Ten things you need to know about starting a mobile catering or artisan street food business

mobile catering

If you’re thinking about starting up your own mobile street food or artisan street food business then you’re no doubt quite excited to get started. And rightly so – it’s a chance to follow your passion, make some money on your own terms, and bring some culinary satisfaction and spice into people’s lives. But before you do, there are a few things that you need to know and do to ensure that your mobile food business is a) legal and b) a success.

To help you out, we’ve selected the ten key things that you should know…

1. You need to register as a business

The first step to starting your mobile catering operation is the same as for any other business – you need to register as either a limited company or a sole trader/ partnership. The latter is the simpler option and is more suitable for small operations made up of just you or a few additional people.

However, the main distinction between the two is that as a limited company, your business is classed as a separate legal entity, so if you are sued for whatever reason or owe money to suppliers, the business will be held liable, not you. As a sole trader meanwhile, you may be personally sued or held accountable in these situations.

To help you decide which route is right for you, here are a few more key differences:

As a sole trader/ partnership:

  • You own the business and effectively are the business
  • You are classed as self-employed
  • Your profits are subject to income tax and National Insurance (Class 2 and 4)
  • If the business fails, you are personally liable for all of its debts

As a limited company:

  • You are a director and shareholder of the company
  • You are an office holder and an employee of the company
  • Your profits are subject to corporation tax (a lower rate than income tax)
  • If the company fails, you will not be held personally responsible for debts, under normal circumstances

You can find out more and begin the process on the official government website.

2. …and as a food provider

Once you’ve registered as a company or sole trader, you must also register it as a food business with your local authority. In doing so you will be registering your van or stall as premises where food is prepared and sold for consumption. If you have more than one mobile catering unit or stall, make sure that you register them all. You will also need a license that allows you to serve food on the street. Your first port of call should be to contact your local council for more information about the process.

3. You must have an appropriate food safety management system in place

There are strict regulations regarding food safety that all mobile caterers must adhere to. This is to ensure that your food is safe to eat and will not cause harm to members of the public.
All food businesses are required to have a food management system based around what the Food Standards Agency calls Hazard Analysis and Critical Point (HACCP). As part of inspections by the FSA, inspectors may ask to see your codes of practice for food hygiene, cleaning schedules, risk assessment policies and training records.

In practice, your food management system should make it clear how your business deals with and eliminates food hazards, in relation to Regulation (EC) 852/2004 on the hygiene of food-stuffs, and The Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006 or equivalent.

You can find out more about food hygiene requirements on the official FSA site.

4. You are required to carry out regular risk assessments

In addition to having a food management system, you must also regularly carry out and document risk assessments relating to food safety, fire safety and health and safety. Whenever you change your processes, such as by adding a new item to the menu, you should carry out a new risk assessment.

5. Your catering equipment must be certified

The equipment which you use to cook and prepare food must be safe to use and legally certified. For gas appliances, this will mean being CE certified and fitted with a flame failure device. All who use the appliances must also be trained in the use of gas equipment and its risks. You can find out more about gas safety in catering here.

6. You need a number of different types of insurance

If you’re running a burger van or similar mobile catering unit, you will, of course, need suitable vehicle insurance to cover your legal requirements. But there are a number of other types of mobile catering insurance that you should strongly consider, and which in some cases may be mandatory.

In addition to protecting your vehicle itself, you will of course also want to insure the equipment which you have probably spent considerable money on, and which is integral to the viability of your business. These may be damaged or lost in a number of ways, such as accident damage, fire or theft.

It is also highly recommended that you take out public liability and product liability insurance, as while it is not a mandatory requirement, it will protect you financially in the event that someone seeks compensation after suffering food poisoning or another type of damage or loss as a result of your business activities.

If you employ other people to work in your mobile catering business, you will also need employer’s liability insurance as a legal requirement. Aside from being mandatory though this insurance will protect your business financially in the event that a member of staff pursues a compensation claim against you.

7. … and you should strongly consider a few others

The above types of insurance should be considered a bare minimum, but there are a few other types of policy that you may want to consider for the future success of your business and your own peace of mind.

As a food business, you’re inevitably going to be around sharp knives, hot pans and other hazards on a daily basis, and despite all your precautions there is still the possibility that something will go wrong. Personal injury insurance will cover you in the event that you suffer an accident and need specialist medical treatment or care. If you’re unable to work for any period of time, you may also consider an insurance policy which covers you for any loss of earnings during the time that you’re unable to work.

Similarly, if your vehicle or stall, or your equipment, is damaged and you’re unable to operate your business for some time, business continuity insurance can cover you for loss of profits occurring during this down time.

8. You will be inspected

As a mobile premises serving food, your business will be inspected periodically by food hygiene enforcement officers from your local authority. The main aim of these inspections is to ensure that the food that you produce is safe to eat and is made in a hygienic environment.

The enforcement officers will inspect not just the food but the van or stall itself, and the way that you and your staff work. They will also pay close attention to your food safety management system as discussed earlier, which you are legally obliged to have in place. In addition to the hygiene element of these inspections, they will also look at the way that you describe your food and check that it is not misleading to your customers.

Food hygiene enforcement officers are permitted to visit your mobile premises at any reasonable hour, and they are not required to make an appointment or give you prior notice of their inspection. For this reason, you should take all necessary steps to ensure that your mobile catering business adopts good hygiene practices at all times. Your business will be visited on routine inspections, and if it has previously fallen short in any way you should expect these visits to be more frequent. Officers may also visit your premises for an inspection following a complaint from one of your customers.

9. You should understand the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme

The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is managed by the Food Standards Agency in partnership with local authorities. Its purpose is to provide consumers with guidance on the food hygiene at specific establishments so that they are able to make informed decisions. It applies to restaurants, pubs serving food, cafes, and to mobile caterers and artisanal street food vendors.

Ratings in the system range from 0 to 5, with 5 being the highest standard of compliance with legal hygiene requirements. Your business will be given a rating when it is inspected by local authority enforcement officers as discussed above.

All food hygiene ratings are published online by the FSA at www.food.gov.uk/ratings while businesses are also encouraged to display them prominently in their premises. The food hygiene rating is of course not a guide to food quality at your establishment, only how well it complies with accepted hygiene standards, but needless to say, a poor rating is likely to have a negative impact on the amount of business you do, while a high rating may have the opposite effect.

If you want to get a deeper insight into the food hygiene rating scheme, you can check out the ‘Food Hygiene Rating Scheme: Guidance for local authorities on implementation and operation – the brand standard’. While it is intended for local authorities, it should also give you a solid idea of the kind of things that they are looking for.

10. You must keep written records

As a mobile catering business you must keep a number of different types of records as detailed below:

Supplier records – As a business that prepares and sells food, you are legally required to keep written records of your suppliers. In addition to the name and address for each supplier, you must record the type and quantity of products received and the date on which you took delivery of them. You are also expected to keep any invoices or receipts for food products, including those from supermarkets so that in the event of a food safety incident the root of the problem can be more easily traced and rectified.

Business income and expenses – Whether you’re registered as a sole trader/ partnership or a limited company, you are legally required to keep precise records of money coming in and going out of your business. This should include everything from daily takings to supplier invoices. You will need to use these to fill in your tax return each year, and you are required to keep them for at least five years.

Stock control – The more detailed records you keep of your stock, the more efficient and safer your business will be. The Food Standards Agency recommends that you go through your menu regularly to determine how much stock you need, check details of deliveries on receipt, such as use-by dates, temperatures, and integrity of packaging. You should also carry out regular stock checks to remove any food which has passed its use by date, and which is of course illegal to sell. It may be beneficial to keep a record of use-by dates for ingredients as they come in from the supplier.

Hopefully, this short guide has given you the confidence that you need to start your own mobile food business, and will help you to avoid some of the potential pitfalls that you may meet along the way.

If you need advice on any aspect of insurance for your mobile catering business, or would like a quote, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We can provide you with competitive policies on every aspect of mobile catering insurance that you require, from insuring the vehicle and your equipment, to insuring your business and your own future.