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Starting your mobile coffee business in the UK: What licenses do I need to begin trading?

As the allure of artisan coffee continues to spread across the country, mobile coffee businesses are in high demand and becoming a popular choice for coffee lovers wanting to spread the joy of a good cuppa. Yet, as enticing as the idea might be, you're probably asking yourself, "What licenses do I need to start?" If you're itching to start your own coffee empire but are unsure about the licensing requirements, read on!

What is a mobile coffee business?

A mobile coffee business is a type of catering venture that provides coffee and other hot beverages to customers from a movable vehicle or cart. This could either be a van equipped with coffee-making machinery or a bicycle with an attached cart. The mobile nature of this business allows you to reach a wide variety of customers, making it an excellent option for those looking to tap into the UK's booming coffee industry.

Coffee vans can offer a range of beverages, including tea, hot chocolate, and various types of great coffee. Many businesses also offer complementary food items, such as pastries, sandwiches, and snacks.

Licenses and permits you'll need

Here's where things start to get a bit technical. Before you can launch your business, you'll need to secure several licenses and permits. So, do you need a licence for a coffee van or a mobile coffee van in the UK? Yes, you do, and here are the essential ones:

Food business registration

Regardless of the size or nature of your food business, you're required to register it with your local authority. This should be done at least 28 days before you start trading. It's important to note that if you operate in different council areas, you may have to register with each one.

Street trading licence

If you plan to trade in public areas, you'll need a street trading licence. The licence is issued by your local council, and the requirements can vary between different areas. It's essential to check with your local authority about the specific regulations in your area.

Food hygiene certificate

As you'll potentially be handling and serving food, it's crucial that you have a food hygiene training. Having a food hygiene or safety certificate will also be necessary. This ensures you understand how to handle food safely and reduces the risk of food poisoning.

Catering liability insurance

In addition to the licenses, it's essential to have suitable catering liability insurance cover. This will protect you against any claims that might arise due to food poisoning, injury, or accidents.

Do I need a food hygiene certificate if I only sell drinks?

Even if you only sell drinks in the UK, obtaining a food hygiene certificate is still essential. The certificate ensures that you are aware of the necessary procedures to prevent any form of contamination that could potentially harm your customers.

It's all about promoting a safe and healthy consumption environment. So, yes, you do need a food hygiene certificate if you just sell drinks in the UK. It's not just about the law, it's about ensuring customer satisfaction and trust in your products and services.

The legalities involved

In addition to the licenses and permits, there are other legal requirements you need to meet. These include registering as a food business, complying with food safety standards, and ensuring traceability of your supply chain.

Thinking of starting a mobile coffee business?

Before you start, it's crucial to have a solid business plan. This should include your target market, expected initial starting costs, expected monthly costs, and projected earnings.

The pros and cons of owning a mobile coffee business

Running a mobile coffee business can be rewarding, but it also comes with its own set of challenges. It's important to weigh the pros and cons before diving in. But you can also check out our full blog on starting a mobile coffee business.

The pros

  • Flexibility: You can choose your working hours and locations.
  • Lower Costs: Compared to a brick-and-mortar café, a coffee van has lower start-up and running costs.
  • Greater Reach: Being mobile allows you to reach a wider customer base.

The cons

  • Uncertainty: Income can be unpredictable, especially in the early stages of the business.
  • Long Hours: You may have to work early mornings to cater to the breakfast crowd.
  • Competition: The coffee industry is highly competitive, and you'll have to work hard to stand out.

Choosing your mobile coffee vehicle

Once you've secured the necessary licenses and permits, it's time to choose your coffee vehicle. This could be a coffee van or trailer, a bicycle with an attached cart, food truck, or even a delivery vehicle for pop-up stalls. The choice depends on your business model and budget.

A coffee van or trailer is the most expensive option but offers more space for stock and equipment. A business loan may be necessary for you if you go down this route.

On the other hand, a bicycle with an attached cart is a cheaper alternative, costing as little as £2,000. However, it's smaller and can carry less stock but could still provide your customers with decent coffee. Click here to get a quote for coffee vehicle insurance.

Equipment you'll need

Here's a list of some essential equipment you will need:

  • Coffee Machine: This could be an espresso machine, a filter coffee machine, or a standard coffee machine. The choice depends on the types of coffee you plan to serve so pick your coffee machine wisely.
  • Coffee Grinder: If you're using coffee beans, you'll need a grinder to prepare them for brewing.
  • Hot Water Dispenser: This is necessary for making tea and other hot beverages.
  • Refrigerator: Since you'll be serving milk, a refrigerator is a must. Some vans come with an inbuilt refrigerator. If not, you'll have to install one or buy a small portable one.
  • Cups and Cutlery: Depending on your business model, you'll need either takeaway cups and wooden stirrers or reusable cups and metal spoons.
  • Other Equipment: This could include a cash register, a point of sales system, a pricing board, tables and chairs for seating, and a sugar dispenser.

Stocking up for your business

After deciding on the type of business you want to run, you can begin purchasing stock. Buying in bulk can save you money. Spend time sourcing stock to ensure you have the highest quality products at the best price. Understanding the trading market is key to ensuring good profit margins.

Typical pricing of a mobile coffee business

Start-up costs for a mobile coffee business can vary significantly, depending on the vehicle and coffee-making equipment you choose. However, the initial start-up costs are relatively low compared to other businesses. This, coupled with lower running costs, can increase your potential profit margin.

Researching your local coffee scene

Embarking on a journey to start a business in the coffee industry requires an intimate understanding of your the coffee scene in your local area. Here are a few practical steps to conduct a comprehensive local coffee scene research to start a business.

First, start with a basic online search about the existing coffee shops and coffee vans in your local area. Look for reviews, ratings, and customer comments to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Social media platforms can be handy in gauging public opinion of coffee connoisseurs.

Secondly, step out and visit these different locations. Experience their trade by tasting their offerings and take the time to analyse their price ranges. This will give you valuable insights into the prevailing trends and customer preferences.

Lastly, engage with coffee drinkers. Understand their likes, dislikes, and what they would want in a new mobile business. This could be done through informal chats or formal online surveys. Remember to keep tabs on local event organisers who organise coffee focused events. They can be a goldmine of information about the local tastes and trends.

In conclusion, researching the local coffee scene is not just about understanding the competition but also about understanding your potential customers and their needs. So put on your researcher's hat and get ready to dive into the world of local coffee culture!

Finding a niche and choosing your trading locations

Finding the right niche and location for a mobile coffee business can be an exciting and rewarding endeavour, but it requires careful planning and strategic thinking. Mobile coffee has become a growing trend over the years, offering entrepreneurs a flexible and cost-effective way to tap into the lucrative coffee industry.

However, the success of your business plan largely depends on your ability to identify a unique niche and choose an optimal location.

Your niche could be anything from serving only organic, fair-trade coffee, to offering a diverse menu of exotic blends from around the world. It's about finding an aspect of coffee culture that resonates with you and that you believe will appeal to your target customers. On the other hand, when it comes to choosing a location, consider areas with high foot traffic such as commercial districts, college campuses or tourist spots.

Remember, the aim is to find a sweet spot where your unique coffee offerings meet a specific demand in the market. This is why finding the ideal niche and location for your mobile coffee business is so crucial.

It's not just about being able to sell coffee; it's about crafting an experience that your customers will love and remember. Think outside of the box, do your research, and let your passion for coffee guide you towards success.

Can I sell my beverages in a town centre in the UK?

Absolutely, you can sell coffee in a town centre in the UK. The UK is renowned for its love of freshly brewed coffee. Whether it's a morning pick-me-up, a midday treat or an evening indulgence, the Brits are always ready for a decent coffee.

However, before setting up your java venture, you need to consider certain factors such as permits and licenses, location, competition and market demand. It's also important to understand the taste preferences of locals and offer a variety of options to cater to different tastes.

Start by researching the specific requirements for a mobile food business in your area. Most councils will require a food business registration, along with other permits and licenses related to health and safety regulations. Once you have gathered all the necessary information, contact your council. In this letter, detail your plans for the mobile coffee business, including where you intend to operate and what measures you will take to ensure compliance with local regulations. You may opt for a regular pitch to sell your products so make to be as clear as possible

Be sure to mention any unique aspects of your business that could benefit the community, such as using locally sourced ingredients or offering a new gathering place for residents. By providing thorough information and demonstrating your commitment to operating responsibly, you can make a strong case for your business plan.

Taking these steps will not only ensure you are abiding by the law, but also help build a positive relationship with your local council – a partnership that will be invaluable as you grow your mobile coffee business.

What is a sole trader?

Owning a mobile coffee business doesn't necessarily mean that you are a sole trader, but it could certainly be the case. Being a sole trader with a mobile coffee business means that you are the only owner and operator of your enterprise.

There's no legal distinction between you and your business in this setup; you're responsible for all its debts, but you also get to relish in all the profits. It's a liberating venture that allows you to call all the shots, from the type of beans you source to the locations you serve.

However, it also requires a substantial amount of responsibility and independence. You might be the barista, the accountant, the marketer, and the customer service rep all at once. It's not for everyone, but for those who thrive on autonomy and have a passion for coffee, being a your own boss could be a fulfilling career choice.

How to manage other commitments with a coffee business?

Running a business can be a thrilling adventure, but it can also be a juggling act when you have many commitments. But the reality it is all about smart scheduling and prioritising.

First off, let's acknowledge the flexibility that a food business offers. Unlike traditional coffee shops with fixed hours, you can operate your business around your life. Schedule your operations during the busiest times of the day for maximum customer engagement, but remember to consider your personal commitments too.

Secondly, leveraging technology can be a game-changer. There are numerous apps and tools out there that can help you automate orders, manage inventory, calculate profit margins and handle payments. This leaves you with more free time to focus on commitments. Managing money through an accounting software should considered an essential piece of equipment for your coffee van.


In conclusion, starting a business in the UK requires careful planning, a clear understanding of the licensing requirements, and a passion for the java drink. With the right approach and dedication, you could be serving up steaming cups of coffee to appreciative customers in no time.

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