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How to start a mobile coffee business

From sophisticated Americanos to deliciously frothy latte macchiatos, there are few things more likely to get a queue forming than the smell of a great cup of coffee.

A mainstay of the British high street for years now, caffeine-loving Brits can’t get enough of this popular beverage. According to a recent survey we each get through an astonishing 1,352 coffees a year!

That includes 312 instant coffees, 156 Americanos, 104 espresso martinis, and countless lattes and cappuccinos. And with three in five people reporting they can’t go a day without caffeine, there’s a huge market of desperate customers out there.

So, if you’re considering ideas of how to get involved in the catering trade, a mobile coffee business could be the answer.

So, do you think you have what it takes to be the best barista around? Find out in our handy ‘How to’ guide.

We give you the inside track on everything from the nation’s favourite coffee drinks to coffee vehicle insurance. Call the Mobilers team before it’s too latte!


Giving it your best shot, right from the start

Over the last few years, you’ll undoubtedly have noticed a boom in mobile coffee start-ups. From vintage VW campers and converted horseboxes to modified bikes and trikes there are some really innovative ideas out there.

So, you could be forgiven for jumping straight in and getting out on the roadside as quickly as possible. But as every good barista knows, great coffee is not something to be rushed.

Before you can start brewing up a storm, there’s a decent amount of preparation to do. But hey, if you love coffee (and who doesn’t?) it promises to be a lot of fun!

Start out by having a good look at yourself and what you want to get out of setting up a mobile business. Not everyone’s lifestyle, talents and goals are suited to the world of mobile catering.

Are you passionate about great coffee? The coffee business has really taken off in the last few years and there are plenty of coffee connoisseurs around. If you want to stay in business you can’t settle for serving up powdered instant.

You’ll need to aim for the highest standards in quality, freshly brewed coffee.

It also helps if you’re the type of person who likes meeting people. Mobile catering can get pressured when you’ve got a queue of desperate coffee-addicts waiting for their fix. Are you able to keep smiling and offering great service as stress-levels creep up?

If this is going to be a full-time career, are you prepared for hard work and anti-social hours?

Operating a mobile coffee business can be a great way to fit work in around other commitments. But if you want to operate a daily round or enjoy a regular pitch and loyal customers then the occasional evening or weekend event may not be enough.

So it could be helpful to check out our recent blog on the best cities in the UK to have a food truck business.

While being your own boss isn’t for everyone, the mobile coffee business does have some significant financial upsides. First up you can start a mobile coffee business at a relatively low price compared to other catering start-ups.

The Nationwide Caterers Association says you can pay around £7,500 for a no strings attached Piaggio conversion that’s ready to go.

Second, a mobile coffee business works whatever the time of day or year. While some caterers are restricted to certain seasons or times of day, coffee sellers are not one of them.

Whether morning commuters getting off to a great start, office workers wanting a lunch time boost or night time revellers looking for a pick me up, there’s always a demand for great coffee.

And finally, according to business specialists Sage the potential gross profit margins on a cup of coffee can be up to 95%! Making the coffee business a potential money spinner.

Taking the plunge

Once you’ve decided that the mobile coffee business is right for you, what next? Here’s what you need to get sorted.

Business plan for a successful coffee shop

While those gross profit margins may sound good, they can’t replace a well-thought-out and researched business plan. Even If you don’t need a business loan for start-up costs, it’s a good way to work out what you want to achieve, and your route there.

The government has plenty of information, templates and support for those taking these first steps. If you already know someone in the trade, speak to them to find out about running such a business. Any research you do now will pay off dividends in the future.

Buy a mobile coffee vehicle

One of the great things about mobile coffee businesses is the sheer variety of vehicles out there suitable for wannabe baristas. And all to suit a wide variety of price ranges. Whether a classic truck in need of renovation to a trailer with all the mod cons there’s sure to be one perfect for you.

Brew-tastic coffee making equipment

A commercial coffee making machine is likely to be the most important purchase you make for your coffee business. But there are so many different coffee machines on the market, you need to do your research, check out the tech specs and prices, and ask the coffee cognoscenti for advice. Many manufacturers offer good after sales care, which could be important if you’re new to the game. After all, this isn’t like brewing up a coffee on your kitchen counter!

Be aware that if it hasn’t got the correct Standard markings (like a CE label) don’t buy it – no matter how great the deal. If you do, you could end up on the wrong side of the law.

Coffee cover

Don’t forget to research catering trailer insurance while you’re at it. If you’re making such a big investment in terms of time, money and effort you need to know your business is protected. Give the experienced team at Mobilers a call and discuss your options. Remember, we can also cover expensive kit, too.

Takeaway coffee

Lovely locations

If you want to make a success of your business you’ll need to choose your trading locations wisely. There are so many options to choose from, you might even operate from several different locations depending on time of day or season. Make friends with other market traders and learn more about what you should know when starting up your new business.

As we said already, coffee is remarkably versatile and is popular anywhere. From music festivals, football matches, and country fairs to car boot sales, office car parks, and industrial estates there’s a lot to consider.

Whichever type of event you opt for, you’ll need catering trailer insurance which includes public liability cover. Event organisers will want to see a copy of your policy document. If you don’t have one, and something disastrous happens, you could end up in hot water indeed. 

Training time

Apart from learning how to make the best darn cup of coffee in town you’ll also need to be a whizz when it comes to food safety and hygiene. The Food Standards Agency is the go-to source for everything from allergen training to food hygiene courses and certificates.

Get registered

Anyone who wants to run a catering business needs to register with their local authority, ideally 28 days before opening. You must also be prepared for food inspectors visiting your premises without giving you notice. They can order you to close if there are hygiene or safety concerns.

Choosing the best coffee to serve

Now for the fun part! What types of coffee will you offer? Here’s a list of some of the most popular coffee concoctions that need to grace the menu of any self-respecting mobile coffee business. 

  • Americano
    A popular go-to choice for someone who likes their coffee strong and long. It’s an espresso with added hot water that’s often served in a cappuccino cup.
  • Caffè latte
    A tall, mild, milky coffee served in a latte glass or a coffee cup. It’s an espresso with steamed milk and a little milk foam added. It’s common to add some flavoured syrup to it. Yum!
  • Caffè mocha
    One of the most popular tweaks to the caffè latte is to add a shot of chocolate sauce into the glass before the espresso shot and steamed milk. Some whipped cream and chocolate shavings on top is essential!
  • Cappuccino
    This frothy wonder consists of an espresso with a milk foam mixture. Served in a large cappuccino cup. Have serviettes available to deal with those coffee moustaches!
  • Espresso
    The small but mighty drink is served in a cute espresso cup.
  • Doppio
    A double espresso for those who really need a powerful caffeine hit.
  • Espresso macchiato
    Just add a little milk foam to an espresso and you’re done.
  • Flat white
    Once the preserve of in-the-know hipsters, this Antipodean invention is a mixture of a double espresso and lightly frothed milk. Stronger than a latte, but smoother than a cappuccino it’s easy to see why it’s proved globally so popular.
  • Frappe
    For those who want something cold and fancy. This is a rich iced coffee made of espresso, milk and ice mixed in a blender. Flavoured syrup is often added.
  • Iced latte
    Ice, cold milk and an espresso served in a latte glass. The perfect summer drink.
  • Latte macchiato
    Like a traditional caffè latte, but with a deeper layer of milk foam on top.
  • Lungo
    A shot of espresso pulled long so it’s not quite as intense.
  • Ristretto
    A very short shot of espresso. Served in an espresso cup. You don’t have to drive a Vespa but it helps!

From seasonal flavoured syrups and signature coffee blends to dairy-free milk alternatives, there are many things you can do to make your mobile coffee stand out.

Don’t forget, when it comes to tasting and testing out these coffees do you plan on serving them with anything? Whether a classic croissant or a deeply decadent slice of chocolate cake, food can help boost your profits and customer satisfaction. Although storage and serving space will need to be a consideration, too.

Call Mobilers to add cover for stock onto your catering trailer insurance policy.

Express-o yourself with great branding!

It’s no secret that UK coffee-lovers have a lot of options when it comes to choosing where to grab that essential cup of coffee. While there will always be a high demand for your coffee-making service you’ll undoubtedly face some stiff competition for business.

So, how can you make your coffee stand out from the crowd and grab yourself a fair share of the custom? A key part of making sure you get ahead is to establish your brand and market it effectively. Here are a couple of quick tips to get you started.

  • When it comes to a name, think simple yet memorable – there are some great coffee puns out there to inspire you!
  • Coffee drinkers tend to be a creative bunch so investing in some decent graphic design will get you noticed. As well as a great logo and paint job for your vehicle, do you want to get staff T-shirts or aprons printed?
  • Is there something that sets you apart from your rivals? Do you have a particularly quirky van or an exclusive blend of coffee to attract customers?
  • Being active on social media is a cheap way to get yourself known in the local area. People love trying new places, and if you can upload some yummy photos and videos you’re sure to engage your target audience.
  • Print up some flyers to send to local offices and business places. You could find an untapped audience desperate for a decent coffee and a break from the work kitchen.
  • Everyone loves a good promotion. Whether it’s 10% off at certain times, extra espresso shots, or a free slice of cake, it’s a way of letting customers know they’re getting a great deal.

Get a quote from Mobilers today

At Mobilers, we arrange catering trailer insurance for all sorts of businesses, and we’d love to help you get your ideas off the ground.

We can arrange cover for coffee vans and catering trailers, plus protection for your fixtures and fittings.

Policy benefits can also include flexible payment options to help you juggle all your business expenses.

Get a quick quote for coffee vehicle insurance today.

Frequently asked questions

What offline marketing can I do for my mobile coffee business?

Distribute creative flyers or brochures in areas with high foot traffic. You can also collaborate with local businesses or events to serve your delicious coffee, mutually benefiting both parties. Sponsor local events or charity runs where you can set up your mobile coffee station.

Another great idea is to implement a customer loyalty program, where customers get a free cup after a certain number of purchases.

Offline marketing for your mobile coffee shop business is all about building those personal, face-to-face relationships with your customers. We created a blog dedicated to helping you choose the best marketing methods for both online and offline.

Are mobile coffee vans profitable?

With the fast-paced lifestyle of today, convenience has become a significant factor. Mobile coffee vans cater to this need by providing a quick caffeine fix on the go. It's the perfect solution for busy individuals who don't have the time to queue in coffee shops.

The start-up costs for these ventures are considerably lower compared to traditional brick-and-mortar establishments. Plus, they offer flexibility in choosing high traffic locations, further increasing their profitability potential. So, if you're thinking about hopping on the mobile coffee bar bandwagon, it's worth considering!

Can I run a mobile coffee van part time on weekends and still be successful?

Operating a mobile coffee van part time on weekends can still bring you success. Many people look forward to a delicious cup of coffee during their weekend outings, and your mobile coffee van could be the perfect solution for them.

You will have an advantage of serving fresh, hot coffee to people at various locations where they are having their leisure time. This business model gives you the flexibility to balance your other commitments while still earning income.

How do I improve my coffee making skills for my coffee van business?

To improve your coffee making skills for your coffee van business, it's important to master the art of espresso making. The quality of your espresso sets the foundation for a great cup of coffee.

Take a barista course if possible and learn about different coffee beans, brewing methods and how to properly maintain your equipment. Practice constantly and experiment with various techniques until you find the perfect brew.

Additionally, staying updated on coffee trends and continually seeking feedback from your customers can give you insights on how to elevate your coffee game. Remember, every cup of coffee you serve can be a masterpiece!

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