Starting from Scratch

Why you should start your own food business

Maybe you’ve been made redundant, or you’ve re-evaluated your life aspirations. Maybe you’ve been inspired by the success of another, or this has always been your life-long dream. Whatever your motivation, you’ve stumbled across the best place to find all the information you need.

Here at NCASS, we know all about starting from scratch. In fact, NCASS founder, Bob Fox, took the leap into catering after his engineering firm went bust and his new circumstances encouraged a change in direction. It all began with a borrowed burger van trading on an industrial estate. From there Bob went on to start the Nationwide Caterers Association and help thousands of people make their dreams of starting their own food business a reality.

Setting up your own catering business from home, investing in a street food set-up, such as a van or pop-up stall or raising the capital to kit out bricks and mortar, is a fantastic way to dip your entrepreneurial toes into the world of independent hospitality.

You may have prior experience of working as a chef, or simply love to cook and eat delicious food. Either way, we’re here to help you decipher whether delving into the independent hospitality industry is right for you.

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Why launch a food business?

Everyone needs to eat. Food brings comfort, provides people with a way to treat themselves and those around them and gives bring joy. This is especially important in times of global uncertainty and struggle. Food evokes memories for people; whether it be tucking into a fat slice of tiramisu like your Nonna used to make or reminiscing about the succulent souvlaki you ate at that beach bar one summer in Greece. There’s a reason why they say, “food is the language of love.”

If you’re passionate about cooking, then we know that you eager to share that passion. You won’t settle for sending out mediocre dishes, in fact, we’d go as far as to say you are an innovator, always looking for new ways to showcase your ingredients and deliver dishes that pack a punch. Launching a food business enables you to share your passion, hone your skill and contribute to the diversity of independent hospitality.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

What do I need to start a food business?

Starting out in this industry requires knowledge, which comes extensive research and taste testing sessions from helpful friends and family who will provide you with honest, constructive feedback. At the end of the day, if those you love don’t like your food, then chances are Joe Public won’t either.

Creating a menu that is satisfying, affordable, sustainable, manageable and capable of being made at rapid speed when you’ve got 40 hungry queuing people, is no easy feat.

Nevertheless, that menu is a reflection of your passion for your product. That is why an important focus during those first few weeks and months is refinement. From preparation times, managing stock levels, to researching which events work best for you and reducing food waste, it’s important to get everything down to a tee.

Turn a passion into your livelihood 

As the old saying goes “choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Whilst we can’t promise there won’t be tough days, having your own business is a lot easier when you enjoy what you do.

At NCASS, we know how hard running a catering business is and we exist to help people realise their full potential, as well as providing all the help and advice needed to trade safely, legally and profitably. We’re a close-knit bunch in the hospitality industry and more often than not, your comrades are more than happy to hand out advice and share their experiences about how they started out in the sector.

If you’re still unsure, founder Bob, after reflecting on his journey in independent hospitality, was resolute that:

“If we fell on hard times tomorrow I would not think twice about starting up another catering operation.”

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Benefits of starting a catering business 

  • Low start-up costs 
  • Relatively low risk  
  • Opportunity to ‘be your own boss’  
  • Flexibility to choose when and where to work 
  • Low level of experience required 
  • Everybody needs to eat 
  • Chance to do something you love every day 
  • Opportunity to travel to different events in the UK
  • It’s a sociable job
  • There’s plenty of opportunities to be creative
  • Chance to build a brand at a small level
  • Contributing a service to the community

What options are open to you? 

  • Pop-up 
  • Food truck 
  • Trailer / Airstream
  • Roadside catering 
  • Industrial estate trading 
  • Mobile bar 
  • Buffets / delivery rounds 
  • Markets 
  • Weddings
  • Takeaway 
  • Event / festival catering 
  • Corporate hospitality 

I should consider starting a food and/or drink business if:

✔  I’m a people person

✔  I have a passion for cooking great food

✔  I don’t mind working long, unsociable hours

✔  I am calm under pressure

✔  I want more flexibility

✔  I’m always thinking outside of the box

✔  I’m happy to work in all weather conditions

✔  I’m aware of the risks if things don’t go to plan

10 key steps for setting up a food business

1. Research the market:

What type of cuisine do you want to sell and who is your target audience?

Customers love to hear about your background, reason for setting up and the story behind the food. So, what’s your story?

What’s different about your product?

2. Make a budget & forecast plan:

How much start-up capital do you need to get off the ground?

How much profit do you need to make in the first year?

3. Outline a business plan:

Will you need a website?

How much are you willing to invest in branding and marketing your business?

4. Invest in a van/trailer/pop-up or similar

5. Source equipment 

6. Source suppliers

7. Familiarise yourself with the NCASS Safety Management system and undertake relevant food safety training

8. Obtain the appropriate licencing (street trading, alcohol etc.)

9. Source work opportunities – Join NCASS WorkOpps

10. Map out your processes for managing your business, from financials to HR, on a day-to-day basis


Food business start-up checklist

In this guide, we cover all the things you need to get in place
if you are starting a new food business.


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We're here to help make your catering business a success. Whether that be starting up or getting on top of your compliance and marketing. We're here to help you succeed.

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