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 tastebuds’ 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 Korean taco 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, then a food stall might be just your calling. Here’s how to get started.
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 fish and chips, but it’s a claim the UK’s 10,500 chippies can share, 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 The English Indian, who have recreated cod and chips with an Indian flair and won an army of foodie fans (and awards) in the process. Or simply devote yourself to quality like Curators Coffee, whose cakes and caffeine are made to impeccable standards of taste and sourced from exclusive growers. 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
Liability insurance for employees and the public
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
The gov.uk site outlines other licences you may need as a food business.
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.
Find a street market pitch
There is an increasing number of pitches available for food stalls to set up in and as the popularity of street food grows, no city centre is complete without a cluster of food stalls several times a week. Dedicated market spaces will usually have ‘Become a trader’ application pages you can use to get in touch, while agents like Appear Here can help you secure a wide range of trading spots. Other areas like lay-bys have commonly been an ideal place for traditional food vans to set up, but this is not as easy as it once was and may result in your being moved on by the authorities. Stay safe and avoid any risk of fines by operating in areas you have been cleared to trade in.
Food stalls will often operate in the company of other food stalls in a market setting. You should keep things like opening and closing times in mind if you find yourself with one of these pitches. If your neighbours open at 11 am, so should you, or else any hungry patrons wandering through will have no choice but to go to your competitors.
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.
So, 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 the majority of modern Brits) then 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.