Foodie culture is on the rise in the UK, and a new generation of passionate chefs and entrepreneurs are ready to take this show on the road. Now is a great time for setting up a mobile catering enterprise.
In street markets, urban food festivals and private events, mobile food truck businesses are expanding the horizons of the catering market – bringing cosmopolitan and exotic eats to an enthusiastic audience, or classic British standards with a modern twist. Hold on to the vision of a carefree you and your trusty van in a field of happy customers while we offer you a few tasty morsels to get you on the right track. Here’s how to start a mobile food truck business.
Laying out the workspace: setting up your own business
Catering has plenty of special demands you’ll need to tackle when you set up your small business, but food-related requirements are outnumbered by the issues common to all enterprises. These are the things that every entrepreneur needs to consider. Writing a business plan is a constructive way of focusing ideas and identifying problems or pinch points. Finding your perfect business name, considering premises, insurance, keeping track of the finances, how to finance a business van, cash flow and whether you need an accountant … you will need to tackle all of these basics regardless of your field of enterprise. Note that catering vans may be subject to specific insurance requirements.
Entry: the specifics of starting a mobile food truck business
Having thought through the "start-up" stage of your company, common to all entrepreneurs, it’s time to think about the two main ingredients of your business project: the food and the van!
Register your business with your local authority
Registering with the local authority applies to all food businesses, whether they are run from home, from their own premises, or from a mobile unit like a food truck. This step is absolutely mandatory, but quite straightforward: it costs you nothing and your application cannot be denied. However, it is essential to register at least 28 days before starting any trading. If you are using any food of animal origin, such as meat or dairy, and not selling your own products exclusively to the public, you may need prior approval by the local authority. In any case, it’s always worth talking to them to make sure your understanding of local rules is correct. There’s also the issue of waste disposal and recycling arrangements to check.
- Check whether your mobile food truck needs a licence:
Sometimes food truck business need a licence, for example to trade in the street. For most local authorities, what’s most important is usually the location, frequency and hours of trading than the nature of your business itself. On the other hand, if you’re operating in a market or street food event, it is only the event organiser who requires a licence. Since this whole area is a movable feast, and local authorities differ, you just need to check.
- General Food Law Regulations:
First and foremost, the food you offer needs to be safe for consumption and to have nothing added or taken away which could make it damaging to health. The best way to comply with food hygiene legislation is for you and your staff to have essential training in food handling, storage and display. Level 1 food hygiene training is for staff who don’t have contact with open (i.e. unwrapped) food; level 2 is for any staff who do handle open food and level 3 is for managers and supervisors, including owner-manager one-man bands! The regulations also cover the need for ingredients to be traceable and for food to be displayed and described in a way that is not misleading. Furthermore, you need to create and maintain a food hygiene management plan addressing the principles of hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) and, finally, regularly carry out a health & safety risk assessment.
- For employers of 5 or more people:
Though this may not concern most entrepreneurs at business start-up, you should be aware that a larger team comes with higher safety requirements. If you employ 5 or more people, you will require a written Health & Safety Policy document, as well as carrying out a fire risk assessment. These issues can be parked for later consideration, but a good awareness of risk assessment and safety never goes amiss.
Main course: choosing the right van for your mobile food truck business
Choosing the van that’s right for your mobile food truck business is one of the most, if not the most important decision of all at business launch. And it depends entirely on what food you will offer and what preparation, storage and cleaning up facilities you need! If your business is, say, delivering and dispensing cakes and freshly made smoothies to private parties, you may be best served with a small, versatile van like the Renault Kangoo: plenty of storage and stacking space, with the advantages of being able to nip around town and country as easily as in a car.
For more space and working facilities you could be looking at a panel van like the Renault Trafic, which comes in different load lengths and roof heights depending on your exact needs. If you need even more options and space for creative cuisine and additional cooks, you could opt for the larger Renault Master, which boasts an impressive range of both off-the-shelf and bespoke conversions. A box van variant, complete with serving window and plenty of clearing up and storage faculties, could be ideal.
Seasoning: details to consider when picking your mobile food truck
- Planning the menu and all it involves:
What will you serve? Plan the menu and list every single basic ingredient, utensil and appliance you will need to produce your munchable masterpieces. If you plan to use fresh ingredients, refrigeration will likely be a must. Every item from box fridges to stoves, blenders, mixing bowls, storage boxes, knives and spatulas will factor into your calculations of start-up costs and your logistics (weight can add up quickly).
- Sources of power for cooking:
Maybe you are transporting an external wood-fired oven like DJ BBQ and his Renault Master van or perhaps your cooking solutions are in-van, such as a gas-powered or electric griddle and hotplates. Either way, plan your power supply, research safety regulations, and allow for the space and weight involved.
- Estimate the space needed for daily turnover plus staff:
Your forecast will improve with experience, but you have to start somewhere: plan your storage space to accommodate enough ingredients to cover the day’s business. As for staff, it’s not just a matter of enough working space for you to wash up while your teammate is glowing over a hot grill – everyone needs a proper seat for transport to and from the venue, or other transport needs to be arranged.
- A little help from your friends:
You’re not alone: remember that lots of food fanatics and entrepreneurs with a passion for their culinary craft have already made a success in this field. Talk to people who already own a mobile food truck business, and gather info about what works and what the problems are; this can save you lots of time spent on trial and error as you plan for the van you need.
Dessert: customising your mobile food truck
Clearly, customising a van for a food truck business is not a DIY job, but once you’ve completed the planning process, you’re on target to think about smart interior storage solutions and talk to an expert about a van conversion. Renault has a list of accredited converters with masses of experience in creating tailor-made vehicle solutions for an individual business. They’ve seen a lot, but not necessarily everything; perhaps you will surprise us!