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How to run a successful mobile catering business

If you love nothing more than to cook quality food for people, but don’t like the idea of sticking in one place, running a mobile catering business could be for you.

There are lots of perks to setting up a mobile catering business. It’s a chance to take your passion for food on the road, meet customers face to face and watch them enjoy your dishes, and attend plenty of exciting events and festivals in the UK and potentially beyond.

Also, set-up costs for a mobile catering business are far lower than those of a brick-and-mortar restaurant or café, which makes it a more viable option for people with limited budgets.

Of course, any business venture requires a lot of time, work, resources and money, so you need to be 100% sure you have the time, dedication and funds to make it work. If you’re passionate and committed, though, the satisfaction you get from seeing your own business thrive is truly hard to beat.

If you’re seriously considering setting up a mobile catering business, this guide shares some advice on how to give it the best-possible chance of success. And when you’re all set up, Mobilers can help by arranging a catering liability insurance policy that suits your needs and budget.


First steps: research and make a plan

The more research you carry out, the better. If you haven’t decided on the food or cuisine you want to cook in your catering van or truck, these tips may help:

  • Certain types of foods will require more equipment (and therefore initial investment).
  • It’s best to serve a limited menu as preparation space will be limited. Also a longer menu can increase serving times (and not all customers will be patient!).
  • Search current food trends in the UK and also see which food trucks gain the most custom at the events you hope to trade at.
  • Attend events (foodie events in particular) to see what type of food is offered and which vans have the longest queues!
  • Think about the food you love to cook – if it’s not simple, could it be simplified in a way that would make it perfect for serving from your van?
  • Conduct a poll – ask friends, family or the public for some insight on food they’d like to see served on-the-move.
  • If you have a few ideas of suitable dishes, take a look at the direct competition – note their branding, menu size, and check pricing (you need to be sure you can sell the food at a high enough price point to turn a decent profit).
  • How many people can cater for? Being able to cater for larger crowds at festivals or events can be a game-changer when it comes to maximising revenues and increasing profit. To get an idea of what you'll need to be able to cater for groups of 100 people on a budget, take a look at our guide on doing just that!

While it might be impossible to produce something entirely unique, you also want to make sure that the market isn’t saturated for the type of food you want to serve. For instance, if you want to serve chips then you’ll have to come up with a unique ‘twist’ in order to stand out!

When you know what you want to cook, you need to put together a business plan. It should include things like business objectives, competitor and market analysis, financial forecasts and goals, and your planned marketing approach.

Looking for a few ideas on what type of mobile catering business you should start? Check out our blog on 20 top tips on how to start your own ice cream business, how to run a mobile bar or starting up a mobile coffee business. 

Again, the more thorough you can be here, the better – especially if you hope to secure funding for the business as investors will ask to see this plan. There are many free guides and templates available on the web.

A man standing looking at his phone researching whilst drinking a coffee

How much will it cost?

It’s hard to predict exactly how much it will cost to set up your mobile business because there are so many different factors involved. However, the Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS) gives an idea of what different levels of investment will get you.

It explains how a typical investment is between £5,000 and £10,000. This could get you a new, small trailer for shows and events, or a second-hand van for roadside trading, or a second-hand sandwich snack truck or ice cream van.

If you’re planning to trade at shows and events and want something a bit bigger, then you’re looking at an initial investment of £10,000 and up. For £20,000 to £50,000 of investment you could get a larger converted vehicle or a new, purpose-built unit for use at almost any event.


What will you need to get started?

There are a wealth of other costs (aside from purchasing the unit) that you’ll need to cover when setting up your mobile catering business. The NCASS website shares a comprehensive list:

  • Cooking equipment – it doesn’t pay to scrimp on equipment as you will only need to replace it sooner.
  • Food storage – for instance fridges, freezers and cool boxes.
  • Insurance – this includes employer’s liability, public liability and insurance for the unit.
  • Licences – including an alcohol licence if you plan on selling booze.
  • Washing facilities – including separate hand washing and utensil washing areas.
  • Risk assessment – this is a legal requirement.
  • Safe LPG arrangement and relevant Gas Safe certificates (if you are planning to use gas to cook). If you happen to run a food truck, check out our gas safety tips for food trucks on our site. 
  • Fire safety equipment – such as fire blankets and extinguishers suitable for the size of the unit.
  • Training – you and anyone you employ needs to be trained up to a certain level when it comes to food hygiene and similar matters.
  • Wages – you’ll be starting small at first no doubt, but still, you’re likely to need a second pair of hands and you’ll likely need to pay them for their service.
  • Cleaning equipment – regular and thorough cleaning of your catering van is absolutely key to keeping your customers and staff safe (and your business successful).
  • Pitch fees – most events will charge a pitch fee for you to serve food there. You’re looking at thousands of pounds for bigger events and festivals.

These are the absolute essential costs but no doubt you’ll end up paying for other things as you set up the business. For instance, costs to set up your website or create marketing material to drum up interest in your food van.

A mobile caterer standing in her kitchen smiling

Catering insurance from Mobilers

It’s really important to ensure you have the right level of insurance for your mobile catering van or truck, as it will help to safeguard your business against a range of risks.

Mobilers can provide catering insurance for your van or truck, or set you up with specialist cover if you have an ice cream van, burger van, mobile bar, coffee van or other type of catering unit.

Get a quote today!

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