Street food has seen a surge of popularity in the last few years across the UK’s major cities, and it’s no wonder why — it offers customers restaurant-quality meals at fast-food prices.

So if you’re passionate about food and interested in owning your own business, there’s never been a better time to set up a food truck. But where do you start? Whether you’ve never owned your own business before or you’re a serial entrepreneur, there’s plenty you should know before diving in to your own street food venture.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know to hit the ground running with your street food business, including:

  • The skills you need to start a street food business
  • The costs involved in starting a street food business
  • What licences and permits you need to trade as a mobile food vendor
  • How to plan your street food menu

With this advice, alongside a lot of hard work and dedication, you’ll be in with the best chance of making a success of your street food business. For those passionate about getting their food out there and putting smiles on their customers’ faces, it’s all worth it.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about starting your own street food business.

Street Food Table

What skills do you need to start a street food business?

Before you dive head-first into a street food venture, you should make sure you have the requisite skills to make a success of it. You don’t need all of these skills yourself if you’re going in to business with a partner or planning on hiring staff, as you’ll be able to share these duties. Of course, you’ll also develop a lot of them during the journey, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t fit this profile right now.

Cooking ability

One thing is guaranteed when you open your own mobile catering business: you’re going to be spending the majority of your waking hours preparing and cooking food, and it will be a bad sign for business if you’re not. You’ll need to be able to produce consistently high-quality food at a quick pace, and in the early days of your business when you’re unlikely to have the money to hire many staff, you’re going to have to do a lot of the cooking yourself.

If you have previous experience as a professional chef or within the catering industry, then you’ll be well suited to the environment. If you don’t, then you should only start a mobile catering business if cooking for other people is something you’re truly passionate about, as your skills are going to pushed to their limits in the hectic environment of a catering business.

Business skills

Of course, cooking great food is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to running a successful food truck. You or one of your business associates also needs skills and experience in:

Marketing

To make a success of your street food business, you’re going to need to create a memorable and instantly recognisable brand. You’re also going to need to become a master of social media, as getting word out about your location for the day so your fans know where to find you is key.

Design

If your business cards, flyers, logo, and your truck all look great, you’re sure to attract a lot more customers, so design is a crucial element of street-food success. If you, one of your business partners or staff, or a close friend or family member has a keen eye for design, you won’t have to break the bank to get a great-looking stall. Otherwise, you may have to pay a premium for a top-quality designer, and this may not be in your budget in the early days.

Finance

You’ll need to be able to budget and keep track of your expenses to make sure you’re making a healthy profit. You’ll also need good negotiation skills so you can get the best deals on rent and stock.

Management skills

As your business expands, you’ll need to hire and train top-quality staff, as well as keep them motivated and incentizised to perform at a high level at all times.

Customer service skills

With street food, you’re selling a lifestyle, not just food. If you’re planning to charge top-end prices, then you need to back that up with a top-end customer experience.

This list may seem daunting, but you’ll learn plenty along the way. It’s unlikely that if you’re a first-time food truck owner that you’ll have all of these skills from the outset, and the experience is likely to be a trial by fire in the early days in many aspects.

You can ease yourself in by going into business with people who have experience in the areas you don’t. For example, if you’re a great chef but don’t have a clue about how to run a successful business, it may be wise to partner up with someone who has been there and seen it all before.

If this isn’t an option for you, then the next best thing is to do your research. Use the internet, books, and the people in your network to learn everything you can about the areas of business you’re inexperienced in to give yourself the best chance of success. There’s plenty of information out there on how to negotiate, for example, and a lot of really good resources are completely free online. Be humble, and get advice wherever you can find it.

The golden rule of street food

Whether you and your team have all of the requisite skills to succeed in the mobile catering industry or you’re totally inexperienced, you should make sure you follow the golden rule of street food: concentrate on a small handful of dishes that share a lot of the same ingredients and make them to the very best of your ability.

As there is so much competition in the industry, serving top-quality food is essential for your success, so becoming great at making a few variations of a single type of cuisine will give you the best chance of success.

Furthermore, you won’t be able to offer a large menu, as you need to be able to store all of the ingredients needed to make up the food onsite.Speed is also of the essence when it comes to street food, as people are looking to eat on the go on their lunch breaks and at events. Having a small selection of food will allow you to become more efficient, as you can perfect the process of creating each item through repetition.

Stick to this golden rule and you’ll give yourself the best possible chance of success when it comes to your street food business.

How much does it cost to start a street food business?

If you think you and your business partners have the skills it takes to make a success of a food truck business, then the next thing you need to know before taking the plunge is exactly how much it’s going to cost you to get set up.

Of course, just like any business, the upfront costs can vary from a few hundred to tens of thousands of pounds, depending on what route you go down. No matter what your level of experience or budget, here’s our breakdown of the average costs of starting a street food venture.

Before we begin, we recommend that those who’ve never owned a business before start small with their mobile food business. Even if you have millions of pounds to invest in the project, you should learn to walk before you run by setting up a small stall and working within a limited budget. This way, if the business fails, it can only ever cause a limited amount of damage to your bank balance.

The exception to this rule is if you’re already an experienced entrepreneur, especially if you already own other restaurants, cafés, or food trucks. If this is the case, then you can jump straight in to a more serious operation in the knowledge that you have the skills to make a success of it.

Moreover, if you already own an established restaurant or café and people rave about your food, you may be able to get funding for a mobile catering venture through crowdsourcing, so make sure you consider this as a form of funding before you go to a bank or investors.

Here’s a breakdown of the start-up costs associated with opening your own street food business.

Street Food Table Setting

How much does a food truck cost?

The cheapest way to start up a mobile catering business is to buy a gazebo along with some tables and serving equipment. This will allow you to set up at a local market for the cheapest initial costs possible, making your business venture much less risky. You can cook the food you’re going to serve at home, then transport it in a car or hired van and keep it heated at the event, ready to be served.

Once you’ve tested your idea, you can start to scale up. For less than £5,000, you can expect to get a small second-hand food truck or market stall and basic catering equipment. If you have a bit more of a budget, then £5,000–£10,000 will get you a small new trailer or truck, or give you enough money to convert an existing van into a food truck. It will also give you more of a budget for design, so you can make your truck look great, which will attract more customers.

If you’ve tested your idea and are absolutely sure you can make a success of it, then you can easily spend up to £50,000 on a top-end food truck. For this kind of money, you’ll get a large truck with multiple stations to serve from, enough room for all the equipment you’ll possibly need, and a lot of leeway when it comes to design and marketing.

While this is a huge investment, it will make your kiosk a big draw at festivals, large events, and weddings, and you’ll likely be one of the first names on event organisers’ lists if your food lives up to the standard you’ve set yourself with such a high-end setup.

However, one thing to bear in mind is that you may have to rent two spaces at some events, as your truck may be too large to fit inside one. This option should therefore only be considered by those who’ve already made a success of a smaller food truck business and have the following to justify the investment.

What equipment do you need to start a street food business?

While the specifics depend on the type of cuisine, every street food business is going to need equipment to prepare, cook, store and serve food. You’ll also need some way to manage your money.

Start small at first. Prepare whatever you can at home, and use your existing kitchen equipment. A lockable money tin should be ample for food-stall takings. You’ll probably need disposables like plastic cutlery, paper plates, and napkins so customers can enjoy your food on the go.

If your food consistently sells out, you should have the confidence and funds to grow. That’s when you might consider renting a professional kitchen, and kitting your food truck out with a proper till and appliances.

Take a look at our commercial cooking equipment and catering disposables to get an idea of cost.

What licences do you need to start a street food business?

To sell any kind of food within the UK, you need to apply for food business registration at least 28 days before you begin trading. You can be imprisoned for up to two years if you start selling food without one, so make sure to apply in plenty of time.

To sell food as a street vendor, you will also need to register your food business with your local council at least 28 days before you start trading. You can apply for a street trading licence through the government website — if you’re caught trading without one, you’ll be fined £1,000.

Before you begin trading, you should also join the National Market Traders Federation (NMTF). A membership includes liability protection up to £10 million for any number of stalls anywhere in the EU, so a membership will give you complete peace of mind.

To sell food to the public, you and all of your staff will need Level 2 food safety qualifications. You can get a certificate on a day’s course from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health or the Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS) — this will cost you around £100 per person. Remember to plan and budget for this course for every member of your staff before you begin trading, as it is illegal to serve food without this qualification.

Any gas equipment you use on-site needs to be gas safety–compliant, and all electric equipment needs to undergo annual portable appliance testing (PAT), which you can learn more about on the Health and Safety Executive website.

To stay within health and safety regulations, it’s also crucial that you store your food at the correct temperature at all times. Take a look at our guide to commercial food storage for all the information you need.

Lastly, you must carry the adequate fire-fighting equipment at all times (find out what you’re legally required to provide on the government website), and you also need to have onsite hot-water hand-washing facilities.

Make sure to scan all of your certificates into your computer as soon as you receive them, as you’ll need to send them alongside your application to any events you plan on attending. You should also keep a copy of each on your premises at all times in case you’re ever asked to provide them by a health and safety inspector.

Once you have all of these licences in place, you can begin trading as a street food vendor in complete peace of mind. Make sure to put a reminder on your calendar to renew each licence in plenty time, and you should have absolutely no problems when it comes to the legislation that surrounds your mobile catering business.

In summary, you’re ready to trade as a street food business if:

  • you’re registered as a food business,
  • you have a street trading licence,
  • you’re a member of the National Market Traders Federation,
  • you and any staff have their Level 2 food safety qualifications,
  • all on-site gas equipment is gas safety–compliant,
  • all on-site electric equipment has undergone portable appliance testing in the last year,
  • you have the requisite fire-fighting equipment on-site,
  • you have working hot-water hand-washing facilities, and
  • you have digital and psychical copies of all certification on-site at all times.

How to plan your street food menu

Your street food menu is perhaps the most important factor of your mobile catering businesses success, so before you make the leap and invest in your equipment, it’s crucial that you think about what food you’re going to serve.

What street food is already popular in your area?

It’s smart to sell food you know people are willing to pay for, so doing your market research is worthwhile. However, if your area is saturated with certain options, standing out can be the best way to earn a loyal customer base and make a healthy profit. Here are a few things to consider when deciding on a cuisine and creating your menu.

What food do you love to cook?

Opening up a mobile catering business takes a lot of hard work, so if you’re not passionate about the food that you’re serving on a daily basis, you may not have the drive to stick with it during rough patches or difficult transitions.

Deciding on your street food menu is therefore a balancing act. While you need to be passionate enough about the food that you’ll be willing to stick with the business in tough times, it also won’t matter how passionate you are about the food you serve if no one wants to buy it.

How practical is the street food to produce?

Another important factor you need to keep in mind is the time it takes to serve each cover. People are looking for a quick and convenient meal from a street food vendor, so a food is no good if it takes half an hour to make each portion.

What are the competition doing?

The next factor you need to bear in mind when creating your street food menu is what the other vendors in your area are serving, or if there are any near you at all. If burgers, pizza, and the rest of the basics have been done to death in your area, then you’re likely to have much greater success with something a bit more imaginative.

You also need to keep festivals in mind when choosing what you’re going to serve, as they will bring in a large percentage of your annual profits if you approach them in the right way. A festival or food market is unlikely to want two burger kiosks, so if there’s already an established burger vendor in your area, for example, you may be best served staying clear of that cuisine.

Will your street food stand out?

Of course, another thing you need to keep in mind is that you’ll be vying for people’s attention alongside restaurants and other street food vendors, so to be heard among the noise, your best bet may be to go for something a bit more daring. This can often be a great strategy in metropolitan areas, where consumers are spoiled for choice when it comes to food choices, and may not respond at all to another burger or pizza vendor.

For more information about the wide range of catering appliances we sell here at Alliance Online, get in touch with a member of our team today at hello@allianceonline.co.uk.