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How to Set Up a Food Stall in the UK

By 7 September 2022 No Comments

If you have a talent for food then setting up your own stall is a great way to get into business.

But before you start rushing ahead and planning your menu there are some things you need to deal with before you set up your UK based food stall.

In this article, we are going to set out the things you need to be aware of and what you need to do besides ordering the ingredients for your amazing street food:

  • Types of food stall

  • The logistics

  • The legals

  • The operations

  • The payments

 

Types of Food Stall

In the UK there are just as many types of food stall as anywhere else in the world, in fact, we’d argue that you are more likely to find the kind of food you want in cosmopolitan London than anywhere else.

 

Naturally, there are high-end restaurants, mid-range trattorias and tiny little coffee shops in every town.

In many of the larger cities, you’ll find pop-up shops selling world foods from curries to tacos, from baked potatoes to noodles.

And if you go to a festival then there will always be a massive array of different food stalls available for music fans catering for every taste.

It’s also worth remembering that in the UK today there are often food companies that cater for niche markets such as gluten-free or special diets and of course, vegetarian and vegan food stalls are much more common than they ever were.

 

Food stalls aren’t confined to one place either. Often you can find travelling food vans that stop in different villages on different days and some businesses only do deliveries rather than having a retail location. When you go to a football or rugby match you often find food trailers outside the grounds to cater for hungry supporters.

So in the UK not only are there many different types of food on offer but there are plenty of ways to sell from high-end restaurants to pop-up stalls on street corners.

 

So let’s assume that you are looking at portable operations such as trailers, carts and pop-up stalls as a business. What do you need to think about?

 

The Logistics

So once you have decided what type of food you are going to sell, you need to choose how you are going to go about it.

Although to the outside observer, operating a quality food stall is all about great cooking, experienced owners will tell you that it is just as much about logistics.

There are a series of questions you need to ask yourself;

  • Where will you get your raw ingredients from?

  • Are they available all year round?

  • Where will you store them?

  • How will you sell? From a van? From a trailer?

  • What equipment do you need and where will you store it?

  • Will you need someone to help?

There are plenty more questions depending upon the type of operation you will be running but the message has to be that you need to make sure you don’t get carried away with the excitement of cooking and think more about the everyday things that could make your business a success.

 

The Legals

It is really easy to start a business in the UK but there are some things that you need to do.


The first thing is to register with HMRC. This is a straightforward process that can be done online but you may want to speak with an accountant first so that you can understand the benefits of operating as a sole trader, partnership or limited company.

 

Secondly, get yourself some insurance. This is especially important if you are running a food stall as the implications of giving someone food poisoning don’t bear thinking about. In general, for small businesses insurance isn’t expensive and it is certainly worth it for peace of mind.

 

Next, you need to register as a food business with your local authority. Again, you can do this online and you need to be aware that you will probably be inspected for a food safety rating.

 

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has loads of useful advice for anyone starting up in the food sector.

Although it is not a legal requirement, you are well advised to do some food safety training. You don’t have to hold a food hygiene certificate to sell food in the UK but it is worth doing and often insurers will require it as a condition of cover. In any event, you are legally required to make sure that anyone preparing or handling food understands basic hygiene rules.

If you are going to employ someone to help then you need to register as an employer with HMRC and sort out a method of paying them.

You must make sure you are able to run payroll and report this using the HMRC RTI before you pay anyone. If you are confident with numbers then you could always use an online package like QuickBooks or Xero but if not then think about outsourcing this to a local accountant or bookkeeper.

 

The Operations

So you are all set up and ready to go and now you need to think about where you are going to sell and how.

 

If you want to sell street food then in most places you will need a licence from the local authority or to have permission from a venue or landowner. You can’t simply pitch up somewhere and start selling.

The exception to this is if you have a food van that you drive around the streets. Each local authority will have different rules so you need to find out if you need permission for this in your area or not.

It’s worth having a dry run by feeding a few friends or doing a free event or two. This will help you get into the swing of things and if you forget something then it is not the end of the world.

Pitches at major festivals can be very expensive so it is better to start small and gain experience rather than waste a lot of money on rent and make your mistakes then.

 

When you have found your pitch then you need to think about customer flow.

 

For example, if you are selling outside a football ground you’ll do fine before the match but for 90 minutes everything will go quiet. Alternatively, at a music festival, you’ll get rushes at the end of each act and especially at traditional mealtimes.

You need to make sure that when you have a rush you are able to serve as many customers as possible. This means having enough food already prepared rather than cooking to order, taking orders and payment quickly (see below) and making sure you have enough stock to cater for as many people as possible.

Experienced operators will tell you that running a food stall is often about demand management; having the right amount of food prepared at the right time and serving it quickly.

You do need to be prepared for the fact that you won’t get it right straight away and also remember that sometimes even experienced food stall owners can be surprised by more or less demand than they expected.

 

The Payments

One of the surprising things about running a successful food stall isn’t anything to do with the stall itself or the food, it’s about taking payments.

 

If you look at a row of food stalls at a festival for example, you can often see a single stall that has a huge queue and this is more often than not because they haven’t got their customer flow right.

If you are selling somewhere that will have a high flow of customers then you need to take their payment quickly and get them served and any delay tends to put people off from buying or annoys people who are already in your queue.

Although it may seem tempting to only deal in cash, you have to remember that since COVID, most people have gotten used to using their debit card or device to pay for things.

 

So you have to make sure you have a quick and simple method of taking contactless payments.

 

There are plenty of options out there for this but you do need to beware; not all payment services are equal.

SumUp provides card readers that accept the majority of cards and devices on the market. 

The readers are small and easy to use but you do have to pay up to £129 for them and they need a connection through your smartphone or tablet.

This means that there’s another thing to remember and if you forget it then you are stuck!

 

Square is another payment service that allows retailers to take payments anywhere which is certainly helpful if you are sitting in the middle of a festival field.

They provide a neat device which has great functionality and can even allow buyers to use ClearPay to buy now and pay later although that’s not likely to be helpful if they only want to buy a £5 burger!

The device is somewhat bulky though and costs an eyewatering £99 or £17 per month and transactions are charged at 2.5% which seems quite steep.

 

tapeeno takes a different route in that you don’t need a separate device.

Utilising SoftPos technology and the built-in Near Field Connectivity of any smartphone, tapeeno is able to turn your phone into a card machine. Given that you are unlikely to be working without your phone this makes sense and means you don’t have to remember to pack your card reader.

This means that there’s nothing to buy, nothing to remember and set up is simplicity itself.

Pricing is excellent at only 1.5% per transaction and because you don’t need to wait for a card machine to arrive you can be up and running in 48 hours.

 

Summary – It’s Not Just About the Food!

As you can see there are a lot more aspects to running a food stall in the UK than simply being an amazing cook.

The UK takes food safety seriously and you can’t simply have an idea and start selling by the side of the road the next day. But setting up a business is a quick and easy process in the UK when compared to many European countries and it can all be done online.

The biggest issues that new food stall owners have are getting the logistics right and understanding their customer flow. Getting these in order means that you’ll sell more and have less waste which in turn means you’ll be more profitable. And don’t forget that long queues due to slow payment processing can really put people off so make sure you have a great option to take contactless payments.

Good luck with your new venture and make sure you invite us to try some of your wonderful food!