How to start a street food outlet

Recent years have seen an increase in the popularity of street food outlets as standards have gone up in the food on offer and more people seek to launch their own food business but don't have much of a budget.

The street food movement is not about flogging cheap burgers and sausages of questionable quality; instead it prides itself on sourcing high quality gourmet products, which excite the crowds. These artisan street food traders target foodies who expect quality products and care about provenance.

If you harbour ambitions to one day run your own restaurant, this is a clever way to start out with small amounts of money and also really get your brand out there. Once you reach a point where you are in a position to launch your own restaurant people will know who you are and what you do.

Is it for you?

If you have a passion for food, good social skills and are willing to be flexible, a street food outlet may be for you. Petra Barran, the founder of street food traders community Eat Street says you must make sure your proposition is right. "You have to start with something incredible," she says. "Do just one thing and do it really well. Many people make the mistake of trying to do too many things, but you should keep it simple, make it delicious and have a really strong story behind you."

Your options

You can apply for a pitch on a market, allowing you to trade on a regular basis and build up a customer base. Beyond that there is a huge amount of festivals and events where you can apply to sell your goods. Private events is another option but this should be as and add-on rather than at the core of your business.

Natural skills

Obviously you need to have a passion for food and you need to be good with people. You should also be driven, determined and you must have the ability to multi-task and deal with pressure and stress on a daily basis. You are going to have crazy times and you have to be able to cope with all that. As Joel Henderson from Burrito business Daddy Donkey says, "You know if you are one of those people."

Location

This is the most crucial part of your business. If you are not in the right place with a decent footfall you won't make any money, but of course any site with a good footfall is harder to get.

If the market is private, as is London's Borough Market, you need to apply to the organisation but if it is council run you should contact the local borough council; a process that could involve a great deal more form-filling than a private market might require.

Generally it is difficult to get hot food spaces in street markets, as an example London's Leather Lane market has just three pitches for this while the rest are for normal retail.

If a destination already has a certain hot food offering you are less likely to be accepted as the organiser will want to create the right trading environment for all. Some markets are more focused on specific food types, making it easier to secure a spot to trade.

Day-to-day

Regardless of your trading hours you will almost certainly be required to make an early start. At the outset you'll need to head to a market to pick up your produce first thing, but once you get going you'll be able to set up agreements with companies that can deliver to you.

When you start out you can use your own kitchen to prepare and pack but as you grow bigger it is a good idea to rent an external unit where you can also run your office from.

Once the preparation is done and you are on site it's all about cracking on and selling as much as possible.

Community

In recent years more street food hotspots have cropped up across the country including Eat Street, a concentration of high quality street food traders, in the new development in London's King Cross.

Eat Street started out as a community of street food traders and remains a valuable source of advice and support. They organise workshops, including information on how to set up, how to find a pitch and how to market yourself for people, who are interested in launching their own street food outlet.

Eat Street currently invites traders of high quality products to apply to join the community. Outlets on Eat Street will be trading Monday-Friday from the middle of May.

Training

If you don't feel confident that you have all the required cookery skills you should get trained as a matter of priority. It's important to note that street food traders often don't have formal training but have a natural skill and a passion for food.

Beyond the cookery you need to make sure you're on top of all the food safety aspects. To be certain that you cover all areas it is advisable to employ a food safety consultant from a company like Food Alert or the Nationwide Catering Association (NCASS). They will do all the food safety training you and your staff need and ensure you have high-end supervisory food safety skills.

Once you start recruiting it is helpful to take on staff who already have the required training from previous jobs. They'll bring everything they have learnt and a lot more you probably don't know and you can feed off them.

Certifications

You will need to have the correct certifications before you can start trading. Even though it's street food it needs to be managed in the correct manner. You must register your premises with the environmental health service at your local authority at least 28 days before opening. After that any time your environmental health officer (EHO) will come and do a food inspections so they will want to see certain levels of food safety certification.

Again a consultant will brief you on all this and what you need to do and what you need to adhere to like doing your temperature probes and recording when things are delivered.

To read about the requirements and see the check list on what to do when opening a food business visit the Food Standards Agency website.

NCASS offers various levels of membership, starting at £199, which include food safety and hygiene training.

Obviously as with any business, when you employ people you need to hold all the usual employers' licenses.

Cost

You can potentially start for very little money if you launch with a low-fi stall rather than a van. But if you want to start with a van a small catering unit would set you back between £15,000-£20,000 and the bigger the van the higher the cost.

You must also factor in the cost of renting the pitch - depending on the location the price of a pitch can start at a few hundred pounds per month and increase the more popular the location. Leather Lane market in Londond charges around £400 per pitch per month.

Start small, market your idea, test it out and make sure people like it before you get a market and a pitch so you know you can bring people in.

Staff

In the catering industry it is very difficult to do anything on your own, so try and have at least one person working with you to take some of the pressure.

When you are established you can employ full-time staff but in the meantime you can use temporary staff or contractors from catering companies; be warned though that it may turn out to be a little more expensive compared to doing your own recruitment and administration.  

Common pitfalls

Not getting the right location - the importance of the pitch location cannot be overstated. If you get this wrong you won't make it. Do thorough research and make sure you are in the right place.

Not paying enough attention to food safety - if you are not thorough and diligent it can get expensive. Doing the courses and using consultants when you start out is not cheap  - the courses and the consultant don't come cheap, but this is a legal requirement and it is best to spend a little money on that rather than having the stress of potentially being shut down. 

No t consi derin g the impac t of the weath er - on a sunny day you may find that business is so good that you sell out, but on a rainy day you may not take any money at all. "If you want to make it in this industry you have to be willing to ride this rollercoaster," says Petra Barran, the founder of of street food traders community Eat Street.   

Not holdi ng the corre ct driving licenses - if you are driving vehicles make sure you have the right license because if you have a trailer and got your license after 1996 they changed the rule and so make sure you have the right HGV license. Be sure to check with DVLA.

For more information

Eat Street: http://www.eat.st/ or twitter.com/eatstreet

The Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS): www.ncass.org.uk

NCASS has also set up a site devoted entirely to street food traders. http://www.streetfood.org.uk/ has a lot of information about what you need to start up.

Food Alert: www.foodalert.com

Food Standards Agency: http://www.food.gov.uk/