How to start up a catering business in tough times


Many commentators considered markets to be in terminal decline as the services and products they offered could often be found at a cheaper rate and of higher quality in supermarkets, large retail shopping centres and restaurants. Markets were seen as being dependent upon the footfall which had started to move away from town and city centres to edge of town sites.

Yet over the last decade, the number of food markets operating across the UK has actually increased significantly, and with the arrival of street food, this revival has been amplified further with new markets being created by entrepreneurs, local councils and collectives.

This has resulted from a growing desire from the public to have a greater understanding and ownership of the supply chain for the food they purchase.

The appearance of farmers markets signalled a change in fortunes for the market trade, and saw farmers and producers claiming a growing share of the market by selling direct to the customers. Many of these small producers realised the added value in cooking and selling the food rather than just providing the raw materials. Artisan Market Food had arrived in the UK.

How to start in Markets

Markets can be a very profitable place to operate, although getting a place is often tricky as there are usually waiting lists. The obvious place to start, is to contact the market organiser and sound them out as to whether they have availability, whether they would allow you on and how much they would charge. You can usually find the relevant contact details on the website for the event.

While the number of markets and spaces on existing markets are increasing, this does not mean that you will be able to walk in to whatever market you like. Often the most well-known and popular markets are over-subscribed, and that you will have to ‘earn your stripes’ at newer or less popular gigs.

You may even have to set up your own markets or events to get the chance to trade. This is something that some of the most successful Street Food collectives have done. They had to create opportunities for themselves to trade and they did just that. Maybe the reason there is no Street Food or Artisan market in your town or area is because you haven’t set one up yet.

Types of Markets

Town Centre / Council Markets

Pitches on public markets are often still allocated based on a waiting lists, with limited attention given to what the trader wants to sell or the quality of the food offered. This also means that you could end up waiting for some time to actually get a pitch on a publicly run market, and the quality of your marketing or uniqueness of your offering may not be of benefit to you. Furthermore, successful pitches can sometimes change hands for significant amounts of money or will be passed down from generation to generation, limiting your chances of getting a pitch.

Local by-laws relating to markets vary greatly. Some require a street trading licence, whereas others have abolished them. Some are run by councils and others by private market operators

How do I start?

In order to get onto a council market, contact your local council and speak to the relevant person who is organising it. You can probably find their details on your council’s website. To work on a private market you need to contact the operator directly.

Farmers Markets

Most Farmers markets usually operate in town centres, and therefore the same conditions apply as above.

Car Boot Sales

Car boot sales are a fantastic place to start trading as they are often low key and you can make your mistakes and harness your proposition. However, consider whether the market will have enough customers at the event to actually make a profit!

You would imagine that getting a place on a car boot sale is pretty easy, however the event organisers often have a long list of people wanting to operate at the event. It’s 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 pretty difficult.

How do I start?

Car boot sales are often held on private land so you will need to find out who the organiser is and contact them directly.

Private / Street Food Markets

Private markets tend to be more interested in the food you are offering, the look of your stall and how you will fit in with the other offerings. The organiser is not bound by the same rules as a public market organiser, and is far more likely to want a diverse offering of tasty and interesting food. They are likely to select a mix of traders and food to complement each other rather than clash. They are likely to consider the ‘look’ of your stall as well.

Private markets often have a youthful vibe with music and bars, and many operate at night. Your ability to get work on these markets will probably depend on several factors, such as:

  • The amount of food and drink providers currently working at the event and whether there’s enough room
  • What food and drink is currently being offered at the market, and what you offer

How do I start?

Most Street Food markets are operated by entrepreneurial individuals or collectives, and you will need to contact them directly. They usually have their own websites, for example

The organisers are likely to consider you on how your offering will sit within the market. For example, if you are offering Mexican food and there is already a burrito trader on the market, you may find that the market are not willing to offer you a place. However, if your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is strong, then you may not have to wait.


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