Do you have dreams of starting a food business but don’t fancy being tied to one location? In that case, starting a mobile food business could be the perfect option. 

The main advantage of a mobile food business is that you can choose where you want to serve your customers. You can pick places based on how popular they are and be on your way to generating some decent income.

This guide will show you how to start a mobile food business. We’ll cover the following topics:

  • Types of mobile food business you can start
  • How to start a mobile food business
  • How to manage your business finances 
  • Getting your finances in order with the Countingup app

Types of mobile food business you can start

When considering how to start a mobile food business of your own, the first thing to decide is what concept you want to go for. After all, you can start many types of mobile food businesses, such as:

Food kiosks

A food kiosk is a temporary booth or stand businesses use to prepare and sell food in shopping centres, airports, train stations and so on. These kiosks are relatively cheap and easy to set up, and you can operate them anywhere you’re licensed to do so. We’ll cover licenses in detail later in this article. 

The downside to food kiosks is that you’ll most likely need to assemble them in your chosen location and then take them apart to move to another destination. As such, food kiosks are less mobile than other concepts might be.

Food carts 

Food carts are smaller and more mobile than kiosks since they tend to be on wheels. Generally, food carts either have room for you inside to serve food through a window, or you use the entire space for storage and cooking equipment. Because of the limited space, food carts are best suited to ready-to-sell food items, such as coffee, pretzels, juice, and so on. 

On the plus side, food carts are probably the easiest to move around because of their small size. That said, if you don’t have space for yourself inside the cart, you might find yourself standing out in the cold outside train stations, parks, and so on. So wrap up warm in the winter months!

Food trucks

Food trucks are larger, meaning they can carry more food and handle more business. That said, food trucks require more parking space both off-duty and when doing business. As a result, you might struggle to find a space in your favourite destinations. 

You’ll also need a category B driving license at minimum to attack the food truck as a tow on your car. To drive larger vehicles (like an adapted minivan for your food truck), you’ll need to upgrade your license to category C or D. You can learn more about how to start a food truck business here.

Mobile catering 

Mobile catering businesses are similar to food trucks, except people hire them for specific events. Typically, your customer will choose food from a menu you prepared, which you’ll then serve at the event. 

One key advantage of mobile catering is that you don’t need to store as much inventory since you’ll cook and bring food as ordered for the party. You also won’t need to worry about your favourite destinations being busy since you’ll already have a specific destination to set up in. 

How to start a mobile food business

Once you’ve chosen a concept for your mobile food business, you can proceed to the following steps:

Set up your business 

The first thing you need to do is register your business. One of the quickest ways is to set up as a sole trader since all you have to do is register for Self Assessment with HMRC. If you’d like help setting up and advice on how to avoid legal trouble when choosing a business name, read our article How to register as a sole trader.

Another option is to set up your new mobile food business as a limited company. This business model makes your company a separate legal entity to yourself, which a sole tradership does not. As such, limited companies require more paperwork but makes it easier to hire staff if you need to. 

If you’re unsure about which model to choose, you can learn about the advantages and disadvantages of a sole trader or limited company to help you decide.

Get food business licences before you operate

Trading in the food industry requires you to obtain all the necessary legal documentation (see below) and understand how to ensure your customers’ health and wellbeing. In the UK, mobile food vendors need the following licenses and documentation:

Get the right insurance

Any business owner would be wise to take out insurance to cover them in case something goes wrong when trading. As a mobile food business, you’ll need to insure your cart, truck, or kiosk in case they become damaged or cause damage. When starting a mobile catering business, it’s also good to check that your policy includes full-fire cover in case there’s a fire.

Other insurance covers worth getting for your mobile food business include:

  • Public liability insurance: if anything happens to a member of the public as a result of dealing with your business, such as injury or food poisoning.
  • Income loss insurance: in case you become sick and unable to work to cover you when you can’t generate income.
  • Event insurance: this protects you against injury, property damages and sometimes even cancellations when catering for a specific event.

Open a business current account

Setting up as a limited company means you legally have to open a separate business current account to keep your business and personal finances separate. Sole traders aren’t legally obligated to do this but will also benefit from opening a separate business account for the following reasons:

  • It makes it easier to monitor cash flow (money moving in and out of your business).
  • It makes tax returns easier to prepare since your business and personal transactions are separate.
  • Having a business account looks more professional to customers, clients and suppliers.

When looking for a business current account, consider a solution like Countingup, which has built-in accounting software that allows you to save time and stress on bookkeeping tasks.

Choose convenient payment methods

Once upon a time, all street market vendors were a strictly cash-only operation, but times have changed. Last year saw cash payments in the UK fall by 35%, meaning only 17% of all payments in the UK were cash-based. In addition, 83% of UK citizens now use contactless for at least 75% of their payments. 

These numbers indicate that the best way for you to meet the change in demand from customers is to offer different payment options. Accepting cash, debit or credit cards, contactless payments, and other methods can help you attract more customers to your mobile food business. 

Develop your menu

While developing your food items might involve some fun taste tests, there’s lots more to food in the hospitality sector. 

Scaling and storage

When choosing your recipes, consider how you can scale them to create large amounts of the same product. Make sure you record your ingredients and processes accurately to help you duplicate the recipe over and over. 

The food items you choose also need to last long enough for you to use them, so select your ingredients wisely. If you’re new to food preparation, storage, and temperature requirements, the UK’s Food Standard Agency has support available on hygiene and storage, along with online training courses.

Packaging

The final step when developing your menu is to determine how you’ll present your food to customers. Also, consider how you’ll keep your dishes at the right temperature and safe from spillages or leakages. 

Even if your meals are perfectly safe to eat on arrival, customers may be disappointed if food items that look different from the menu or lose their temperature quickly. You may want to invest in grease-proof and secured packaging to help your meals last while customers enjoy them.

Safety

When starting a business in the food industry, it’s crucial to ensure everything you serve is stored correctly and has gone through the necessary safety checks. For example, if you use eggs in your food, they should be tested for salmonella. 

In addition, it’s vital to store items to avoid cross-contamination of different products and cook them at the minimum cooking temperature required for each. Note that cooking temperatures vary across the UK, so check what applies to your area with your local council.

Allergens are another big concern for food businesses. When preparing food, make sure you keep allergen ingredients separate from cooking surfaces –– even consider the air surrounding your ingredients as you prepare them. 

Crucially, if you can’t guarantee that your meals are completely free of allergens, it’s best to be cautious and declare trace amounts to customers. The Food Standards Agency has advice and training on allergens for new food businesses available online.

Get your target customers’ attention

As a mobile food business, you have a ton of flexibility in terms of advertising and marketing. It’s wise to take every opportunity to spread the word about your business to attract paying customers.

The first place to start is creating business accounts on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok. Use these platforms to show off your tasty dishes and create ads to reach a wider audience. 

You can begin taking simple photographs and videos of your food items and mobile food vehicle design to create a buzz. Then, you can monitor which posts get more traffic and engagement and refine your effort based on what you find. 

If you need help getting started, our guide called How to use social media for business lists everything you need to know about the subject. Among other things, the article explains how to leverage influencer marketing to build brand awareness. 

You can also read more about different advertising methods in this guide: How to advertise a small local business

How to manage your business finances 

Creating a successful mobile food business requires effective financial management. The best way to get your business off to a good start financially is to organise your finances and bookkeeping from the beginning. Staying organised can help you budget for regular business expenses and track your earnings. 

Investing in the right accounting software will allow you to save time on bookkeeping and accounting tasks and track your financial activities with confidence. For example, Countingup is a unique two-in-one business current account and accounting software. This one-of-a-kind solution is specifically made for one-person businesses.

Countingup is an easy to use app that comes with a range of handy tools like automatic expense categorisation and receipt capture that help you organise and track your financial activities. Plus, you can create and send unlimited invoices on the go with just a few taps on your smartphone. Invoicing on the go will come in handy for mobile catering businesses that charge for gigs rather than individual purchases.

On top of all this, Countingup also generates tax estimates, so you always know how much you need to set aside and avoid surprises during tax season. You can also access accurate and up-to-date cash flow reports so you can track how your business is performing at any time. 

Find out more here and start your 3 month free trial today.