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Which vehicles are best for catering van conversions?

Mobile catering vans and the gourmet food they dish up have taken the UK by storm over the past few years. From trendy city streets to sleepy village pub car parks, the street food market, and street food business in general, is bigger than ever before with innovative businesses popping up all over.

And with more competition out there, mobile caterers have to work hard to get ahead of their rivals. A key way to do that is to invest in the best catering van conversion you can afford. But which vehicles are best to convert for a mobile catering business?

Whatever vehicle you choose to convert, always double check you’ve got the right catering vehicle insurance for your needs and budget. The helpful team at Mobilers love hearing about your latest street food ideas and street food business and are always on hand to help you protect your business – whether you’re serving coffee or fish and chips! Give us a call now for a quick and easy quote.

Should I buy a vehicle that’s already been converted into a catering van?

The first question you’ll need to ask yourself is whether to invest in a van that’s already been converted and used by a mobile caterer. Or whether to invest in one that’s newly (or about to be) converted. There are pros and cons with each option.

Food Embassy

Pros and cons of a newly converted van

If you’re buying a brand-new van or one that’s only recently been converted then you’re buying peace of mind. You know all the legal requirements have been carried and it’s safe to work in. Being brand-new and freshly converted it’ll also be lovely to work in, too!

Investing in a new van also means you might be able to have it designed and fitted to your own specifications. You want a particular top-of-the-range Italian-made wood fired pizza oven? No problem! Tweaking it to your own branding is also much easier to do at this early stage. That’s a huge bonus for your ability to market yourself to customers effectively.

However, buying a brand-new unit can be a big investment with decent conversions costing anything between £6,000 and £100,000 depending on what it is you want. Pretty steep if you factor it into your other set-up costs.

Also, even if the vehicle has been recently converted, if it’s a vintage van like a Citroen H then you might still end up with repair bills a little further down the line. Vintage vehicles could be well over 30 years old so will have developed their own quirks and foibles over the years.

If you’re looking to convert a vintage van into a foodie’s heaven then you will need to find one that’s suitable for conversion (easier said than done nowadays). And then either do the conversion yourself or pay someone to do it for you. Depending on your experience levels and budget, this can take a while and be pretty expensive.

As well as the initial cost of buying brand new, you could also be left waiting a long time for the conversion to be completed if you’re getting a specialist to do the job. So, if you’re in a hurry to get your street food business moving, then you might need to look at other options.

Pros and cons of a second-hand van

Second-hand units that have been around the block a few times are obviously considerably cheaper than new ones. For someone looking to set up their mobile catering business on a budget, this can make a big difference.

Also, there’s a large market for second-hand vans so you should have plenty to choose from. Take a look at the Nationwide Caterers Association Buy / Sell section for a fine selection of catering vehicles. They’ve also got some really handy buying and selling guides

All of this means that if you want to go straight into the important business of earning money, then there are few quicker and cheaper ways to do it.

That said, if a van is being sold then it’ll be for a reason. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t buy them. There are many perfectly valid reasons to sell a catering van, but you do need to be more careful than buying new!

All mobile catering vans need to pass a gas and electrical inspection before you can operate. Be aware many used vehicles might need a significant amount of work to bring them to a standard where they are legal and compliant.

Unfortunately, unless you know the seller very well, you won’t really know how the van has been treated in the past, what problems it may have, or what problems you can expect it to have in the future. As well as the van itself, you may also incur extra costs as the catering van’s equipment will be older and may need updating.

So, as you can see there are lots of advantages and pitfalls for buying a new or second-hand van. You’ll need to balance your budget against how long you can wait before getting on the road. Check out our helpful guide on how to start up a roadside catering business for more information.

Cafe on wheels

How do I choose the right catering van?

There are so many options when it comes to choosing a catering van than it can soon get bewildering. A key consideration when choosing which van to buy is how much room you will need inside. Many don’t have huge amounts of space inside them, particularly those uber-chic vintage vans.

The knock-on effect of this is you’ll be restricted in terms of the number of staff you can operate with. In turn, this will impact your service speed and the amount of money you can make in a day.

And remember to take into account headroom. Unless your team is particularly small, you’ll need a high-top or pop-top roof to provide ample headroom. The health and safety of your staff has to be paramount when choosing a vehicle. Hours spent hunched over in a small van will soon lead to back problems that could put your staff out of action and you out of business!

Space will also impact upon the amount of stock and equipment you can carry and, obviously, the amount you can prepare and serve. If you’re going for something small, such as a Tuk-tuk taxi set-up for a barista, you’ll need easy access to all your ingredients and equipment from the outside.

Of course, you might decide to invest in a former bus or delivery truck. So, space probably won’t be an issue!

When looking at mobile catering vans remember the following:

  1. Do your research – You need to know and understand what it needs to have in order to be useful for your business purposes, and legal. Also find out the ‘normal’ prices for the van you’re looking at. Popular food truck vehicles/ food trucks such as VW campers or Citroen Hs come at a premium.
  2. Have a good look around – Never buy without first visiting the van in person. Have a good look around and spend time inspecting every nook and cranny. Take along a canny friend who understands vehicles and might be able to spot any problems. It’s a great idea to see the van in action, so ask if you can see it at an event. You’ll soon spot any annoying problems or warning signs. It is always a great idea to check out the gas safety measures that your food truck may require.
  3. Never buy on impulse – We know how exciting it can be to start your own mobile catering business. But like any big purchase, you shouldn’t feel pressured into buying a van. As always, if the deal seems too good to be true, walk away.

Best vehicles for catering van conversions

A mobile catering van is going to be the biggest business acquisition you make. And your livelihood will depend on making a good choice. Here are a couple of vehicles we know would be up to the job.

VW Camper or Westfalia

Vintage VWs are always going to turn heads no matter how flashy your rivals look. Surprisingly spacious inside, the pop-top roof on these German-engineered beauties will give you decent headroom. And because the vans were designed for camping and light-commercial use, essentials like plumbing, fitted utensils and space for kitchen equipment have already been taken care of.

A handy pull-out awning could also allow for some outdoor cooking or a little shelter for customers when the inevitable summer downpour hits. But whether you’re serving the finest vegan hotdogs, morning coffees, or delicious fish and chips, these iconic vehicles will always attract admiring glances. Check out our ultimate guide on vegan mobile catering for a few vegan ideas. 

Ford Transit

Undoubtedly the most popular van in the UK, the Ford Transit may not quite have the Insta-worthy looks of other vehicles on this list. But what it does have in terms of versatility, reliability, space, and performance, it has in spades! The build quality of these vans is also second to none.

The Ford Transit comes in three load lengths and two roof heights, creating ample space for preparing and serving food. From griddles and twin tank fryers to wood fired pizza ovens and drinks fridges, there are endless ways to adapt these vehicles to your catering business needs.

To top it off the rear doors allow for quick and easy loading and unloading of ingredients and equipment. Again it’s easy to add an awning for customers to shelter in the rain.

Mercedes Benz Sprinter

This powerful class-leading vehicle from the Mercedes Benz stable is not one of the cheapest vehicles on the market. But once it’s equipped with the right catering upgrades it has the potential to be one of the best food trucks. With a light and airy feel and plenty of internal space, the Sprinter is a joy to work in.

Better yet it’s got some serious oomph under the bonnet. Which means that it’ll have no problem pulling things like a large pizza kiln, or a trailer laden with umbrellas and picnic tables.

Nissan NV2500 Cargo

Another powerful beast of a van (or potential food truck), Nissan’s NV2500 Cargo comes with a V8 engine and a huge towing capacity. It also has a full-width overhead storage console, plenty of roof rack-mounting points, masses of floor space and a high roof.

Oh, and did we mention it also has a safe and a fold-down front passenger seat that can be turned into a desk space? Perfect for when you need to do a bit of admin on the road!

If that seems a bit too much for your business then Nissan also produces the rather nifty Nissan NV200. If you’re interested in how adaptable it is, the car manufacturer recently partnered with Mackie’s of Scotland, an ice cream producer, to create a new version designed as a zero-emission ice cream van. If you are planning to start up your own ice cream van business then check out our 20 top tips.

Citroen H

Citroen H vans are the perfect way to serve up a hearty slice of Gallic charm at any catering event. Produced in France for 40 years, these cute French panel vans have become very popular for conversions. Perfect for elegant weddings and high-end corporate events, you’ll look like you’ve been plucked straight from the Parisian streets!

Indeed, so popular are these vans that some traders are finding converting a vintage van proving to be a great investment. As they’ve been able to re-sell the vehicle for more than it has cost them to buy and convert. 

If you are investing in an older vehicle, your catering van insurance may be able to cover you in the event of a breakdown. Ask the team for details when you get a quote.

Citroen H


Quirky yet oh-so practical, when it comes to stylish mobile bars and coffee vans a converted horsebox could make a great new business venture. It’s another eye-catcher that’s bound to pull in the punters, especially when running a mobile bar.

If you’re thinking about trying your hand at the conversion game then look no further than our recent article on how to convert a horsebox into a mobile bar. In it we consider some common questions you should ask yourself, including:

  • What type of horsebox would suit your needs?
  • How much of the work can you do yourself?
  • When should you call in an expert to help with the conversion?
  • What kinds of events should you target?

Catering van insurance from Mobilers

When running a mobile catering business, you need to have an eye for detail. Well at Mobilers, we feel the same way about your catering van insurance. Why not consider checking out which UK cities are the best for food trucks?

Mobilers can arrange cover for a huge range of catering vans and vehicles – from small bikes to horseboxes – meaning whatever size of business you have, we can help.

Call us today for a quick and easy quote. How much could you save on catering van insurance?

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.

Frequently asked questions

How do I start a catering van business?

Starting a catering van business can be an exciting journey, filled with tasty experiments and adventurous travels. To get the wheels turning, you must first identify your target market, design a mouth-watering menu, and purchase a well-equipped van.

The next step is to obtain necessary permits and licenses, which may vary depending on your location and always prioritise food safety and quality. It's also important to have a solid business plan and a marketing strategy to create a buzz.

Is it better to buy a new or second-hand catering van?

A new van ensures that you get a vehicle in top-notch condition with the latest features, offering reliability and efficiency. However, they come with a hefty price tag. On the other hand, a second-hand catering van is a budget-friendly option that provides good value for money, especially if it's in good condition and well-maintained. Now, which vehicles are best for catering van conversions? The final decision depends on your business needs, budget constraints and long-term plans. Both options have their merits, so weigh your options carefully before making the investment.

‎Do I need licences to start a mobile catering business? ‎

Starting a mobile catering business is an exciting venture, but it's also one that requires some legal preparation. The licenses needed to start a mobile catering business include a Street Trading License, which is issued by local authorities, and a Food Business Registration, handled by the Environmental Health Department.

Additionally, you'll need a Food Hygiene Certificate, ensuring your food is prepared and sold in a safe manner. Lastly, if you plan to serve alcohol, a Personal and Premises Alcohol License is mandatory.

How do I power a mobile catering van?

A mobile catering van typically requires two types of power: one for the engine and the other for kitchen appliances. The engine is usually powered by diesel or petrol, while the appliances may run off a generator, batteries or gas cylinders.

To ensure constant power supply, consider installing solar panels on the roof of the van. Remember, safety is paramount when dealing with power sources, so always consult a professional when in doubt.

What catering equipment do I need to start a mobile catering business?

The catering equipment you will need largely depends on the products you are selling, but here are some pointers to lead you in the right direction.

At the core of your operations is a well-equipped mobile catering van, acting as your kitchen on wheels. Your van could be fitted with cooking appliances such as a grill, oven, and a deep fryer.

You may need refrigeration units for keeping fresh produce and a range of serving utensils. Don't forget about storage solutions and cleaning equipment to maintain hygiene standards. Investing in high-quality, durable catering equipment can take your mobile catering business to new heights.

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