of a van – a license is required before it can be served to the public. If you sell animal-based products your local council may need to make further inspections
before granting the food business license.
You must register your food stall at least 28 days before commencing any of the above food operations. Your local authority website will have details.
The preparations don’t stop there. Anyone coming contact with food must have official hygiene training, and the level of training required will vary depending on the type of food preparation you will do.
You will also need a food hygiene management system, which means paperwork – the EHO inspectors review food hygiene management systems regularly. In addition, you will need to regular health & safety risk assessments. EHO’s inspectors will want to see evidence of regular health and safety checks.
This may seem like a burden – but serving safe food is vital for the future of your business – customers will not be coming back if you have poisoned them.
You’ll also need employers’ liability insurance unless it is just you manning the stall – and A Health & Safety Policy Document. The document should describe how you intend to manage health & safety in your business. The HSE (Health & Safety Executive) has some useful resources.
Where will you do business?
The next thing to consider is where you will have you pitch – or pitches. Being able to work in more than one location, perhaps serving market days or sporting events in different towns is one of the big advantages of a popup food stall.
Local authorities have strict rules about where you can set up. Talk to your councils about their policies.
But of course, just because the council will let you set up somewhere does not mean you should. Location is everything in business, and if the public are not there, or not hungry when they are, you should not be there either.
Setting up near a market on market day, new a stadium on match day, near a business park at lunchtimes are all winners, as are festivals and to a lesser extent layby. But be warned. With many street food vendors around, the best pitches may be hard to secure, and in places like festivals, you should expect to pay for them.
Check if there are any local events, markets or festivals where pop up stalls have been particularly successful, check when market days are in your region and always see what your competitors are doing, and where they are going.
Get yourself known
All businesses need publicity. Marketing and promoting a pop-up food stall might sound like an unnecessary burden, but it could help to drive your business forward.
You need a website – the simple fact is every business does. You need a social media presence – how else will people share the news that you do great lunch? Old style publicity – flyers, and money off coupons can be a great idea too – especially when you are just starting out.
Give the people what they want
A food stall or a food truck offering street food, can be an effective first step towards building the permanent business you want. It is also a way of helping prepare for a successful business – by ensuring you give people what they want.
You can experiment with various offerings and recipes. Think the hungry public want a vegan option? Would you sell more cheeseburgers if you added chile sauce? It is easy to find out what sells – and even that some locations a better for some offering than others.
The local football pitch might not be ideal for fruit smoothies, but ideal for hot pies. The reverse might be true for the crowd by your local train station in the morning.
If your mobile food business takes off your next step could be a pop-up restaurant. These can be anywhere, as long as it’s safe for cooking and serving food. Just look for room to set up your mobile kitchen and temporary dining room access to electricity, sewer, and running water – and passing trade.
The easiest answer of all is to open your pop-up restaurant in an existing restaurant space – and to pay the owners a percentage of the profits. A pop-up restaurant in an existing eatery means easy access to infrastructure and even existing customers.
Get the money right
Setting up a pop-up food business might look as though the costs will be minimal, but you will still need equipment, and probably a vehicle, whether or not you will be selling food from the back of it.
Business funding experts Rangewell have some detailed information for anyone considering setting up a popup food business. They suggest that there are a variety of types of lending and other solutions that can be used to provide the cans you need to set up – and that as long as you have some experience in catering and a businesslike approach – even a startup business could find the support it needs.
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