For starters, you are your own boss, the start-up costs are low and you can move locations. Not only that, but street food continues to grow in popularity and more and more pop-up markets have sprung up in many cities across the UK. This means there’s great potential to capitalise on the popularity of street food and make a profit from a mobile catering business.
SO HOW DO YOU GET STARTED?
Mark Laurie from the Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS) says “Do your research. Go to markets and events and see if it suits you. Talk to traders, think about your product – what are you going to offer and why? What will make your offering stand out?”
Flic Luxmore, who runs The Jabberwocky mobile catering business with her partner Barny and is author of Street Food Soliloquy, a book about how to run a mobile catering business, says “You must have a passion for it – this is more important than anything else."
"Barny is a keen chef, but hated the restrictions of being in a kitchen. He likes interaction with people. I was keen to get involved – I’d had several customer service-type roles. Our plan was to run a restaurant, back when street food was relatively unknown. But we began catering for events from our van and enjoyed it so much, we decided to focus on street food.”
WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO I NEED?
According to NCASS, you will need a Level 2 food hygiene certificate. NCASS members can get this for only £12.50 (£30 for non-members). You will also need to register with the local council food safety team, arrange liability insurance and develop a food safety risk assessment also known as HACCP. NCASS members receive HACCP in their membership as well as cheaper training and insurance.
Luxmore adds “You’ll need a gas safe certificate (if you’re using gas) and a PAT Test certificate if you’re using electricity. Get all these scanned onto your computer and ready to attach to applications for events you want to attend.” PAT testing needs to be done on every machine 12 months after purchase and every machine tested should have a PAT test sticker on it.
WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED?
Well this depends on your menu and what you are trying to achieve. If you are a fast food operator, you may require counter top fryers or griddles. If you are baking you may need an oven. Table top equipment may allow you to do little and often cooking: tea urns, coffee machines, blenders, panini grills and salamander grills are all part of the staple of the mobile catering outlet.
Space is often the premium concern, so many operators will buy smaller machines, however, this must be offset against the amount of customers you are serving. If you buy a machine with too small a cooking capacity, this will mean long queues, slow service and lost custom. On the other hand, buy too big and you may restrict what could be already cramped conditions within the kitchen area, restricting work flow and also put additional strain on power supply.
Operating a mobile business means that you are hugely restricted when it comes to the services you provide. Washing up, preparing food and washing hands, all require running water and if you don’t have fresh clean water on tap, all of these become harder and need additional attention to manage. Additionally, a lack of fresh clean water could potentially be a food safety hazard.
It's similar when you're choosing the services for gas and electric. Larger equipment requires more power and this needs to be taken into consideration before choosing the equipment. Does your outlet have its own generator?
You also need to consider air flow to ensure anyone working is kept safe from smoke and fumes. Extraction maybe required depending on your menu.
Bottled gas is often used as an alternative in mobile catering outlets due to the fact it's easy to transport and no need to link up to a power source at site. However, you need to ensure you have a plentiful supply to see you through your trading period and a lot of consideration needs to take place in regards to the safety involved. It's crucial that you seek professional advice and a trained gas engineer is employed to install the equipment.
For their first unit, Luxmore installed a commercial gas oven, a griddle and a tea urn. “You must have facilities for tea,” she says. “Apart from keeping you sane, as tea always does, it’s also a tidy little earner and nice and warm in the winter. As an added bonus, it’s the perfect way to keep your trading neighbours sweet if they don’t have tea facilities. Make sure you mention it on applications to events – otherwise the organisers might pop you next to a dedicated tea/coffee stall and no-one will be delighted.”
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