Pop-up food stalls are entrepreneurship at its most vibrant. From a food van business catering for festivals and parties to market and food court stalls, this fast-growing sector is becoming more and more popular for both businesspeople and consumers alike.
The appeal of setting up a pop-up food business is clear, whether you’re seeking a comfortable niche serving the food you love, or you aspire to become a staple in your town. Considering that pop-up stall setup costs typically range in the low-to-mid £1,000s, plus the fact that successful operators can expect profit margins of around 20%, these dreams seem very attainable.
Of course, the reality isn’t that straightforward. There’s a whole host of regulations and laws to navigate, as well as making sure your stall / street food business creates and sells the best products possible. Let’s take a look at some of the challenges you can face as a pop-up food stall owner, and how to overcome them.
From food hygiene to liability insurance: the regulations
Much like restaurants and food factories, pop-up food businesses in the UK are subject to a fair amount of regulation. As consumers, this is something to celebrate: our food is handled to a high standard. So as business owners, this is something you should navigate carefully and thoroughly.
Due to the scope of regulations and laws out there, this process can be challenging. To try and mitigate these struggles, think about joining trade associations like the National Caterers Association. Getting help from associations like NCASS is always a good step for a new business: they can offer plenty of advice to help you start off on the right foot. In the beginning, though, there’s plenty you can do off your own bat to set up smoothly.
Your first step as a new food business is to register with your local authority. After you’ve applied, the Environmental Health Office (EHO) will contact you to arrange an inspection. You’ll need to secure a licence from the EHO in order to operate legally, and will only be permitted to start trading 28 days after that licence has come into effect. Tax arrangements must be made separately, by registering with HMRC as either a sole trader or limited company.
The second step is to make sure that everyone working at your business has undergone hygiene training in line with Food Standards Agency (FSA) guidelines. Typically, a Level 2 Food Hygiene certificate will be required for all staff who routinely come into contact with ingredients, and a Level 1 certificate will work for those who don’t.
Some further requirements will include employer’s liability insurance (you’ll need a certificate to display prominently in your stall), and regular health and safety checks carried out be either yourself or a hired specialist. What’s more, if you plan on having five or more staff working at your stall, you’ll also be obliged to create a Health & Safety Policy Document. Daunting as that may sound, you should be able to fit all the required info onto one or two sides of A4.
Choosing a location and product
Complying with regulations is a critical first step for any pop-up food business — but this won’t do you much good from a commercial standpoint unless you can identify the right market and develop the right product.
Understanding your potential location and demographics is an incredibly important part of succeeding — but it can also be complicated. There aren’t any set rules for going about this, and it can take a year or two to get this right. Nonetheless, a good place to start is market research: take a look at your competitor’s stalls around the area, in addition to other restaurants and similar establishments.
A simpler task, and likely the source of your reason for starting a stall in the first place, is knowing what to actually sell. It’s important to keep in mind here that, as a food stall, your customers likely want something quick and easy. Don’t overwhelm your potential customers with an unnecessarily long menu, and keep things simple. Home-cooked food is often a hit, so think about what you’d cook for friends and family and transfer that over to your stall.
The bottom line
Considering the smorgasbord of regulatory and business challenges that go hand-in-hand with setting up a pop-up food business, you might well be wondering: is it actually worth the effort?
There are definitely benefits that come along with running your own pop-up stall. You’ll get to be your own boss, you’ll have the flexibility to work however suits you best, there’s reduced business risk compared to a traditional restaurant, and of course, there’s the opportunity to make good money. On the other hand, there’s a sense of security that can come with having a regular paycheck, and by running your own food stall you might not have that.
At the end of the day though, setting up your own pop-up food stall can be a rewarding, yet stressful, experience. There are regulations, laws, and admin to get right, in addition to actually running and cooking food, hiring staff, and so on. Whether you need accounting consulting to assistance with VAT registration and getting your website’s domain name, we can help to take some of the strain off the process.