Space can be minimal when it comes to a stall set-up. It is more than likely that your first set-up is a 3x3 pop-up gazebo that you hope is not going to blow away in the wind. Depending on what you are doing, you are going to have your equipment in with you and you are also going to need an area for you to wash your hands. My first hand wash was one of my mum’s 1960s stainless steel bowls that I made a whole in the bottom of using a diamond cutter and then attached a plug. I am still using it today, saving me £60 or more at the same time. Resourcefulness like this can be very helpful when starting out.
Layout and design of your stalls is essential to the trade. People eat with their eyes, so make it visual. Unless you have ‘burger’ written on your menu, people need to see it. Dress it up with some fresh greenery, samples of your cooking ingredients. If you’re a bit green-fingered, grow your own herbs and put them in 2.5 kilo olive tins. Greenery always looks good on a stall. If you’re going to use these herbs, don’t forget to wash them before.
Whatever you’re doing, you need to keep your food safe for the public. There are many types of equipment for this, depending on what you are doing. One tip is to make sure you get the right equipment for the job from the start, as it can be quite costly if you don’t. Try and think ahead, as you don‘t want the boiling ring and pan to become redundant because you have outgrown them on the first day of trading. Most importantly, don’t make things heavy, as you’re going to be picking this stuff up every day and moving it backwards and forwards to your vehicle. This, as you can imagine, is back-breaking. The more kit you get, the more storage space you will need. This can become an issue, and depending on what you are doing you may need a lot.
Make it eye-catching – do some research. Look at what other people are doing. They may be doing it wrong, so be critical. Think! Why have they have done it that way? If you where them, how would you have done it? What works and what doesn’t? Write it down and make it better. Being different is key in this business.
Whatever you do or however you do it, make sure you can take it down and set it up quickly, and make sure you look after your kit, as you will not want to be buying another lot any time soon. Keep your costs down – most of my kit has come from ebay or catering auctions.
Pro and cons. Stall, vehicle or trailer?
H van! There are a lot of them out there and the price of them has gone up over the years. There are other vehicles to choose from out there that are going to get you to where you need to go, and most of all they need to do it quickly, especially if you are looking to go the distance. When starting out, if you have the money, get a converted vehicle. In my mind, it’s the easiest way to get to a job, especially if in London. Plus you can park it, and as long it’s secure it should be quite safe. Trailers are good but can be quite ugly, and a nightmare if you need to park it overnight. You will also need to have a TACHOGraph fitted in the towing vehicle thanks to the EU. I have heard varying stories about not needing one, but as far as I can make out you do. (If you know that you don’t please let me know.)
It’s in what you say
Before I was a trader I worked in publishing, and what you say is key. The way you use your media via social networking can be very important and can move you up quickly. How you create your menu is equally important, you really have to make it sound amazing. Crème brûlée or burnt cream, what sounds better?!
Organisers are your bread and butter, and it’s all in your application. You really do have to make the biggest effort here. Don’t forget, you may not be the only one selling what you are doing. This is more true now than it used to be. In your application, you need to be talking about why they should be choosing you. It’s a CV and your business plan – something that you are going to need to get used to doing. It’s a very time-consuming business. Some are going to be going for the look, while others are going for the money. I cannot warn you enough – please be careful what organisers you go to. There are some out there that give a bad name to the business and are after your money. Most I can say are not, but talk to other traders to see what they have to say about an event – most traders will let you know.
It’s in the menu
No organiser is going to want 10 burger stalls. If you are selling burgers, what makes your burger different form the others? Your look is important, but all organisers want is different things. Most of the time it is what you look like, and they are making sure they are not doubling up.
In the beginning
Before you get yourself onto the street level, you will need to get quiet a few things in place. One of the many things you will need to do is register your business with your local authority. This has to be done at least 28 days before opening. This will give you plenty of time to do other things relevant to your food business. If you have not already got one, you will need to get yourself a food hygiene certificate. This qualification can easily be done online, search for ‘food hygiene certificate’ and you should be able to find a company that does the best type of certificate for your business. Yourself or your business will not just have to be registered with your local council, it will also need to registered with the HM Revenue & Customs. (link to their website) The best route here is for you to decide. I personally am self-employed. I have run a ‘Limited Company’ before with a business partner before, but for various reasons this did not work out. So choose the right business structure for you. Useful areas for advice here is the ‘HM Revenue & Customs website’ or ‘business link’
Your business will need to abide by laws regarding food and comply with all heath and safety laws. For the street-level caterer, the food standard agency has a handy document that can be downloaded from there website www.food.gov.uk. This will give you information on starting a food business and give you information that is relevant to you. They will send you their ‘safer food better business pack‘ this can also be downloaded on their site. It is a handy guide to help you comply with food hygiene regulations as well as other helpful things.
You will need to implement a ‘Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point‘ (HACCP). It focuses on identifying the ‘critical points‘ in a process where food safety problems (or ‘hazards‘) could arise and putting steps in place to prevent things going wrong. This is sometimes referred to as ‘controlling hazards‘. Keeping records is also an important part of HACCP systems. I designed my own record-keeping as it was more relevant to me and my business than what you can buy in the shops (link to records) link to record keeping.
You will be asked when trading for insurances. I have employers, personal and public liability insurance. For these, call round and find yourself the best deal. When you are at street level, your gas and electrical equipment will need to be tested and passed by a qualified engineer. These would include all gas and electric equipment. For your gas equipment you will need to find a ‘Gas Safe‘ engineer that holds the right qualification, as not all engineers hold the right certificates. A useful website is ‘Gas Safe Register‘ (link to their website). All electrical equipment has to be ‘Pat tested‘; this needs to be done by a qualified electrician.
Why I started
I started as I like to build things, I like to cook and I love to travel. What I do is what I love doing, and I see it as a holiday. You have to be everything in this business or know of someone that can help. I also found that other traders were just like me, giving and sharing, and would all work together and help. At the time, this is why I co-founded eat.st and have now co-founded Foodhawkers. It‘s not easy – hours are long, conditions are rough, and if you don‘t like being outdoors and on your feet all day, forget it. I love my repeat customers, and the stories they tell me about my food really makes me feel good.
Don‘t do this for the money, as you may be disappointed – someone who took 14k in a day maybe needed to, as they lost it all at the previous event, and if they are selling burgers that may quite easily be paying for their exclusive pitch. Don‘t be disappointed. Always be positive!
Unless they have just received a huge redundancy package, you will not see many traders driving around in new Land Rovers. Old LDV and battered Mercedes that have gone to Mars and back are more what you will be used to, and H vans with no engines. The cost of insurance, road tax, food, diesel, pitch fees, LPG, packaging and hire is going up while the price you are able to sell at is staying the same. To make it worse, you are thinking: ‘Oh if I add a bit of that, it will make it taste even better‘. These extra add-ons that make the dishes stand out eat into your profit. You really do have to be savvy in business, and know when to say no.
2012 has been the worst year for a lot of people – the weather, low ticket sales and overtrading were most of the common reasons. If you like high risk for little or no return, trading is what is good for you. When you do your spreadsheets, which will become your best friend, you will soon realise the money coming in is going out as soon as it does, which can be quite soul-destroying. As one trader says, ‘I seem to always have 10 grand in the bank!‘
Some of the things you will need.
Fire extinguisher, fire blanket, first aid kit, a folder with all your documents, pat test, gas safe, insurances, food hygiene certs etc etc, your safer food better business book, hand-washing sink. This list can get endless, so having a checklist before you head off may benefit you, or you will end up with loads of the same things at your storage unit!
In brief, what you need
3 Marketing skills
4 A lot of energy
The key for a smooth day is having all the prep done beforehand and cleaning down the day before.
For more information and advice on setting up a mobile food business, the Food Standards Agency has information on how to do this at www.food.gov.uk
For other information regarding business set-up see www.businesslink.gov.uk
For HM Revenue & Customs help and questions see www.hmrc.gov.uk
For gas safe register see www.gassaferegister.co.uk