The baked potato first hit the fast-food scene in the early 80’s on the mobile catering front and slightly later in the fixed site retail sector with chains such as ‘Spudulike’ and a few others mainly devolving from the fast food franchise route brought across from the USA.
It is their diversity, and their minimal food and labour cost, alongside the appeal to a growing cross section of consumers that make baked potatoes a good choice for fast-food operators. In fact it is probably the most successful ‘new product’ since the fast food revolution started in the 60’s.
The choices then remain as follows;
If mobiling there are several options open to you:
1) A purpose built towable baked potato oven such as the now famous Victorian Baking Oven which are becoming quite the common site in our town centres around the UK. Advantages are the general appearance and initial set up cost. A disadvantage however is that you will be open to the elements without some form of covering.
2) A traditional mobile catering trailer with either purpose built baking ovens, standard catering ovens or the most expensive and versatile option which is a high powered combi oven that can cost up to £10,000 each. Advantages are the convenience and versatility of the operation. The big disadvantage is initial outlay and storage.
As always with catering the application dictates the equipment. With the right tools you have a better chance of success which means making more money. With the wrong wrong tools however you have obviously less chance of success and certainly less hope of making money, let me explain further;
If you are catering at an event where you need to provide up to a 100 spuds in a short space of time in a day then cooking from raw is the only viable option. This needs to be done either on site or transported once cooked from a kitchen. In my experience potatoes cooked in aluminium foil and kept in a standard cool or hot box can be kept for several hours without loosing much in the way of quality.
If on the other hand you are at an outdoor event where you have the possibility of selling 100plus spuds in the day then the cooking on site option is the most viable
But always bear in mind the level of risk, this is where experience and a knowledge of the event are all important.
Let me give you an example. It will take about 2 hours in a purpose built oven to cook up a batch of spuds which could be anything from 50 to 200 in number depending on the event and the equipment you are using. As these are being sold you need to gauge if and when to cook up another batch depending on the volume and pace of the sales. It is impossible to wait until you have sold 75% of your first batch before you put in another, unlike some other fast food products that can be cooked in a few minutes such as a burger. This single factor causes more spud men (as they are called in mobiling circles) to give up the business more than any other, and it is possibly the most difficult of all the decisions they face, get it right and you could end up selling out dead on closing time, get it wrong and you could end up throwing 200 spuds and fillings in the bin. Essentially meaning, throwing profits into the bin.
So, theres the bad side. The good side is that a good spud man will always be in demand, either for events, on markets or on that most coveted of all, town centre pitch.
As always, the quality of the ingredients is all important. A bad spud does not improve when it is baked anymore than does a cheap poorly made filling, so don’t scrimp on the potatoes or the fillings. You will become known by your product, A bad product equals a bad caterer which will therefore mean bad profits, its as simple as that.
Operating from a fixed site
Back in the 80’s there was a sharp rise in the number of Baked potato shops around the shopping malls in the UK and for that matter all around the world. Infact it seemed for a while that another fast food revolution was about to take place like the burger or coffee revolution, and it has to be said that some have made a real success of the baked potato as a single product retail outlet.
There is however one problem with the product, its perceived value is fairly low. Anyone can bake a spud at home easily, either in the oven or microwave and there is very little a retailer can do to add value to it accept by the addition of exotic or unusual fillings you or I are unlikely to have sitting in the fridge.
The baked spud is the perfect range filler for any retail food outlet, as has been demonstrated very well in the USA, but I would be very cautious about setting up a dedicated retail outlet in the UK.
If baked potatoes are being sold as a range filler, one very good option is pre baked potatoes which are steam cooked and usually supplied frozen or chilled from one of the major frozen food wholesale chains. The drawback is cost, the benefit is that they can be cooked from frozen in a microwave or combi oven in less than 10 mins. Quality however could vary.
If spuds are your thing it all comes down to application and time. If they are a supplementary menu item then speed and convenience are the most important factors. The pre cooked option might be a very viable option in say a sandwich bar or pub. The costs are a lot higher but there is less likelihood of waste. Obviously cooking from scratch is the most viable option for a Unit or Establishment specialising or dealing only in Spuds.