There are lots of amazing perks to being a mobile caterer – working at fantastic events, getting to cook delicious food and then watch people enjoy it… but one of the best is the low start-up costs.

You can start up a mobile catering business with minimal investment. You won’t be able to operate at big festivals without a larger investment, but you will be able to get yourself up and running and making good money at smaller events and markets relatively inexpensively. 

Buying equipment. Do it right and you’ll save a lot of money.

It sounds simple but you’d be surprised at how many people spend tens of thousands on equipment when they start up. You don’t need to. There are different ways to find affordable equipment that keep your business safe and finances in good shape. 

Different types of food require different types of equipment. And some needs lots.

Not sure what to cook?

If you haven’t yet decided whether you want to sell burgers, pizzas, paella or whatever other delicious food you’re a pro at cooking, stop right now and think for a minute.

Some dishes require less equipment than others. The food types that require the least equipment are crepes, waffles, toasties and, well, sandwiches & wraps.

If you’re just setting up and have a minimal amount to invest, does it make more sense to cook food that requires lots of different kit, which you’ll have to buy, clean and maintain? Or does it make more sense to serve food that can be made using fewer pieces of equipment?

Buy cheap, buy twice

Our MD Bob Fox always says ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ – as a caterer he almost always regretted it when he bought a piece of equipment second hand or really cheaply. Don’t make the mistake of buying something when you’re unsure of the quality, because it probably won’t be a good investment.

Similarly, you might find quite a lot of cheap catering products online. Don’t be fooled. Your equipment must meet legal requirements (e.g. gas kit must be CE marked and include a flame failure device) and you need it to be able to stand the test of time. If you find yourself having to replace equipment every year or two, you’re going to waste a lot of money. Always buy the very best you can afford.

The checklist

This is everything you need

There will always be other things you can think of to add, but here’s a realistic list of things that you will need to spend money on to start up and run your mobile catering business.

  • Unit: gazebo/tent/marquee/build-up stall/van/trailer/bike/car
  • Cooking equipment: griddle, bain marie, chaffing dish etc.
  • Food storage equipment: refrigeration, cool boxes etc.
  • Insurance: public liability, employer’s liability, vehicle etc.
  • Hand washing unit: it’s a legal requirement to have a separate appliance for washing hands
  • Pot washing facilities
  • Safe LPG set up & gas safe certificates (if you’re going to use gas to cook)
  • First Aid kit, including blue caterer-type plasters
  • Risk Assessments: Having a risk assessment is a legal requirement and is essential for your customers welfare.
  • Temperature probes: you’ll need to make sure your food is cooked to legally-required temperatures
  • Fire safety equipment: fire extinguishers and fire blankets etc.
  • Training: you (and your staff) need to be trained to certain levels in food hygiene & other matters
  • Wages: you should be starting small but when you need an extra pair of hands around, you’ll need to fork out for the privilege
  • Stock: you’re going to need a lot of stock to cook your dishes
  • Cleaning equipment: cleaning is one of the most important processes for a food business
  • Pitch fees: if you’re working events, you’ll be expected to pay for your pitch
  • Licences: selling alcohol? You’ll have to pay for a personal licence course before you can apply for your licence
  • Transport: gone for a gazebo or stall? You’ll need a vehicle to get it to site
  • Food Safety Management System: Or as we call it, a Due Diligence System. This system includes all the processes you need to trade legally and safety.

Investment brackets

Here are the sorts of opportunities that could open up to you through different levels of investment: 

Under £5,000

The typical street food entrepreneur start-up level. It’s low risk but to stand out from the crowd you’ll need to get your branding and image spot on. What could you get?

  1. A small, second hand catering trailer in good condition for roadside or industrial estate trading
  2. A second hand, trailer-based baked potato oven
  3. A new gazebo and some basic catering equipment
  4. A new hog roaster

£5,000 – £10,000

A typical investment level for a roadside or small event start-up. What could you get?

  1. A small, new trailer for shows and events
  2. A mid-size, new trailer for markets and car boots
  3. A second hand van conversion for roadside trading
  4. A second hand sandwich snack truck
  5. A second hand ice cream van
  6. A second hand kiosk for a licensed pitch or a town centre
  7. A refrigerated vehicle for delivering buffets

£10,000 – £20,000

This is a serious investment level so you need to be pretty certain about what you’re doing and where you intend to trade. What could you get?

  1. A new, mid-range trailer for shows and events
  2. A new, large trailer for markets or new, small van conversion for roadside trading
  3. A new kiosk for town centre pitches
  4. A good second hand ice cream van

£20,000 – £50,000

You’re looking at converted vehicles or brand new, purpose-built units that can be used at almost any venue or market. What could you get?

  1. A new, high quality, high output trailer for large shows and events
  2. A new top-of-the-range kiosk with coffee machines etc.
  3. A new sandwich delivery truck
  4. A delivery or vending franchise

£50,000+

Now we’re talking! You really need to know what you’re doing when investing this kind of money. What could you get?

  1. A premises lease for corporate hospitality
  2. A new, large van conversion for events

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