Mobile bars come in many and varied forms from a plank resting on beer kegs with a table cloth over, to purpose built portable units, to fully equipped trailers towed behind large lorries, kitted out as a full working cellar capable of pulling thousands of pints of beer an hour.
Many mobile bars are run on a part time basis by people already in the license trade (such as pubs, restaurants, wine bars etc.) but there is potential for you to break into the market, especially with a unique and creative concept. The set up costs can range from a couple of hundred pounds to hundreds of thousands, depending on what you want to do.
In the UK we love a drink, and there is likely to be constant demand at shows and events.
People in the bar trade tend to either love it or get out pretty quickly. If you have experience in the industry and enjoy the work, this could be a very rewarding and profitable career decision.
There is significant demand for Mobile Bars at private and corporate functions or events. The popularity of interactive classes such as cocktail making lessons has also increased in recent years. In order to succeed in this field it is essential that you have good marketing material as your customers are likely to look at several different options. They are unlikely to make their decision solely on price, so service, image and presentation will also be key factors in their decision making process.
There is good potential to break into the events industry through imaginative offerings. A growing number of quirky bar options have sprung up including cocktail bars, cider bars, tiki bars, wine bars and Champagne or Prosecco bars.
Alternatives to beer often have better profit margins, and may provide more opportunities to get into events, as event organisers may be more likely to select your business for their event if it is unique or you have a different take on things.
You can often buy the sole rights to sell alcohol at an event or show, as long as you can afford them. This gives you a monopoly position on the bar(s), meaning you won’t be competing on price or anything else really - if someone wants a drink, they’ll have to come to you.
The cost of alcohol concessions at events can be prohibitive for small businesses, pricing them out of the market or forcing them to take risks which they would rather avoid. For the bigger shows you will require a lot of working capital, as well as the right team of staff behind you to ensure that it all runs smoothly.
The start-up costs and stock costs can be substantial. Obviously this will depend on the size and type of operation that you are looking to run. Smaller bars for private hire at weddings and parties can be set up reasonably cost effectively, but larger operations will need significant investment. You may also find that your pitch money gets caught up as deposits several months in advance.
It can be a difficult market to break into for the larger events. It can be a costly and difficult nut to crack, but can be very profitable if you get it right. Your tender will be dependent on the organiser's own attendance figures, which may be on the optimistic side. If you get the tender wrong you could end up losing money.
You have to get a personal alcohol licence if you haven’t got one already and this can take both time and money. Kit can also be taken away from you if you have been considered to have breached the regulations.
Staffing can be a constant issue for Mobile Bar operators. You will have to manage large numbers of people who are working hard while everyone around them has fun. Often the staff are casual, and at events and festivals they may go off and have a bit too much fun when they aren’t working. Not to mention the amount of your takings they will be handling. Managing staff and ensuring that your takings are going into your till and staying there can be a real issue for bar operators.
Anywhere there is alcohol there is always the potential for violence to flair up. It is an unsavoury aspect of the business, but not unexpected. If you are unwilling or unable to deal with such situations then this may not be the career for you.
At the risk of stating the obvious, some types of food work extremely well with alcohol, such as champagne and Oysters, wine and cheese and of course beer and burgers. However, it’s not always an easy thing to offer both alcohol and food at events or markets. This is partly because the alcohol concessions at events tend to be sold separately to the food concessions and often for considerable amounts of money. Organisers may therefore not be keen for you to sell both, as it may cause problems with the other bar operators. Furthermore, they may charge you two pitch fees, one for the food and one for alcohol.
Many events will already have the bar already sorted, and most mobile bars are run on a part time basis by people already in the licensed trade, such as pubs, restaurants, wine bars etc. The reason being, that they already have the experience, the knowledge and the licence (although they may need to apply for an additional temporary or event licence). Another big advantage is that they have the buying power to get beer, wines and spirits at the right price, as well as somewhere to store them and a way of selling off anything that might be left after the event.
A Temporary Events Notice (TEN) given under the Licensing Act 2003 allows the sale of alcohol, the provision of late night refreshment or the provision of certain public entertainment from a specified premises in England and Wales.
TENs can be used to authorise relatively small-scale, ad hoc events, and allows you to hold a licensable activity at a venue that is not currently licensed, or to hold or extend activities your existing licence does not permit. Find out more in our Get Legal section > Click here
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Working and running a Mobile Catering business can be great, but it can also be very difficult. Don't go into it blind. Find out more about it by reading our articles looking at both sides of the coin: - 10 Reasons why Starting a Mobile Catering Business is a Great Idea > Click here - 10 Reasons why Starting a Mobile Catering Business might not be for you > Click here
What type of unit are you going to operate from? There are 4 main categories of units and each of them have their advantages and disadvantages. Find out more below:
If it hasn’t got the CE label, don’t buy it - no matter what anyone might say. You will not get a Gas Safety certificate for it, and therefore will be operating illegally.
Event Organisers will want to see your Gas Safety certificate and you won't be able to trade without it. Even if you find work at small private functions, you could have some real problems with insurance companies if you ever need to make a claim, let alone with the law if you are prosecuted.
Where you trade is obviously critical to the success of your business. There are a variety of different options that you can choose from, you might even operate from a variety of different locations. Below are some ideas as to where, and you can find more information in our Get Profitable section.
Shows & Events
From village Fetes to week long music Festivals > Read More
Street Food, Farmers Markets, Car Boot Sales > Read More
Lay-by's, Car Parks & Industrial Estates > Read More
What price are you going to charge for your food or drink? Obviously this will depend on what it is that you're selling and where it is that you are operating. Food and drink often costs a lot more at shows and events than it does on a roadside, but then you will probably have to pay more in fees at a show.
How to Operate Legally
Many people start in catering because they like to cook and maybe have hosted some larger house parties. The thought of becoming a professional caterer is very appealing, however bear in mind that when you provide food for others there are rules to follow.
As soon as you say yes, even if you're not getting paid, you are a professional caterer and you are responsible and can even go to prison if things go badly wrong. Therefore, you need to ensure that you comply with a variety of laws and standards to ensure that you are operating legally. Our Get Legal section has a lot of information to help you on this.
Have a look at our Start Up Legal Checklist to ensure that you have everything covered > Click here
Don't even think of operating without Liability Insurance. Not only is it a legal requirement, it's not expensive and will cover you against accidents and food poisoning. Have a look at our Insurance section to get more information as to what type of Insurance you need > Click here
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In order to succeed we think you need to do / have the following things:
Research, research, research. You need to find out as much information as you can before you start, to know what to expect. What to sell, where to sell, how to sell it! This site should help you with lots of your research, but you might also want to consider buying The Complete Guide to Profitable Catering - it takes a lot of the information on this site and goes into more detail. You might also want to speak to some experts face to face. For more information > Click here
Where are you going to get answers to the many questions that you have? Where are you going to get the reassurance that you are doing the right thing or the confidence to change if things aren't going to plan? You might know someone else who has done it and therefore you can tap them up for information.
By being a member of NCASS you can call us with any questions or queries that you might have.
There's no doubting that in order to succeed in this industry you need to have a lot of determination to keep on going when the going gets tough. It's not an easy trade, especially in the depths of winter when you have to go out and trade in the cold weather but you'd rather be at home or in an office in the warm. That's the main difference between those who last 1 season and those that last 20.
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