How to Start a Street Food Stall

Always wanted to start a street food stall? We’ve got all the inspiration you need to turn that seed of an idea into a reality and get you started on serving hungry customers your tasty delights.

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.

Take a whizz through these pointers – then start your food stall and see your dreams become a reality.

street market stall

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.

Identify and define a unique selling point (USP)

If your food stall is going to sit alongside competitors or be in a place where there are lots of other dining options, you’ll need to stand out from the crowd.

Coming up with a stand-out trademark recipe is one way to do this.

You could concoct a fantastic fusion like The English Indian.They recreated cod and chips with an Indian flair and won an army of foodie fans (and awards) in the process.

Authenticity is a key selling point for many street food sellers. If you have a great back- story and you can demonstrate it through the quality and presentation of your product, this could be a winner.

Fresh, homemade, ethical, sustainable and locally sourced are all popular qualities and can provide a USP for your business. On the other end of the scale – fast and cheap can work too!

Licensing for street market stalls

Before you approach any pitches, make sure you’re legal to hire.

It’s important to seek official advice on all the requirements before you start a food market stall. Some things to think about include:

  • Food hygiene certifications (required for anyone who will be preparing food)

  • Registration with Environmental Health as a food trader

  • 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

The gov.uk site outlines other licences you may need as a food business.

The food business registration section of the gov.uk site outlines other licences you may need as a food business.

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.

For on-street pitches, your local authority should be able to help. You’ll need a temporary or permanent licence to set up and your local council may designate certain areas where food stalls can trade. It is not uncommon for there to be a very limited number of permanent sites available.

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.

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 a collapsible gazebo is enough. That allows more freedom to invest in other essentials like cookware and ingredients. Once you’ve secured a successful schedule of engagements and are running steadily, you might consider upgrading to something on wheels.

Branding your business

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.

crispy squid

Attract some customers

Street food stalls have always relied on enticing customers through the senses – the smells, sizzles, appearance and little tasters to draw people in.

Social media and the internet has widened the customer net even further. With a strong online presence, you can attract customers before they even see your stall.

All small businesses need to be on social media and street food stalls are no exception. An Instagram full of deliciousness can quite effectively entice people to visit your stall. Create a Facebook page to increase your reach. Social media provides huge opportunity to grow your business.

What begins as one food stall, could soon be two, or maybe a whole fleet.
Street food sellers have long known that 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.

Encourage repeat trade and build brand loyalty through promotions and marketing too.

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 the majority of modern Brits don’t carry cash so if your competitor doesn’t offer card or mobile friendly payment, the customer will soon move onto you.

It’s incredibly easy to get equipped to take card payments or even online orders. Look for tech that enables you to accept chip and PIN, contactless and mobile device payment, like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, and a reader for magnetic stripe cards for international customers.

Look for a payments device that integrates with point-of-sale technology to make your business run even more smoothly. Keep track of stock, gain data insight into what sells well, keep track of orders and future proof for expansion to more than one stall. Square Terminal provides all of this.

Don’t delay – start a street food stall your way

The food market phenomenon in the UK has been described as a runaway train, with massive spread and growth.

London is awash with brands like Kerb running foodie markets all over the capital, but big food stall venues have cropped up in cities as diversely spread as Durham and Brighton.
The big investors behind these venues understand that the appetite for street food and food stalls is there. Now is the time to make your small business dreams a reality.

For further inspiration to get you started, check out our setting up a business checklist.