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How to Start a

Coffee or Tea Business

We've been helping caterers start up for over 25 years, and have the answers...


How to start a coffee or tea business


Coffee has attracted many people into the Mobile Catering Business - it's easy, clean and offers great profit margins



About the business


In essence, a Mobile Coffee / Tea business consists of a vehicle fitted with a coffee machine and other ancillary equipment, selling products similar to static coffee shops. If you were thinking of opening a coffee shop but don’t want or can’t afford the set up costs, then a good alternative could be a Mobile Coffee Business.

It has certainly attracted many start-ups in the last few years, and in all sorts of vehicles! Transit style vans, Piaggio three wheelers, vintage VW campers, electric carts, golf buggies and almost every other type of vehicle imaginable - in fact, it seems the more unusual the vehicle, the more appealing it is.

About the business



The Main Advantages of a Coffee / Tea Business:


The main advantage

1) Low Start Up Costs

You can start a mobile coffee / tea business for very little. Ready to go packages can be bought for as little as £7500 for a no strings attached Piaggio conversion, and can range to over £30,000 for a full blown supported franchise with a long, solid track record.


2) Coffee is a growing trend

The coffee business is growing, and rapidly. There are many coffee connoisseurs who will no longer accept a cup of drab, powdered instant, and want high quality coffee. This is only going to continue.


3) Great Profit Margins

Coffee and tea offer incredible gross profit margins of up to 95% which is what has attracted the big companies to expand at such a rapid rate. Very few other products even come close, meaning that you have the potential to make a lot of money.

4) A Year Round product

Some products are very seasonal, but coffee is no longer one of them. Yes, you won’t sell as many on hot days, but let’s be honest, they are few and far between.


5) Flexibility

Many people operate a mobile coffee / tea business to fit around their lifestyle, choosing only the odd show or event. For others they choose to do it as a career; it is these that tend to operate a daily round or a on regular pitch in a town centre or retail park. The great thing is that it can be run part time, on evenings outside a club or weekends at various events around the country. It's very flexible.









The Main Disadvantages of a Coffee / Tea Business:

Main Disadvantages of a Coffee / Tea Business

 

1) Competition

The expansion of the ‘proper’ coffee market has been impressive, but has also been matched by the growing number of coffee outlets where customers can get their daily cup of joe. While more people might be spending more money on coffee, there is also a lot more competition for that business. Your product will either have to be competitively priced, of a higher quality or have better service. Service will be key to the success of your business.



2) Limited Trading Hours

The vast majority of coffee / tea sales take place in the morning and this will be when you make most of your money. You will have to start early as many of your customers will want a coffee or tea on their way into work or shortly after they have started.


3) Licensing Issues

You may well need a street trading licence, and you will need to check with all of the local boroughs in which you would like to work as rules may differ across boroughs.



4) Skill Required

It takes skill to make a nice cup of coffee, and we’re not just talking about a pretty pattern on the top. To make good coffee you will need to research how to make a good cup and get practicing. Your level of skill and understanding of your business may well determine whether your business is successful.


5) Competition at Events

Many other businesses will offer hot drinks at events, and you have to ask yourself will someone want to queue up twice, once for breakfast and again for a coffee to go with it. While you may have the sole coffee concession, you may find that the burger van next to you is selling cups of instant coffee or generic teabags at half the price you are. Many customers will not queue twice, and as such will pay the food provider for an arguably inferior product. You need to bear this in mind when working out how much to tender to work at events.


6) Brand Loyalty

Many coffee customers go to a preferred outlet for their coffee. This is great when you have lots of repeat customers who will come to you every day or two, however, it can make it harder to break into the industry initially.


Your Equipment

Search for equipment

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 To Trade

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



Markets

Street Food, Farmers Markets, Car Boot Sales
> Read More



Roadside

Lay-by's, Car Parks & Industrial Estates
> Read More



How to Succeed

How To Succeed


In order to succeed we think you need to do / have the following things:

  • Do lots and lots of research

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  


  • Have a Support System in place

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.

 

  • Have lots of Determination

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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What To Think About

  • Is it for you?

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 Unit you will operate from

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:



 Motorised Food Van  Towed Catering Trailer Stall or Gazebo
Food Cart 




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Checklist

Checklist

Pricing

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

Importantly, make sure you have your hygiene training taken care of. A level 2 Food Hygiene Qualification is a must. Not only to cover yourself legally and protect your customers, but it also builds trust with your customers when they see you displaying the certificate. Your can take a triple accredited level 2 hygiene course online with us for as little as £25, including your certificate - it can be done in less than 4 hours!



Insurance


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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Find out what Members think of NCASS


> Go to Testimonials link




Want to know more?

If you still have questions about starting up your own Coffee or Tea business you should take a look at our main Starting Up page, our Getting Legal page or even give us a call on 0121 603 2524 and chat to one of our professional team. Whilst we dedicate most of our time to our members, we are happy to talk through the concerns of those who are looking at starting up and don't know where to turn.


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How to start and run a mobile catering business
 
   
   
   
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