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Hit the road

Catering in the hospitality industry comprises an almost infinite number of guises, from the food offered to the locations in which it is served. Here we look at roadside catering, which is not – contrary to many people’s belief – a simple way of making a fast buck. As with all catering establishments, there are many things to consider and do before opening up for business

“Trading by the side of the road selling bacon butties and lunches to passers-by, motorists and truckers from a van or a trailer may sound like an ideal way to spend hard-earned savings or redundancy money, but people rush in at their peril,” advises Bob Fox of the Nationwide Caterers Association.

Roadside catering - bacon roll“Before somebody even starts trading, they need to obtain a licence from their local authority,” continues Bob. “Unfortunately many authorities will not grant a licence because they perceive roadside caterers to be little more than an unprofitable nuisance, with the extra work caused not being covered by the cost of the licence. Apart from the fact that traffic obstruction can be created on busy A roads when people pull off for a cuppa, these same people are likely to drop litter and foodstuffs that, at the very least, will need to be cleared up or – in the worst case scenario – will give rise to health and safety issues, not to mention scavenging rats.”

Roadside cateringHowever not all is doom and gloom in the world of roadside catering. If you happen to live in a part of the country where there are plenty of B roads but not many roadside cafés – the Peak or Lake Districts for example – then you will probably not have a problem obtaining a licence.

While the chance of making your first million on the side of the road is negligible, you can nevertheless make a handsome profit if you get your menu correct. “I know a guy who used to sell a ton of bacon a month from his van near Birmingham,” recalls Bob. “His offering was spot on for his customers. Delicious thick crusty bread with good bacon and a fried egg that was not dripping in grease.”

Roadside catering - burgersPopular opinion has truckers tucking into mountainous, cholesterol-raising fry ups while the reality is that they – and the many others who travel the country extensively, relying on roadside establishments for food and drink – are no different from anyone else and have become noticeably more health conscious in recent years. “By all means offer traditional fry ups, but make sure you have healthy options too,” advises Bob. “Similarly, try and offer decent tea and coffee. Proper coffee is no longer a rarity on the road; one in three of our members is serving good coffee and the number is growing all the time. The same goes for soft drinks; while there is still a market for the traditional carbonated drinks such as Coca Cola, bottled water is becoming more and more popular.”

In spite of all the apparent negative elements of working by the side of the road, Bob would encourage anyone who is interested to give it a go – having thought long and hard about it before parting with any money of course. “You are your own boss. Your overheads are minimal and if you get a good pitch and good customers you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it earlier,” says Bob.

One stop site

Roadside catering kitchenFounded in January 2000 by husband and wife team Chris and Dawn Stuckey – who had previously run a successful mobile catering business for many years – Villagefetes.co.uk is an information-packed website that has invaluable free advice and tips (including how to locate services, suppliers and products as well as how to buy and sell equipment) for anyone who might be thinking of setting up a mobile catering business – or indeed for those who already do run such a business.

In a nutshell, this is what Villagefetes.co.uk advises anyone to consider should they be thinking of entering the mobile catering arena.

Where to trade

Carefully plan who your customers are likely to be and where you can legally trade.

Plan

Unfortunately many individuals who plan to start up mobile catering are under the impression that they can pick up a cheap trailer, park it wherever they like and start trading. The reality is that with all the current food safety regulations and roadside trading laws those individuals fail to make it past the first six months in business through a lack of planning.

Business plan

Whatever you do, never start a business without a business plan covering: which products you are going to sell, how you are going to sell these products, marketing plans and your general business strategy to succeed and become successful.

Roadside catering - hot drinksRegulations

You have a responsibility to adhere to strict food hygiene regulations that are in place to protect the general public from food risks and hazards. Contact your local environmental health officer within your local council for guidance.

Always ensure you have public liability insurance cover and, if you are going to employ anyone, employers’ liability insurance cover.

Product research

From your van or trailer to catering equipment, drinks machines, money transaction equipment, food products and containers – all need to be carefully costed before final purchasing decisions are made. Visit the website for in-depth advice.

For plenty of further information, advice and to sign up for the free monthly newsletter, visit www.villagefetes.co.uk

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