Follow this step-by-step guide to create your own successful street food or food truck business in the UK
Street food has risen in popularity over the last 5-10 years and is continuing to grow in the UK. This can be seen by the number of street food markets and outdoor events popping up all over the place.
So you may be asking how can I start a street food business in the UK. Well, the main steps of starting a street food business in the UK is deciding what type of food you want to sell and the type of setup you want to sell it from.
However, there a quite a few more steps in between you will need to take to create a successful food truck business. So if you would like to know more keep reading…….
- Advantages & disadvantages of a street food business
- Do your market research
- Creating your menu
- Choose a name & logo
- A street food stall or food truck?
- What equipment do I need?
- Set a Budget
- The “three p’s” of trading
- Getting your certificates
- Decide where to trade
- Contacting organizers or council
- Creating a marketing plan
- Digital Marketing
- Profits Margins
- How much should I expect to earn?
- Having a plan B
Do your market research
This is probably the most important step you will take, starting out in your street food business, and can make or break you.
There is no point in creating something where there is no demand. So whether you already know what sort of product you want to sell or are looking for ideas, see what else is out there.
Things to do:
- See what foods are currently trending or food trend predictions for the future
- Visit your local food markets to see what other traders are selling
- Take note of the stalls that are busy
- Look on social media to see which foods get high engagement
Tip: Vegan street food is increasing in popularity
Try and do something a little different (but not too different) as it may be hard to get into a food market if there are other traders doing something similar. Burgers and hotdogs (aka meat and wheat), are a saturated market.
Creating your menu
This for me is the fun part. You have done your research, perfected the recipes and now you have to put something appealing together in writing. This is where it starts to get real!
I would say keep it simple and have no more than 5 options on your menu. Too much choice can lead to customer paralysis. You want to make it easy for people to make a decision and place an order.
Having a smaller menu also helps with stock control. Otherwise, you end up buying a lot of different ingredients which can be a nightmare and lead to waste. Remember you have to transport, set up, and pack away each time you trade.
Choose a name & logo
I found this part of the process pretty tricky!
You want something that is both catchy and clearly states what it is you sell. Try not to be too clever and stay away from ambiguous names that leave people unsure of what it is you actually sell.
Something like “The fabulous Cuisine Team” doesn’t really say what sort of food you sell. On the other hand, you shouldn’t be in too much doubt about what “Bev’s Burger Shack” does.
You have probably heard all the bad press when it comes to single-use plastics. Most event organizers or committees now stipulate all traders must use biodegradable or compostable packaging in order to trade.
The public is also much more environmentally conscious these days and you’ll get a lot of questions about the type of packaging you use.
Probably the market leader for compostable packaging is Vegware. All of their packaging is environmentally friendly and they were well ahead of the curve in terms of this type of packaging.
A street food stall or food truck?
So you have decided what you are going to sell, and now you have to decide what type of set-up you will sell your product from. This is going to be another important step and the most costly.
There are a number of different set-ups to consider:
This is the most cost-effective way to start out. You can get an industrial-grade pop-up gazebo with your own branding for under £500.
A gazebo that I have used and recommend is the heavy-duty and waterproof, “Maximus 3m x 3m market stall, pop-up gazebo”.
Trailer or converted horse-box
A kitchen on wheels which you tow with a van or car. You can get a decent second-hand one with all the fittings for around £10.000.
A food truck
Probably the most professional-looking and easiest to trade from, as there is not much setting up do to. A food truck is probably the most expensive, however, ranging from around £10k to £50k plus.
Note: be careful when buying second-hand. Check the electrics and gas supply are in all working order and that there is no base rust.
Which one you choose is ultimately down to budget, but of the three I would definitely start with a gazebo. This way you can start a street food business for under £1500.
Remember you are a new business with an unproven concept. You want to give yourself the best possible chance of succeeding, whilst managing the risk. The money saved can also be used to iron out any kinks in the early phases and running costs.
What equipment do I need?
This will all depend on what you are selling. The preparation of food, drinks, or desserts often involves different equipment.
This also depends on what mode of setup you intend to sell from (gazebo/trailer/food truck). However, there is general equipment that is applicable across a range of food preparation and cooking needs.
- Stainless steel food prep tables – Professional looking, you can get ones that fold away for gazebos or retrofitted into your trailer or food truck. I recommend the strong and sturdy “Seville Classics Commercial Stainless Steel Top Worktable”
- A gas or electric hook-up – Gas can be cheaper to run than electric, but a bit more expensive to set-up
- Gas canisters – You will need these if you go with the gas option
- Cast iron hobs – Good for cooking any type of food in a wok or pan (think curry/pad, Thai)
- Grill – Good for grilled cheese, burgers and hot dogs.
- Cool Box – In some events, you will have a fridge, in others you will not. This is a good way to keep your food fresh and chilled throughout the day. I use a good quality cool box such as the Igloo Unisex’s Polar 120 Coolbox.
If you go for a retrofitted trailer or food truck there should be everything you need. There are also companies that will install everything for you.
Tip: To save money try to buy what you can second-hand. There are a number of street food trader Facebook groups and websites that are geared towards buying and selling equipment.
- 5 Best Folding Tables For Food & Market Stalls – 2023
- 5 Best Food Truck Flat Top Grills
- What Equipment Do I Need For A Food Stall?
Set a budget
Like any new business, there is always an element of risk. So ask yourself what can I afford to lose if things don’t work out?
The answer to this is your budget and try and stick to it. Choose what setup you are going to buy and make a list of all the equipment you need.
The three P’s of trading
You have to work out how much you want to charge your customers. Too much and people will be hesitant to buy and you will not get enough sales, too cheap and you won’t make a profit.
The way you price will also differ according to location or event (most traders increase their prices at festivals because they have a captive audience).
Your stall or food truck is your shop front and you will often be clustered around other traders, competing for trade. You really have to stand out and clearly state what you are selling.
Even though the food or drink you sell is the most important thing, it is generally the last thing your customer will get to try. You draw them in with the presentation, then the price, and then the customer gets to try the product. If they are pleased, they will leave you positive reviews and become a repeat customer. So make sure it is good!
Getting your certificates
In order to sell food to the public there are certain certificates you need:
- Public Liability insurance – This covers you for any claims against your business.
- Food Safety & Handling Certificate – A day course online or at your local college. This ensures you understand the risks associated with transporting, storing, and cooking foods.
- HACCP Plan – This shows you have a system in place for how your food is transported, stored, and cooked.
- Register with your local Council – A food and hygiene officer will visit you at your home/kitchen/food truck and give you a hygiene rating. Having a HACCP plan is very important for getting a rating. If you don’t have one you automatically get a zero, no matter how clean your business is.
- Register as self-employed or as a limited company – It is probably best to start as self-employed as it involves less paperwork.
- Get an Accountant – If you register as self-employed, it shouldn’t cost more than £350 for a basic end-of-the-year tax return. Being a Limited company will be more expensive.
Decide where to trade
There are a number of places you can sell your product:
Street food Markets
These types of food markets are very popular. There are everywhere in towns and cities on the weekends or servicing the office workers over the lunch hour in the week. These types of food markets are also pretty reasonable in terms of pitch fees.
A fixed location
This is where you pitch up in a trailer or food truck at a fixed location on a public street or private land. Normally you would be trading 5 days a week with set hours.
There are loads of different one-day events, from dedicated food and music festivals to sporting events and everything in between. These will be slightly more expensive than street food markets in terms of the pitch fee. This is because potentially there will be more people, hence more sales.
These are the big 3-4-day events where you will trade pretty much from noon till night. The price to trade at music festivals has increased dramatically over the years but can still bring the biggest rewards.
I suggest starting small, trading street food markets or day events. Trading at festivals is completely different in terms of logistics and the amount of stock you need than trading for the day at a street food market or from a food truck in a fixed location.
The pitch fees for festivals are also much more expensive. So this would be another expense on top of the money used to start your new business.
I didn’t do my first festival until over a year of trading at smaller food markets and outdoor day events. Taking the leap to larger events is definitely a steep learning curve.
Contacting organizers or Local Council
Starting out I suggest contacting the event organizers of your local food market or a smaller festival. If you did the first market research step, you should know what other traders are selling.
This is important because as street food becomes more popular, so will the number of new traders making applications. When looking at your application the event organizers will consider what is already being sold as they don’t want too much of the same.
If you are thinking about trading from a food truck on the roadside you will have to contact your local council or state office and apply for a permit.
This can be a long process and don’t be surprised if you still haven’t heard anything after 6 months. You may have to chase them up!
Tip: check out the street food market of food truck locations to determine footfall.
Creating a marketing plan
You are a new business so you need to get the word out! Think about how you are going to get your name out there and let people know how great your food is.
If you intend to start at a local food market or smaller event, you will be able to get away with very minimal marketing. This is because the event organizer has already taken care of this. If they have done a good job there will already be a lot of footfall.
If however, you intend to trade as a stand-alone food truck think about:
- Contacting local businesses
- Handing out flyers in the local area
- Making announcements on social media
This is not too important when you first start a street food business. However, If you are looking to be in this for the long game then building a website and having a digital marketing plan will take you to the next level.
This is where organizers contact you to trade and how you get the private/corporate work. I especially like private/corporate events because it is paid for in advance, meaning no competing with other traders or loss of sales through bad weather. It also takes the guesswork out of how much you will sell.
Things to do:
- Build a website
- Create an Instagram page
- Create a Facebook page
- Sign up with event websites
- Sign up with wedding suppliers
This all depends on what you intend to sell. Things that can be cooked in bulk, that come with rice, like curries, for example, tend to have a higher profit margin. Vegan food is another good option in terms of profit as you are not buying meat, which is the main expense, and can be sold for roughly the same as a meat alternative.
In short, the profit you should expect for the main meal that sells for around £6, should be 30-60% per sale. Remember this is gross profit and you will also have to take into account things like pitch fees, travel, packaging, etc.
How much should I expect to earn from a food truck?
This is the big question and the end result of all the blood sweat and tears.
The good thing about this type of business is you can take it as far as you like. You can have it just as a side hustle, trading on a weekend, along with another job, or go hell for leather full-time. And even some traders do open a sit-down restaurant.
I have done both, doing it part-time when starting out and progressing to a full-time business.
It’s difficult to give a hard figure on what you should expect to make, as the type of food or drink you sell or how far you take the business will differ. But if you do it right you should expect anything from £30k – £100k + per year.
Having a plan B
This process takes time. It takes time to hear back from your applications, time to build a customer base, time to build experience, and time to establish yourself as a business.
Try and ease yourself into the industry by having a part-time job or another source of income. It not only reduces the worry of cash flow but also helps reduce the stress of having to make money from new businesses to pay the bills and minimizes making rash decisions.
I found this out the hard way when I first started. I bought a food truck and went all in giving my full-time job! I had no previous experience and things didn’t go quite the way I planned. Needless to say, it was a steep learning curve at the beginning.
However, things did work out after a while of going back to a part-time job and transitioning back to full-time with the food business as things started to pick up and I gained more experience.
The advantages & disadvantages
Whilst starting a street food or food truck business in the UK is definitely a worthwhile endeavor it’s important to explore both the good and bad things about it.
- Low barrier of entry – You can start a street food business for under £1500. Compare this to a brick-and-mortar restaurant and you can see the appeal.
- You are the boss – You get to escape the 9-5 grind.
- Income – If you do things right the income you get is way above the national average.
- It can be either a side or full-time income – Depending on how far you want to take it, you can run this type of business when it suits you.
- You are mobile – You can go where the footfall is, so if a particular location is quiet you can move to the next.
- The skills you learn – For most people who start this type of business, it is their first experience of being their own boss. You will pick up a multitude of skills that are applicable to most types of businesses. Marketing and accounting are but a few.
- You get to take 2-3 month vacations – Busy periods tend to be from March/April to September/October. This means you have a lot of free time at the end and start of each year.
- You get to work outdoors in the summer – There’s nothing like working outside when the sun is shining.
- You get to meet some great and unique people – When working with the general public you will meet kinds of different characters.
- The job is varied – From running around getting stock and cooking the food to traveling to different parts of the country to trade.
- It can be long hours – If you are trading at a 3-day festival the hours can belong.
- Weather dependent – Festivals are not so bad as you have a captive audience. But if it rains at your local street food market customers may be a little thin on the ground.
- Physically demanding – Being on your feet all day and setting up/packing away equipment can make this business physically demanding.
- Awkward customers – No matter how good your food or customer service is, you will always get customers who are unhappy.
- Income fluctuation – You will be self-employed which means no fixed income.
So there you have it, a rundown of how to start a successful street food business in the UK. From doing your market research, and deciding what setup to use and where to trade to marketing your business online.
As I mentioned at the start of the article it is not all a bed of roses and often takes hard work and perseverance. But on balance, it is a good business to get into. And like anything in life, the things of value are often the hardest fought for.
I hope this article helped and wish you the very best of luck on your journey.