What do you need to know about winter events? Should your approach be any different for colder times? Do you need to adjust your catering to cover winter risks? Find out more below.
Why limit yourself to the summer months? A food truck is an asset that can deliver income all year round. Now is the perfect time to think about whether the colder months could be just as profitable.
The best winter events for food trucks
Christmas markets have become increasingly popular in recent years and there is huge demand for catering at these festive events. Your choice of which markets to attend will depend on many factors: for example, costs, the demographic, and distance.
Here are Christmas markets in the UK you ought to consider attending:
1. Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market
This German-style market offers an authentic experience of a traditional German Weihnachtsmarkt. Bratwurst, pretzels, gluhwein and schnitzel are sold alongside German ornaments and gifts.
2. Manchester Christmas Markets
Manchester doesn’t have a single Christmas market, but a series of smaller markets that span the city. It’s easy to walk between markets, and there’s a varied vibe: bratwurst and gluhwein but also DJs and craft beer in the evenings.
3. Plymouth Christmas Market
This seaside town offers plenty of Christmas cheer, with festive food, crafts and the best produce the south west has to offer.
4. Newcastle Christmas Market
This traditional family market is a fantastic mix of local vendors, brewers and retailers. Father Christmas can be visited at a special grotto. The market is down to earth but draws in the Newcastle crowds.
5. London Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
Perhaps a more upmarket market, this Insta-worthy event draws in the crowds with a range of dazzling illuminated spectacles. An ice rink, ice sculpting workshop and an ice slide bring out the magic, while food and drink stalls provide much-needed sustenance.
6. Bath Christmas Market
The Georgian architecture of Bath is impressive and the Christmas market shows it off to best effect. Centred on the city’s beautiful Abbey, the market is a magical experience, especially in the evening, when the city is lit in wonderful colours.
7. Edinburgh Christmas Market
Stretched across Princes Street Gardens and The Mound, this market sells local Scottish produce and plenty of handmade arts and crafts. The city setting makes the market look stunning, and you might find a snowfall helps to get those customers out and spending.
8. Nottingham Winter Wonderland
This popular market has an ice rink and fairground rides, Christmas decoration stalls, and plenty of delicious food stalls to please visitors.
9. Lincoln Christmas Market
For a fairly small city, Lincoln punches far beyond its weight when it comes to Christmas markets. Nestled around Lincoln Cathedral, stalls offer food, drink, handmade crafts and decorations and plenty of food and drink.
10. Padstow Christmas Festival
If you’re aiming for discerning foodies, this market is for you. It’s more of a festival than a market, lasting only four days but food celebrities like Rick Stein, Paul Ainsworth and Nathan Outlaw make an appearance. There are cookery demonstrations, a firework display and a bustling food market.
These are just a selection of the Christmas markets that fill the streets in December – almost every town and city now has its own offering. It might be better for your business to travel to smaller markets where you can use your catering van and enjoy a lower cost base.
Some of the established markets have much greater footfall, but they can also charge stallholders more and have restrictive terms about how you present your stand and what you can have on site. Be sure you know what the event’s insurance covers and where your own catering market traders insurance fits in.
You might also want to consider whether to go for one of the longer-lasting markets (some go on through the entire month leading up to Christmas) or take in multiple markets that last a shorter time.
However, Christmas is not the only opportunity in winter months. Local events go on throughout the season. Here are just a few examples.
You’ll need to check with the organisers or local councils to find out how food stallholders can get involved:
1. Jorvik Viking Festival, York
This February festival is a celebration of the end of winter and 40,000 Viking enthusiasts descend on York for a Norse knees-up. Battle reenactments, wrestling matches, historic longships and lots of ale mark this special festival.
2. Leicester Comedy Festival
What do comedy fans need as they walk between venues in chilly February? That’s right – top-quality grub from your stall.
3. Cheltenham Literature Festival
Plenty of literary festivals happen in colder months, typically during the autumn. This late October festival is one of many literary festivals that take place around the UK, with celebrated authors and special events bringing in the crowds.
4. Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival
The oldest carnival in the UK is celebrated on the first Saturday of November with a jaw-dropping illuminated carnival procession. Concerts, stalls and all kinds of excitement surround the festival and people come from far and wide to join in with the fun.
5. Marmalade Festival, Penrith
The Lake District’s Dalemain Mansion and Historic Gardens is home to this Paddington Bear-themed festival in March. Guests enjoy delicious marmalade-based products and can enter a competition for the best marmalade.
6. London Coffee Festival
Hipsters, baristas, DJs and cocktails – this April festival is a favourite with coffee lovers and those with a discerning palate from throughout London and beyond. Serve up treats to hungry coffee drinkers in London’s Brick Lane. If you are interested in starting your own mobile coffee business, check out our recent blog elsewhere on our site.
With a little imagination, you can find other places for your business to thrive:
1. Sports events
There are plenty of sporting events in colder months, as the rugby and football seasons get into gear. Some of these events have had the same dreary catering for decades. See if you can get in on the act and offer something new to the sports fans.
Being a contract caterer for the winter months is worth considering. You can provide food for local businesses, or for events like parties – whether you use an in-house kitchen or serve from your catering van outside.
Think outside the box. As well as the usual weddings, parties and occasions you could find opportunities at conferences, trade events and so on.
3. Music events
Music festivals aren’t just confined to the summer months. In autumn, winter and spring there are plenty of indoor-based festivals as well as gigs and concerts that draw large crowds.
If your food offering is right for this type of crowd, you could have a captive audience and do a roaring trade. Just as with festivals, you’ll need to balance the costs of attending with what you stand to gain.
4. Rural shows
You might know your way around the country’s festivals and hip happenings, but what about rural events? County fairs and agricultural shows also take place in colder months.
Food offerings at these events can be a bit samey so your stall could be an exciting newcomer. Don’t assume that it’s only farmers who go to these events, they can attract a wide range of people.
5. Street food events
Plenty of cities now celebrate their gastronomic credentials with street food events. These might be one-off or regular events where the best of local caterers come together with delicious food stalls.
The competition might be fierce between stallholders, but the variety on offer can also draw in the crowds to make everyone a winner. You need a distinctive and enticing menu to do well at these events - cheap and cheerful burgers probably won’t cut it!
6. Diversify with an online presence
The pandemic saw many food companies diversify into offering service online, whether through takeaway apps or other platforms. It’s worth considering whether this might work for you through the winter months.
One option is to cook on one night of the week, taking pre-orders to protect your margins. Or you could offer a service where you deliver a feast to homes for an easy dinner party.
Hunt around on food service apps and explore your local marketing opportunities to find something that works for you. If you have a dedicated fan base locally, this can be a good option.
Check your activity is covered under your catering market traders insurance before you start.
7. Partner with companies
Businesses are looking for ways to make it worth their employees coming into the office. What could be better than some delicious food at a discount?
Partnering with a company or group of companies to provide tasty lunchtime snacks can provide valuable income on a weekday. Companies might give their employees meal vouchers or offer a subsidy.
Should you change your menu in winter?
There’s no doubt that people’s food preferences change in the colder months. If you’re usually doling out something unheated, like ice cream or salads, these are unlikely to perform well in chillier times.
On the other hand, some foods like pizza, burgers, tea and coffee are year-round crowd pleasers.
You might want to tweak your menu by offering festive specials like gingerbread, mulled wine or warming soups and stews. You might want to offer a twist on the usual Christmas offering by serving up more exotic items like German hotdogs, Mexican hot chocolate or French tartiflette.
Check your catering market traders insurance will cover you if you plan to use any unusual equipment or increase your stock.
There is a tricky balance to be struck in designing your menu. Your brand will be stronger if you sell something distinctive, but if it’s too unusual then you simply won’t attract enough custom.
A quirky take on a well-known favourite might work well, for example offering a Christmas dinner version of another cuisine such as tacos, burrito or ciabatta.
There’s no shortcut to knowing your customers, knowing the local markets and working out what is most successful for you. Within a few months, you should have a strong grasp of what will prove popular.
How to keep warm on your market stall
Being cold is no fun at all. You need to work out how to stay warm in a food stall in winter – for your own comfort, to avoid falling ill, and to keep your staff happy.
You also need to ensure you meet your legal obligations to look after your workers’ health. Make sure this is covered in your catering market traders insurance.
What can you do to avoid getting too cold?
1. Layer up
The ideal clothing for a food stall in winter is lots of layers. This means you can remove clothing if you get too hot, but add on layers if the chill starts to bite.
You might even want to invest in some warm branded fleeces for your workers to keep them warm while looking smart. Hats and scarves can also be great at keeping heat in.
2. Heat packs
At quiet times, a heat pack in your pocket can be a lifesaver. You can also use heat packs on your back or tummy. It’s even possible to buy heated insoles for toasty toes.
3. Regular drinks
Hot drinks can help to keep you feeling warm. Ensure you and your workers have regular hot drinks to keep the cold at bay.
4. Eat the right food
A bellyful of porridge will stoke your internal heating system. Make sure you have a good breakfast and consider offering your staff breakfast or snacks that will warm them up - instant porridge is a low-cost warmer.
5. Plan your prep
Take a moment to think which of your activities really needs to happen outdoors - could you pre-prep some elements of your menu in a warmer place?
For example, rather than chopping vegetables with painfully cold fingers, you could pre-prepare them so your hands can stay warm on the stall.
Alternatively, invest in machines that can do some of the work for you, saving your fingers.
6. Take an exercise break at quiet moments
Standing around for too long can make you feel cold. Encourage staff to go for a quick walk, or even do some star jumps at quiet moments, if they’re feeling cold.
If there is loading or stacking work to do, this can also help to create some body warmth.
Challenges in running a winter food truck
Compared to running a food truck in summer, there are a few challenges that you will need to think about.
1. Protecting your truck from sub-zero temperatures
When the mercury sinks below zero, you need to make sure your catering truck will cope well. For example, do you have a water tank that could freeze over?
Are your tyres up to the job of dealing with icy ground, potentially off-road? You might need to make a few investments to protect your vehicle, for example better insulation, winter tyres or heating systems.
2. Not keeping customers waiting
When it’s freezing, customers will be much less keen on standing around in the cold, waiting to be served or for their food to be cooked. Swift service is essential.
Design your menu so food can be served quickly - for example, a stew that can be dished out. It’s also important to ensure you have the right staffing levels to avoid delays.
Depending on the site, you might consider offering an awning or tent with seating, heaters and blankets to keep customers cosy. Just make sure this is covered by your catering market traders insurance first.
3. Get the right lighting for gloomy days
A catering trailer that looks eye-catching in summer might seem dull on a dark winter day. Illuminating your van will help to draw customers in.
You also need to ensure you have adequate lighting so customers can get to your truck and avoid any trip hazards such as rubbish bins.
Again, you should check the terms of your catering market traders insurance to see what you are required to do.
4. Motor problems
Cold weather can put a strain on your vehicle, especially if it's an older model. Whereas a quirky vintage catering van might cope fine in the summer months, the same vehicle could see all kinds of engine problems when the big freeze starts.
It’s important to know the limitations of your vehicle and know what your catering market traders insurance will cover – for example, if you lose money because your van breaks down on the way to an event, what can you claim for?
5. Can you keep the power going?
A portable generator can be incredibly useful to make sure you have a supply of energy, on any site and in any weather. However, generators are not cheap.
Make sure yours is covered by your catering market traders insurance for better peace of mind.
6. Managing your supplies
You might have a good handle on what your truck consumes in the summer, but in colder weather the pattern is likely to change. You’re more likely to be selling hot food, so you will probably get through gas and electricity faster.
The worst thing is to have to shut up shop because you run out of LPG. You might also need different disposable supplies for your winter menu – bowls and spoons for stew, for example.
7. Attracting staff
If your business relies on students to help out with festival stalls in the summer, you might find it harder to get good workers in the colder months.
You can’t offer a free pass to a festival, for one thing. Maybe you can offer higher pay, or perks like free meals or transport?
8. Really bad weather
What are the limits for your stall? If the weather is more than just a bit chilly, you might need a contingency plan. Snow, heavy rain, extreme cold - these will affect your business and you might need to have a back up.
For example, a gazebo can be great at drawing in customers when it’s snowy, or you might want a shovel to help clear snow from around your van.
What insurance do you need for winter food trucks?
Operating through the winter months could be an exciting new expansion for your business, but there are risks. Vehicle failure, buying and using different new equipment, managing adverse weather and managing risks such as slips and spills can all be different in colder months. Apart from the best winter events to attend, check out the best UK cities for food trucks overall.
You will need specialist catering Mobilers can find you instant cover, tailored to your circumstances.
Talk to our friendly team for a catering market traders insurance quote today.