For some business owners, the idea of being glued to one location is what puts them off retail altogether. You worry that you’ll get tired of the town or city you’re in, or you simply have itchy feet in general, and want to apply your creativity to a business that affords you the ability to travel. If you also love to cook, well, we’ve found the perfect business for you: street food.
Street food vendors are an increasingly popular presence on the streets of London, and for good reason. These businesses have a lower barrier to entry than bricks and mortar restaurants, and are often capable of serving up equivalent or greater quality food. With a little determination and invention - and the tips below - you can deliver your home cooking to the masses, without being tied down to one location and one hefty contract.
Find your niche
Street food isn’t just about convenience: it lives and dies on its ability to draw a crowd. Coming up with an interesting spin on an existing style of cuisine, importing something unfamiliar or creating something entirely new will all help to distinguish you from the competition, and hopefully get your creative juices flowing.
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Fusion dishes are an obvious example of this approach, although they are very difficult to get right. Bad approaches to fusion take two things that clearly don’t go well together, and mash them up for novelty’s sake, rather than because they taste good. A more delicate approach may be to take familiar food, but do it in a different way
Secure your licences
Every business has to apply for certain licenses, but street food businesses have more to acquire than most. At the most basic level, you’ll need food hygiene training, usually supplied by CIEH or a registered affiliate. Logically you’ll also need the facility to wash hands and cutlery, and a prep area that’s easy to sterilise. You’ll also need approval from Environmental Health, and public liability insurance in case anything does go awry.
If you’re cooking with gas, you’ll need gas safety certificates for all appliances; the same goes for electrical appliances, which need to be PAT tested and safety certified. Comprehensive risk assessments are also a must, taking it consideration every potential hazard and the risk it poses to you, your staff and the public. Being in a public setting and using gas in such close proximity to public thoroughfares can heighten this risk, so you’ll need to be thorough in your preparation and evidence that you are responsible. And have covered every angle.
Invest in great branding
Street food tends to be more transient than a fixed restaurant. With new locations, heavily localised competition and less space to impress, your branding really has to stand out. Your logo and decor can't be a prelude to someone looking you up on Google, or exploring your menu on a delivery service - - it has to communicate your pitch immediately, and in a way that's both compelling and speaks to the quality of the food.
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Working with a great designer is ideal to make your brand truly shine. If you're in a pinch, look to work with art and design graduates from creative universities like Goldsmiths. Alternatively, you can try to track down a great font for your logo yourself, and leave the broader strategy until later. A slogan is helpful for wider marketing, but less so for your canopy. Still, it's helpful to have a concept as well as a logo that you can work from and instill at the heart of your brand.
Design your menu
By now you’re likely to have a good idea of your concept, and some dishes that would fit well into that style. Before you start devising Michelin star level meals however, you need to consider the circumstances in which they’ll be served. They will need to be ‘portable’, for a start, with the ability to eat them standing up with plastic cutlery (and probably a paper plate). The items on your menu should be tasty, but they also have to balance price and practicality.
You’ll want to have a few different options at a range of price points. Most people will go for the cheaper option, so be mindful of the quantities and how complex each item is to make; it would be unhelpful to have a more expensive item that’s easier than a cheap one. Make the upgrades obvious - the easiest way to do this is just to use more ingredients (and adjectives) - and include a vegetarian or vegan option, as this will be especially popular in London. You may also want to consider using halal meat to broaden your audience, depending on your location.
Source your products
Ideally, all restaurants like to source as many ingredients as possible from local farms, fisheries and other sources. This is a bit tougher in London, which has both limited resources and heavy competition for them. Kent and Sussex are prime territory for food production, and you may find that you can strike a deal or two to supply your street food business early on. With a bit of luck though, you’ll soon be so popular that this may not be tenable.
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Taking a trip to a general purpose wholesaler may be enough in the early days, but you’ll soon want to strike up a relationship with a larger, more regular supplier. Brakes are the biggest in the UK, but many more local options exist and can be found online or in local directories. You might find that a more specialist supplier is required for certain ingredients. You could even source ingredients that are close to their sell-by date for a lower price; these are not legally prescribed, so as long as the food is tasty and safely prepared, you should be fine to sell it.
Secure your pitch
No shopping precinct or London market is complete without pitches for street food stalls, and while the best spots are fiercely fought over, there’s enough rotation to ensure that you’ll find one eventually. Many of the larger markets and dedicated spaces will have a website, which should provide instructions on how to apply for a spot. Sites like Appear Here are great for renting premium pitches around London, and other sites and apps exist with the same function.
Your first pitch might not have the best position, but it can be a great learning experience. If you get the chance, size up the competition: look at what they’re selling, how much for, and the quality of the products. Don’t be scared to adopt anything they’re doing well, and note down the things you think they’re doing poorly. Make it a priority to find out when they start serving, too. If it’s earlier than you, then you’re missing out on vital business.
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