Our Guide to Starting a Street Food Catering Business


 


A new generation of foodies and mobile caterers are driving a huge movement in slick branding and unique visuals in the street food industry

After noticing a huge uplift in sales and enquiries for stalls that feature striking designs, we conducted a survey to discover what modern consumers felt about branding across a series of sectors, including the mobile catering industry.  

The survey of 186 participants threw up some interesting results, particularly as there was a clear divide in opinion across age groups on which sectors were expected to have strong, unique brand visuals. The biggest divide was over the street food industry.  

Of the participants aged between 18 – 35, over 90% suggested that Street Food and Mobile Catering businesses should present themselves in a more unique way. However, of those aged 36 and above, only 65% of participants expected Street Food businesses to deliver slick presentation to their branding.  

This generational divide may be down to the power of social media, and the demand for brands to stand out better against others, with audiences being built through brands creating engaging Instagram and TikTok content, that sells new and interesting street food.  

As councils up and down the country revitalise their town centres by building social hubs around stripped-back food courts with exposed brickwork and vast arrays of cuisine on offer, urban food festivals have also exploded in popularity. Monthly events draw increasingly larger crowds to sample cultural culinary delights and artisan offerings, alongside live music and craft ales and cocktails. Driven by a younger, fashionable crowd, street food vendors are stepping up to the plate with enthusiasm. 

One of our talented Graphic Designers, Bethany Liversidge said, “Some of the work we’re being commissioned to create for street food catering customers is very different. It’s not enough to have a simple logo and a line of text anymore. Up-and-coming caterers really know what they want when it comes to standing out in a crowd, and it reflects in the tents we’ve been creating.” 

If you’re looking to become a mobile caterer, or maybe you have a premises already but want to benefit from taking your food out into the wider world, then you’ll need to think about the type of stall you want to create, and how you’ll present your brand.  



A mobile bar using pop-up gazebos


Types of Street Food Serving Unit  

There are generally two main types of mobile catering unit; one is a vehicle-based unit, and the other is a pop-up gazebo. They both have their place in the mobile catering industry, and which one is right for you will probably come down to the budget you have available, and what is most important to you.   

  

The Van  

Whether it’s a shining chrome American-style caravan, classic burger van-style unit, or something altogether more unique like a refurbished London Bus, there’s no denying that a van unit is a great way to supply your food from. Adding extra flourishes that really emphasise the type of food you make and sell is a good idea, like painting the unit in the country colours that your food originates, or in ultra-modern and unique designs to help you stand out.   

Benefits of a mobile catering van: Everything is in the van, ready to go so that when you arrive at your destination you can simply switch on the electrics and away you go.   

Drawbacks of a mobile catering van: A good quality van can set you back anywhere from £10,000 to £50,000 and beyond. This is a huge outlay, especially for a start-up business.   

    


A woman is being served food from a street food van


The Pop-Up Gazebo  

Now you’re talking. A pop-up gazebo is a vendors’ dream come true. They offer an ideal spot from which to sell your food in pretty much any location you need to be; whether indoors or outdoors, in a muddy field at a festival or in a city centre seasonal market.   

Pop-Up catering gazebos can be custom printed with pretty much any level of design that you can imagine, especially with the advanced dye-sublimation process used by Gala Tent. It doesn’t have to be all the way over the top, however. You may prefer a more subtle and simple logo-and-business-name combination that can be achieved using the vinyl printing method. Many mobile caterers will use a plain pop-up gazebo for selling their street food, and simply add branded flags or a PVC banner. The point is, you absolutely NEED some level of branding on your street food stall, so that people can remember you and find you again on your socials.   

Benefits of a mobile catering gazebo: They cost far less than a vehicle, and can be custom printed quickly and easily. A pop-up gazebo is also a great idea for catering firms who have a bricks-and-mortar shop but want to be able to take their food to events up and down the country.   

Drawbacks of a mobile catering gazebo: It is a little less plug-and-play than a catering van, with an extra ten minutes of set-up time. Is that ten minutes worth the additional £20,000 of outlay for a stall?   




Who Can Start a Street Food Business?  

It really depends on the type of mobile catering you’re planning. A classic burgers, hot dogs and chips stall can be set up by anybody with the equipment and hygiene certificates. We’re not knocking the humble burger van, far from it, we are massive fans of a cheeseburger with onions and brown sauce. Everybody loves a burger van.   

However, the biggest trend right now comes from handmade-with-love, seriously photogenic food that tastes heavenly. Serious street food businesses can be started by anybody with creativity, the ability to cook, and the knowledge of how to make their flavours sing.  

Street Food is taken on as a career choice of many younger millennial and Gen-Z people, who will come up with spectacular culinary creations that look utterly irresistible when shared across social media platforms. It’s no shock to know that some of the strongest mobile catering businesses have very strong social media followings.   

  


What types of street food are there?  

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but if you’re seriously thinking about launching a modern mobile catering business, you could consider:  

  • Vegan Food – A seriously on-trend street food style is to offer vegetarian and plant-based vegan cuisine. You could go for purely vegan burgers with brightly coloured buns, or food from around the world with the vegan twist.   

  • Korean – Korean-inspired food is another big trend in the street food world right now. Think pickled kimchi, bulgogi and delicious bibimbap rice bowls. They’re all a blossoming street food option just now.   

  • Handmade Burgers – An absolute classic, and mobile caterers are becoming even bolder and creative with their toppings and burger styles, creating perfect signature burgers. We’ve had a Biscoff and Bacon Burger recently, and it was an absolute revelation.   

  • Crepes – Simple but truly effective when done just right. They give the opportunity to offer sweet or savoury options, and some of the best we’ve seen almost treat their crepes like a pizza. Fill them with cheese, ham, chilis, peperoni – whatever you think expresses what your brand is about.   

  • Toasties – Low cost, simple to create, and a total blank canvas for your flavour creativity to run wild on. Toasted sandwiches offer tremendous potential for you to create some truly amazing signature dishes.   

  • Loaded Fries – Another very simple, but incredibly popular offering is loaded fries. We LOVE loaded fries. They can be made and delivered to your customers’ bellies very quickly, and the cost of stock will be relatively small compared to others.   

  • Indian – A British favourite for decades, put your own spin on a classic curry and the customers will come flocking to that divine smell. A great idea for existing curry-house owners too. You have your restaurant or your take-away, why not branch out and start selling at street food festivals and events?  

  • Desserts – There is ALWAYS room for dessert when you’re bringing homemade expert bakes, pies and cheesecake to an event. Some of the fastest growing social media catering accounts belong to those who make incredible dessert options. Add plenty of flavour, colour and of course, chocolate, to the party, and you’ll make a killing.   

  

This is just a short list of our favourite and potentially lowest-cost for a start-up, but there’s also Pizzas, Chinese, Greek, German Bratwurst, Jamaican, Turkish, Fish, Pies and Pasties, Burritos, Thai food, cheese... the list goes on.   

  




What should your street food menu have on it?  

We recommend having a list of 4 or 5 different options for your customers to choose from at any one event you attend. This will help you to keep your food wastage to a minimum, and give you an opportunity to master your dishes. Some dishes, like Pizzas for example, will be the exception to this recommendation.   

  

Street food gazebo options and inspiration  

As the UK’s leading retailer of commercial pop-up gazebos - particularly branded ones – we have supplied to hundreds of mobile caterers over the years, and we have seen some truly spectacular tents created for our customers.   

We’ve put together a list of customized gazebos ideas that can provide inspiration for you. Whether you sell artisan woodfired pizzas, spicy kebabs, or handcrafted gourmet burgers of either the meaty or the plant-based variety, a custom-printed pop-up gazebo can help to take your street food brand to the next level.   

  



Plain Gazebo and PVC Banner  

The option for a business on a budget, you don’t need to go crazy with the printing outlay, if you’re able to add a great high-resolution printing PVC banner to the mix. Include your brand logo and a strap line about the kind of food you sell. You also need to get any contact information and social media icons for any of the platforms you’re on. Your customers need to know how they can find you after the event.   

  

A Logo and Text Combination  

Simple but effective. Add your logo to the canopy of your street food gazebo, with a combination of your strap line, contact information and social media along the front valance section. This will be just above head height, and will draw your customers’ eyes to the info they need to remember you.   

  

Custom-printed gazebo canopy with plain sidewalls and printed front half-wall  

A very popular choice for professional mobile caterers everywhere. This helps you to create a fully enclosed cooking area. Add a Trade Table behind a printed half-wall that has your branding on show to catch your customers’ eyes, and you have created a very effective shop front through which to serve your food.   

  

Full, custom printed gazebo set-up  

Branding is everything, so why not take your vision and spread it across the entire pop-up catering gazebo? Add extras like flags and banners, and people will not only notice you, but they’ll remember you. Dye-sublimation printing is the process of digitally printing images into plain material, using high-definition graphics. This allows for you to really go wild with your imagination. If you have really strong brand visuals with your mobile catering business, this can really take it to the next level at food events.   

  


2 people inside a pop-up gazebo serving crepes



Marketing advice for street food caterers  

Gala Tent has a sister-company by the name of Gala Education & Marketing, which can help any new or existing businesses to take their branding to the next level. They are on hand to offer great help and advice in digital marketing, brand-building and rebranding, media production, and social media marketing.   

We asked them for some short pieces of advice for this article, and their Brand and Design Manager Samantha says "Pay strong attention to your brand and its branding. There is a huge market out there for street food, and ensuring that your business visuals can stand out against others is key. Think about how your logo might sit on a gazebo, on your packaging and on your social media platforms.  

Food is a very photogenic business. Most smartphones have a “Food photography” setting, so use it. Bring the colours out and make your food look as delicious as possible. Instagram is the perfect platform for street food vendors, so get on there, interact with food lovers everywhere and start making those mouths water!”  

  

Gala Tent is the UK’s leading retailer of marquees, party tents and pop-up gazebos, all of which have been used for many years by street food vendors, food festival organisers, and market operators. Our name has been built on a reputation for delivering superior quality structures with equally robust covers, and great branding.   

If you’re looking to launch a street food catering business and aren’t sure where to start, give our team a call on 01709 242454 or drop us a message via the Live Chat button. We’re on hand to offer all structural advice, and will listen to your exact needs to ensure you receive the ideal tent for your purpose.   

Our team at GEM offer great educational videos via the Udemy platform, and are always happy to offer start-up help and advice, from building your brand and setting a marketing strategy, through to implementing digital market to a high standard. Call 01709 911663 to chat with Ryan and his team to get an idea of what they can do for you and your brand. 

  



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