There are pros and cons to using a motorised catering unit, so we will list some here:
1) Manoeuvrability – if you need to get around five villages a night to do a fish and chip or fast food operation then this is the ideal tool for the job
2) No Towing or need of a towing vehicle
3) No towing speed restriction
4) Easier to park and store than a trailer
1) Cost - A new van conversion can cost from twenty thousand to eighty thousand pounds
2) Limit to the amount of staff you can take without taking another vehicle as you'll only have 2 seats
3) Limit to the amount of stock you can carry if you are going to do large events
4) Access can be difficult on some of the larger units
5) Need to be very careful about the weight of the vehicle, tachograph requirements and licensing etc
6) A breakdown or accident can be catastrophic on the way to an event, as you have no other options, with a trailer you may be able to get another towing vehicle, you wont be able to get another motorised unit unless of course you own two of them
The key to a successful motorised unit operation like all others is down to where you are going to trade, your first decisions have to be based on just that;
Shows / events – There are thousands around the UK every year and if you want the contacts we can help, just have a look at the Events Guide. We have published it every year for the past 19 years and have a good knowledge of who does what in the events industry. Some shows / event organisers don’t like motorised units so be careful. This is often down to a health and safety matter as you have live fuel tanks, but sometimes its just because traditionally they don’t look as good, however vehicle wrapping is changing that and theres no reason these days why a vehicle with a bit of money spent on it can't look as good as a trailer.
Licensed pitch – A motorised unit would be my first choice if I was committed to taking it home every night to restock or chill the fridges down. Most neighbours cant object to a van parked on the drive as long as its clean and doesn’t obscure any views, but most will object to a trailer and if you're in a leasehold or rented property you might even be infringing your lease or tenancy agreement. Licensed pitches can be anything from a pitch in the town centre licensed by the local authority to a local factory on their forecourt or car park. There are also site concessionaires that operate for some of the larger retail groups who license sites in their car parks, see the mobile catering section in the right hand menu for more details.
Franchise – There are several companies offering franchises from motorised units selling everything from fish and chips to coffee in units ranging form a £7000 Piaggio to a £80,000 fully kitted out 22 foot long mobile kitchen, see the franchise section for more information.
Roadside – Similar in essence to licensed pitches and my first choice for a daily operation
Once the choice of all operators, why? No rent, no contracts and come and go as you please and good margins in the right spot. I remember about 10 units operating on the A34 along the stretch from the M42 to Oxford, they were goldmines, open 24/7 they were reported reliably as taking many thousands a week. Sadly the council had a campaign to have them closed down as they said they were a traffic hazard and used a piece of legislation called the Miscellaneous Provisions Act which empowered the council to make trading on all the roads in the Borough illegal. Sadly many councils have followed suit, albeit some have also licensed back certain roads as designated trading areas which has given traders more financial security.
In my opinion not as good as a trailer for this kind of work, where you need more staff and flexibility. Often cited as first choice for newcomers to the industry, as they saw a guy with a queue on the car boot last Sunday morning, but its highly likely that the pitch has been bought from another trader and to get a new pitch opened up on a car boot or market is highly unusual. Good market pitches are highly sought after and often change hands between traders for thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of pounds.
So once you have found a pitch you need something to trade out of, where do you go to get your motorised vehicle, E-bay? The local paper or where?.
Let me give you a good piece of advice, that vehicle is going to be the main tool of your new business, your livelihood and safety is going to rely on it, do you really think that a few hundred pounds is going to buy you that?
A lot of second hand vehicles are being sold for a reason, buyer beware. There are legal requirements for catering vehicles and for the way they are kitted out, and you will need to be sure that it can pass a gas and electrical inspection as well as meeting other recognised standards and unfortunately the majority of second hand catering vehicles won’t. It could cost you thousands to get the faults put right and legal equipment installed.
My advice is to go to an NCASS authorised trailer manufacturer who cannot sell you something that is illegal or unsafe and will make sure that it comes with all the correct documentation. Alternatively if you use a buy or sell service such as the one on our website and if you have any doubts or need advice on a vehicle / trailer or anything for that matter please contact us. We are here to help.
If you are interested in getting started in the catering business with a motorised catering unit then I strongly suggest that you buy the Profitable Mobile catering book advertised on this site, this will give you lots more valuable information and a better insight into the industry