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How to Start an

International Food Business

In recent years there has been an explosion of International Food onto the UK scene, offering new, unique and exciting opportunities for running a successful catering business

About the business

While traditional British food hasn’t always had the greatest reputation, we do have a strong tradition of embracing food from around the world and adopting it as our own. Food that has come to these shores either through immigration, the end of the Empire, or more recently, through people travelling abroad and looking to recreate the dishes that they loved, back at home.

The list grows by the day as to the countries whose national cuisines are represented on British High Streets and at Events and Street Food Markets, with Mexican, Caribbean, Thai, South American, North and West African, Taiwanese, Italian, Spanish, Korean and American Barbecue all making significant impressions in recent years. We are also very good at adapting cuisines to better suit the British palate.


The Main Advantages of a International Food Business:

1) Low Start-Up costs

A market stall or gazebo set up, with completely new equipment and gas rig can be put together for around £5,000. A converted van, depending on the make and model, can be on the road for anything between £5,000 - £20,000, and second hand trailers start at around £5,000 when fully kitted out.

2) Produce the food that inspires you

Whether you're cooking grandma’s recipe or recreating the Tagine you first sampled in the Souks of Morocco, International Food allows you to cook what inspires you, and may well equally delight the public. Being passionate for what you’re doing is going to make the early starts, cold, rain and long days far easier to put up with. This passion and enthusiasm is catching - your customers are more likely to buy into what you do, and your staff are likely to be more motivated.

3) You’re not in an office…

…or a factory, or any other job you hate. If you want to be outside, with like-minded people, meeting the public and delighting them with food, this could be the job for you - as long as you can cook the food that you love creating.

4) Opportunities for Private Work

Many traders supplement their income with private functions such as birthdays, weddings and corporate gigs (although your suitability for this may depend on the type of unit you choose). From formal sit down dinners to casual street food type settings, offering World Food can provide a real alternative to more traditional catering. Additionally, many private events are themed in some way, so your food may be just what they are looking for.

5) If it isn't working you can change it

Whether you realise that the public are not tempted by your food or there’s no customers around to buy it. If the type of event or food isn’t working for you, you can always change what events you work at or what you sell at them.

6) Lower pitch fees

World Food usually comes under the ‘Special Purpose’ label at events. Special Purpose units tend to have lower pitch fees and less competition for places at shows and events, especially if they are offering something really different.

The Main Disadvantages of a International Food Business:


1) It’s not as easy as you might think

Street food can be physically challenging, require early starts and long days (new starters often don’t factor in the amount of prep time for example). The weather cannot be relied upon and there are days when you won’t sell much at all. Hopefully the good days will more than make up for the bad ones, but it’s not easy work.


2) British Weather & Seasonality

Due to the British weather, the outdoor catering season tends to be spring to autumn. The public don’t tend to like eating outside in rain, snow or high winds, all of which are possible if not probable during the winter months. During the winter, some traders work Christmas Markets or at indoor food courts, some open pop-up restaurants, and others just go on holiday. The majority of opportunities to trade are in the spring, summer and early autumn.

Starting Up a Mobile International Food Business

3) Not as popular as General Purpose Units

At many events, a significant number of customers play it safe with burgers or other traditional fast foods, and this can affect your potential sales. For this reason it is good to know the market and your place in it, what you are capable of producing and at what price. Some events will not suit very diverse offerings. 

4) Higher unit costs

It is likely to cost you more to produce a meal than the ‘General Purpose’ options, meaning that you will either have to charge more to make similar profits, or simply make lower profit margins. However, if you are getting work, making money that you are happy with and delighting your customers, does it matter if the burger guys make more money on a good day than you? This is not true for all food types, however as an example, a seafood paella is likely to cost you more per unit to produce than a frozen burger.

5) More skill required

It probably goes without saying, but it can take more skill to produce proper meals than it does to cook a frozen burger on a griddle. This may mean that you need more staff as well as better skilled workers. This isn’t always the case, and really depends on the quality and type of food you want to serve and the processes required to make it.

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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 

Your 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


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 

Find out what Members think of NCASS

> Go to Testimonials link

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.

Want to know more?

Read the book

Profitable Catering

> Click here

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