Being a foodie has gone from a hobby to a lifestyle, and it’s one we’ve all started to prescribe to. As a nation of food-lovers, we’re ever ready to broaden our taste buds’ horizons. The humble food stall has gone from a Sunday market add-on to a powerhouse of creativity, cuisine and style - having a favourite food stall is now expected of any self-respecting foodie. Young, hip and at the forefront of all things delicious – if you’re not up to date with the latest offerings of that Japanese Pizza stall, appearing every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, then you’re not living.
If you’re a budding chef with a talent for customer service and the passion to take your food wherever hungry patrons are found, a food stall might be just your calling. Here’s how to get started.
Develop a food stall business plan
Creating a business plan helps you to clarify your thinking on how your food stall is going to stand out and lure customers away from competition.
Food businesses are a very competitive space and this is your opportunity to decide exactly what niche you’re going to fill and how you’ll do it.
A food stall may be compact in size, but the concept and potential can be mighty, so give it the best chance of huge success with thorough consideration of all the variables.
Things you’ll want to decide include:
- the kind of food you’re going to sell and what kind of customers you are targeting
- who your competitors are and why people will choose you over them (what’s your unique selling point?)
- the costs of set-up, raw materials and profit margins
- how you’ll raise up-front investment/funding
- what you’ll need to kit your stall out
- who your suppliers will be (food, packaging and equipment)
- where you hope to place your food stall, will it be permanent or a pop-up and how much footfall will there be? Location could include:
- a permanent site in a town centre or close to offices
- roadside position
- at festivals
- within an existing food market or off street market
- at private functions, like weddings.
- what permissions and licences you need to get started
- what will be on the menu and pricing
- how much food you’ll need each day/week and how much you need to sell to break-even and make a profit
- how you’ll cook and serve efficiently – do you need staff?
- What you’ll do about power and water supply
- branding (name, logo, packaging)
- tech for taking card payments and perhaps even online orders
- marketing and promotion.
There’s no getting away from the fact that there is a lot to think about, but that’s all part of the adventure of a start-up. A healthy side helping of broad skills is just what you need to enable you to start serving up plenty of tasty treats from your own food stall.
Have a recipe
This may be the obvious suggestion, but obvious is not what will get you ahead in the street food game. You may have the best recipe for spiral potatoes, but there are plenty of stalls offering the same thing. What you need is to make your recipe stand out, to give customers something they weren’t expecting but can fully expect to love. Concoct a fantastic fusion like Eat Cannoli, which is fully gluten free and has seven flavours on the menu.Or devote yourself to a style that’s a little unique, like The Bearded Jaffle, taking you on a comfort journey back to your childhood. A food stall usually only has one staple ingredient or recipe and can cook it to perfection, you don’t need to be a jack of all food trades, just the definitive master of one. If your recipe isn’t the best it can be, then devote some time to perfecting it before you go any further.
Licensing for street market stalls
Before you approach any pitches, make sure you’re legal to hire by being in-line with the law on:
- Food hygiene certifications (required for anyone who will be preparing food)
- Registration with Environmental Health as a food trader - different states have a different website where you need to register
- Street trading licences
- Liability insurance for employees and the public
- Risk Assessment / HACCP completion
- Gas safety certificates which are required for any gas-running appliances
- Electrical certificates which are required for any electrical appliances
- Hand washing facilities, by law, must be separate to those you use for cooking utensils
- Hand washing facilities must be available to any food stall unit (sanitising gel does not comply with food safety regulations)
- Health and Safety and Fire Risk must be assessed and policies/Due Diligence Systems written
Check your state government’s laws and licences for food businesses.
Always consult with a lawyer to make sure your licenses are in-line with your legal requirements, our above list serves as just a sample of some of the documentation you may require.
Hit the streets
In Australia, you’ll often see street stalls operating on the weekends, which gives people who have been out at clubs at night the chance to get a greasy pizza on the way home. The other major option is markets, which is where you’ll find the majority of street vendors, setting up a stall and selling their goods. If you run a coffee van, you might have permission from your local council to operate from the local parks.
Festivals, school fetes, carnivals and other events are also great places where food vendors can operate. To do any of this though, you need to contact your local city council to find out what’s legal, and what’s not.
Prepare Your Stall
Gone are the days of the generic market stall. While the delicious aromas of your food may be enough to lure in customers, an eye-catching stall won’t hurt. The precise type of stall you have will depend on the pitches you have managed to secure. Some might be happy to have you run your business from out of a van, others may not have room, consider how far your budget will stretch and if your chosen stall can adapt to the various pitch locations you’ll be visiting.
For a lot of food stalls, a few pop-up tables and collapsible gazebo is the best place to start, so money can go into the things that matter – cookware and ingredients. Once you’ve secured a successful schedule of engagements and are running steadily, you can consider upgrading to something on wheels.
You have your stall, you have your pitch, let’s talk branding. Branding isn’t just about the logo you choose to put on your business cards, it starts with your stall – if you’ve ever walked around a modern food market you’ll realise how high the bar for stall design can sometimes be. At the very least you’ll need a nameplate with your business name, you’ll want this easy to see and, preferably, easy to remember, as your name is all customers will have to go on when you have no permanent location. Feel free to decorate it with lights and colours, anything you feel best reflects your identity as a brand.
How you design your stall will directly affect your overall branding – if you want to give your stall a splash of colour and a definite sense of fun then your stall will look very different than if you want to transmit a sense of chic, sleek brand of minimalist design but big flavours.
You should be sure to carry your branding over onto your social media channels, packaging and website. Even if you’re just starting out, make sure all your logos across your channels are consistent and something you’ll be happy to operate under for a while – a rebrand too early on may result in customers thinking you’ve disappeared from the scene altogether and looking elsewhere for tasty treats.
Attract some customers
Everyone loves a free sample, and food stalls will often be offering samples from plates up front, or held in tongs fresh from the grill! Things like closing prices (knocking a pound or two off prices towards the end of trading) and meal deals can also get customers interested. And don’t forget the power of social media. An Instagram full of deliciousness can quite effectively entice people to visit your stall.
Accept all payments
You may find your customers are still caught in a bit of a limbo when it comes to food stalls, with some food markets being 100% cash and others being a mishmash of stalls accepting cards and some not. Being ahead of the curve is key to getting customers in this environment – sure, your neighbour might be offering something delicious, but if their hungry customer is cashless (like 98% of Aussies are forecast to be by 2024), they’ll sooner move onto you and your card-friendly payment system then look for a cash point.
The Square Reader is the secret weapon of many food stalls, accepting chip + PIN, contactless card, mobile payments like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay and comes with a reader for magnetic stripe cards so even international customers can pay by card. Square also has free Restaurant POS software you can easily customise to help you run your street food stall.