“Everyone needs to eat. Even in the midst of a pandemic or recession”

Starting from Scratch

Why you should start your own food business

Maybe you’ve been made redundant during Covid-19, or perhaps time spent in lockdown has made you re-evaluate your life aspirations, whatever it is, there’s a good reason behind why you’ve stumbled upon our website today.  

Here at NCASS, we know all about starting from scratch. In fact, our MD – Bob Fox – took the leap into catering after his engineering firm went bust and circumstances warranted a change. With a borrowed burger van, he went from trading on an industrial estate to heading up the Nationwide Caterers Association, which has helped thousands of people make their dreams of starting up their own food business a reality.

Setting up your own catering business from home, or investing in a street food set-up such as a van or pop-up stall is a fantastic way to dip your feet in to the entrepreneurial world without the huge risks, overheads and extensive experience that a bricks and mortar premises so often requires.  

Maybe you have prior experience of working as a chef, or simply love to cook and eat delicious food; we’re here to help you decipher whether starting up in the catering industry is right for you.  

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Why launch a food business?

Everyone needs to eat. Even in the midst of a pandemic or recession, food brings comfort, provides people with a way to treat themselves or those around them, gives them joy and allows them a small snapshot into another country’s cuisine and culture. Food invokes 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 the beach bar one summer in Greece – to put it simply, there’s a reason why they say that “food is the language of love.  

If you’re passionate about cooking then we know for a fact that you won’t settle on sending out mediocre dishes; in fact, we’d go as far as saying you’re an artist who’s always looking for ways to experiment with ingredients and deliver a dish that packs all the punchesHere at NCASS we “live to eat, so if you’re on the same wavelength as us, don’t end your culinary journey here.

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 from doing lots of research and even more taste testing sessions on friends, family and anyone who will provide you with honest 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’s satisfying, affordable, sustainable and manageable to make at rapid speed when you’ve got 40 people all queuing up at your food stand is no easy feat. The first few weeks or months of any new venture is all about getting everything down to a tee; from preparation times, to knowing the exact amount of stock you need to take to an event to keep food (and financial) waste to an absolute minimum.  

If you really want to find out how serious you are about starting your own food business, you’ve got to jump straight from the frying pan and into the fire by building a menu you can be proud of. 

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 like you realise your true potential, as well as give you all the help and advice needed to trade safely, legally and profitably. We’re a close knit bunch in the catering industry and the majority of the time your comrades are more than happy to hand out advice and share their experiences of how they started out in the sector. 

If you’re still not sure whether it’s the right route to take, have a listen to Chairman of NCASS, Bob Fox, talking about his journey into the mobile catering industry in our webinar ‘Tackling Tough Times & Winning,‘ who quotes: 

“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 disciplined enough to go and work in all weather conditions

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

I should NOT consider starting a food/or drink business if:

  • I’m doing it to make money quickly
  • I enjoy having every weekend off
  • I want more family time
  • I’m no good at budgeting
  • I like routine
  • I want a quick fix out of my current job
  • I’m not a people person
  • I’d struggle to keep calm if customers annoyed me
  • I don’t enjoy being on my feet all day
  • I don’t have money to lose if anything unplanned happens

10 step process to setting up / if you’re serious about a food business

1. Research the market

2. Make a budget & forecast plan

3. Outline a business plan

4. Choose your target audience

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

6. Source equipment

7. Source suppliers

8. Undertake relevant food safety training (NCASS Training)

9. Obtain the appropriate licensing (street trading, alcohol etc.)

10. Source work opportunities – Join NCASS WorkOpps

The Dragon’s Den of dining: questions to ask yourself

  • What type of cuisine are you selling?
  • What’s your story (customers love to hear about your background, reasons for setting up, story behind the food)
  • What’s different about your product? (USPs)
  • Who is your target audience?
  • How will you get your products to customers during Covid-19? (street food stand, pop-up, postal delivery, courier, personal delivery, click and collect. etc.)
  • Will you make to order?
  • How much do you need to get off the ground? Start-up capital.
  • How much profit do you need to make in the first year?
  • Will you need a website?
  • How much are you willing to invest in branding & marketing your business?

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