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Setting up a Burger Van Business

All you need to know about starting and running your business

Business guides » Setting up a Burger Van Business

What is a Burger Van business?

The burger industry in the UK is worth a whopping £3.28 billion. Combine that with the ever-growing popularity of food trucks, and running a burger van business could be a fantastic moneymaker. A food van offers freshly made, delicious, yet convenient food to customers at a wide range of events. Running a burger van business is an excellent way for those with a flair for food and business to start their own low-cost, low-risk enterprise.

Traditionally associated with the U.S., burgers have rocketed in popularity in the UK in recent years. With the boom in popularity of the gourmet burger experience, many burger vans now offer a choice of burger patties, buns, toppings and relishes to suit all customers.

British food vans were likely originally inspired by American food trucks. Although initially used for convenience, when consumers didn’t have the time or desire to sit in a traditional restaurant environment, food vans now offer a unique dining experience.

Burger vans now operate all over the country, at a variety of events, markets, fairs and festivals. They also remain popular at the roadside, with many drivers, workers and passers-by utilising their services.

When running a burger van, you will be responsible for preparing, cooking and serving the food. You may choose to specialise in one specific product or offer a variety of burgers. You could choose to offer different burger toppings, such as salad, cheese, bacon, avocado and fried eggs. You could also offer different sauces or relishes. Some burger vans also choose to sell side dishes, such as chips. You may also want to consider offering beverages.

When deciding what products to serve from your burger van, consider your local competition, your target market and what is most likely to earn you a profit.

Types of Customers

Although a love of burgers is not limited to one particular age group or type of customer, determining your target market can help you decide the type of burgers you are going to sell and the type of location or event where your burger van is likely to be the most successful.

You can operate your burger van in a variety of places. Your options include, but are not limited to:

  • Hiring a pitch at organised events such as festivals, fairs and music events.
  • Food markets.
  • Street parking in areas with high foot traffic or high concentrations of your target market.
  • Business districts, industrial parks and office buildings.
  • A farmers’ market.
  • Sporting events.
  • Nightlife areas with a variety of bars and nightclubs.
  • Roadsides close to motorways or busy roads.
  • Popular outdoor locations, such as beaches and parks.
  • Pop-up events.
  • Social events such as weddings and parties.
  • People with specific food requirements, such as vegetarian/vegan, halal or gluten-free.

 

When determining your target market, there are several important factors you should first consider.

Your menu

The types of burgers you plan to make can be a huge determining factor for your target market. For example, if you plan to create gourmet burgers with a variety of toppings, these may be less popular at a sporting event compared to a food market.

Your price points

How much do you plan to spend on your ingredients and how much do you plan to charge your customers? The cost of your burgers can influence your target market as some consumers may be prepared to pay higher prices than others. For example, burger vans that focus on street parking will likely need a lower price point than burger vans that target events such as Glastonbury Music Festival.

Your competition

Research your local competition thoroughly to determine the types of burger vans that already exist. It may be beneficial to focus on a previously untapped niche or a product that is more likely to guarantee your success. For example, if there is already a successful gluten-free burger van operating at events in your area, this may not be the best target market for you to explore.

Your brand identity

This is how your brand will be identifiable and will be influenced by the visual look of your burger van, the types of products you sell and even the name and logo of your business.

Burger cartoon
French fries cartoon
Hotdog cartoon

Equipment You Will Need

Setting up a burger van business can be a low-investment enterprise, especially when compared to more traditional food establishments. Your biggest initial expense will be equipment. There is a wide range of equipment you will require for your burger van, with some equipment being more expensive than others.

Some of the larger equipment may offer the possibility to be purchased second-hand or even rented. This can help reduce your start-up costs.

Below is a list of equipment you may need to acquire before opening your burger van business.

A vehicle

A vehicle will be your biggest initial expense. You have several options available to you when choosing your vehicle.

  • A burger van – These usually come with inbuilt cooking facilities and a fridge. If you purchase a van that has not yet been customised for selling food, you will have to pay separately to purchase and install these facilities. Burger vans can range in price from £20,000 to £200,000.
  • A burger trailer – This is a cheaper alternative to a van. Although they are cheaper, a trailer is much more difficult to transport as it needs to be towed rather than driven. However, if you do not need to transport your business regularly, a trailer could be a great option. The average price of a trailer ranges from £5,000 to £50,000.

 

Be aware that if you opt to purchase a second-hand vehicle, there are strict gas and electrical inspections you will need to pass before you are allowed to operate your business. A second-hand vehicle offers no guarantees that it is running in line with the necessary legal requirements.

A food warmer

If you operate in busy areas with a high number of customers, you may want to cook some of the food ahead of time. A food warmer allows you to keep the cooked food at a safe temperature before you serve it. The cost of a food warmer usually starts at £40, although if you require a larger warmer, the price is likely to increase.

Preparation and cooking equipment

The equipment you will require for preparing food may vary but could include chopping boards, kitchen knives, a food processor, a frying pan (for toppings such as eggs and bacon), a cheese grater, a food thermometer and timers. You may also require cooking and serving utensils, such as tongs and spatulas. The main cooking equipment, such as a grill and fryer, should be installed in your van.

Display boards and pricing

Eye-catching display boards can help you to attract customers. It should also be easy for customers to see the pricing of your food products and any additional information you supply, such as allergen information.

Equipment for serving and eating

You will need to provide something to serve your burgers in. Many customers will desire convenience, as they may want to take their food away or eat it on the go. Options for you to consider include cardboard takeaway containers, polystyrene trays, paper napkins, cups for beverages and paper bags for larger orders. You may also need to supply cutlery and paper straws.

Other accessories and equipment

There are a huge number of accessories you could choose to include as part of your burger van business.

These could include:

  • Sauce dispensers, pumps or squeezy bottles.
  • Salt and pepper dispensers or sachets.
  • A cash register and Point of Sales system.
  • Rubbish bins.
  • A sanitising or handwashing station.

 

Cleaning equipment

Keeping all areas of your burger van clean is imperative. Food preparation, cooking and storage areas are particular areas that should be cleaned regularly throughout the day, to avoid cross-contamination and the breeding of bacteria. You will likely need different cleaning materials for different parts of your van. You may need to invest in cloths, sponges, antibacterial surface cleaners, bleach, sanitiser, dishwashing soap and a sweeping brush and mop.

Customer of a burger van business

Typical Pricing

Typical costs associated with setting up your burger van can vary. However, to help you calculate your potential start-up costs and running costs, let’s take a look at some of the typical pricing associated with a burger van business.

Equipment costs

As mentioned above, the cost of your equipment can vary, primarily depending on the type of vehicle you choose to purchase. The cost of purchasing all your equipment new can vary from £50,000 to £250,000. However, purchasing some equipment second-hand or renting some equipment could help to reduce your start-up costs.

Pitching fees

Some events are much more expensive to pitch at than others, with prices ranging hugely, from £20 to £2,000 per day. However, events that have higher pitching fees may result in much higher profits. For example, the pitching fees at a music festival are likely to be much higher, however, you are likely to have more business and turn an overall higher profit.

Street trading licence

The cost of a street trading licence can vary, depending on your local council. You can expect to pay approximately £75 to apply for your licence and may then have to pay weekly or monthly fees to trade. Contact your local council for more information or visit gov.uk.

Food hygiene training

You can complete Food Safety and Hygiene training on our website for as low as £20 + VAT. It is recommended that you refresh your training every three years, so ensure you factor this additional cost into your budget. If you hire any employees, it is also recommended that they undertake food hygiene training.

Insurance

There are several types of insurance you may require, including Legal Indemnity Insurance, Product Liability Insurance, Public Liability Insurance, Business Vehicle Insurance and Contents Insurance. The cost of these can vary greatly depending on your coverage level and insurance provider. You can expect to pay between £100 and £500 for insurance.

Running costs

Running costs encompass a huge number of costs associated with your burger van business. This could include your overhead costs such as electricity, gas and petrol. It could also include the cost of replacing or upgrading your equipment. Running costs can also include stock and ingredients. You should aim to have low running costs to help maximise your profits.

Food stock and ingredients

In order to maximise profits, the cost of your stock should be no more than 30%-40% of your food sale price. This means that to estimate your food stock costs, you first need to estimate the price of your menu and the number of menu sales you plan to make each month.

Once you have calculated the costs associated with setting up and running your burger van business, you can begin to calculate your price points. The typical prices charged by burger vans can vary significantly, with burgers starting as low as £2 and others as much as £8.

The prices you will charge will depend on a variety of factors, including:

  • The quality and cost of your ingredients.
  • Your overhead costs.
  • The location or event you are catering for.
  • Your target markets.
  • The types of burgers you are serving, including any toppings and relishes.

Safely Running a Burger Van

Safely running your burger van business is imperative for a number of reasons. Firstly, as you are cooking and handling food, unsafe business or hygiene practices could be potentially dangerous to your customers. Secondly, all food businesses are likely to receive a visit from the Environmental Health Officer (EHO) within the first weeks or months of opening their business. The EHO will examine your food safety and hygiene practices and check whether you have the correct protocols in place.

Failure to meet safety standards could result in the EHO providing you with an improvement notice. If they believe there is an immediate risk to customers, your business could be closed, a fine issued and, in serious circumstances, you could face imprisonment.

Below is a list of safety protocols you should ensure you follow in your burger van business.

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)

HACCP helps you to manage food safety hazards in your burger van. You can identify potential risks and ensure these risks are reduced or removed. HACCP helps you to make sure necessary safety procedures are consistently followed by all employees. Keeping records of the actions you have taken in line with HACCP is recommended.

Risk assessments

Risk assessments help you to manage, reduce and remove risks. Risk assessments can be used as clear evidence of your safety procedures and risk management when you receive a visit from the EHO. Some events you cater for will require you to conduct risk assessments before offering you a pitch. It is important to note that the government now requires businesses to conduct additional risk assessments for risks relating to Covid-19.

Food hygiene training

During a food hygiene inspection, you will lose marks if you cannot provide evidence that you, and any employees, have undertaken food hygiene training. Food hygiene training helps to increases your awareness of the importance of following safety regulations, as well as your awareness of the potential risks and dangers associated with cooking and serving food.

Keep records

The EHO may want to see up-to-date records of cleaning schedules, risk assessments, health and safety policies, allergens and temperature checks. Keeping such records not only helps to protect your business but also ensures procedures are followed at all times.

Safely store stock and cooked food

Make sure that you follow guidelines regarding storing food at the correct temperature. As part of your burger van business, you are likely dealing with frozen, refrigerated and cooked food. This food must be stored at the correct temperature to prevent spoilage or deterioration.

Abide by correct cooking temperatures

Cooking at the correct temperature can reduce or eliminate the risk of food poisoning. Be aware of different cooking temperatures for different foods and the higher risks associated with some foods. For example, chicken burgers are a higher-risk food than beef burgers. Using a food thermometer can help to ensure food is thoroughly cooked.

Make allergen information available to customers

This can help to protect your customers from experiencing an allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock. If your burgers contain any of the 14 allergens, making this information available to customers is especially important.

Cleaning requirements

As mentioned earlier, effective cleaning procedures are essential to a burger van business. Having a cleaning schedule or cleaning policies in place can be highly effective. As part of your cleaning requirements, ensuring the personal hygiene of you and your employees and providing handwashing stations for customers can also help you to safely run your burger van. For more information on effective cleaning, consult our knowledge base.

Legal Requirements

There are several legal requirements you must adhere to when opening and operating your burger van business. Although legal requirements may vary depending on your local council, the general list of legal requirements below can help you to make sure you are abiding by the law.

Apply for a food business registration

This must be done at least 28 days before you plan to begin trading. There is no cost associated with business registration and it is quick and easy to apply for on gov.uk.

Apply for a street trading licence

Different councils within the UK have different rules regarding street trading licences. Some councils allow you to operate your burger van at the side of the road, whereas others only allow you to trade in specific pitches or on private land. To find out whether you need to apply for a street trading licence, and where you are allowed to set up your burger van business, contact your local council directly. If your local council requires you to have a licence and you trade without one, you could receive a fine.

Obtain a Gas Safety Certificate

Any gas equipment used for catering purposes must be inspected every year by a gas safe engineer. If your equipment is deemed safe to use and complies with government requirements, you will be issued with a Gas Safety Certificate. Street food has some great information on gas safety in mobile catering.

Register as self-employed with HMRC

Running your burger van business as an individual or as a self-employed person requires you to register as a sole trader. You will have to think of a name for your burger van business and keep records of all your income, profits and expenses.

Obtain a Food Hygiene Certificate

As mentioned above, food hygiene training is a legal requirement. A food hygiene certificate is the most efficient way of evidencing your food hygiene training.

Implement a Food Safety Management System (FSMS)

Food businesses in the UK must implement a Food Safety Management System. When your food hygiene rating is being determined, the effectiveness of your FSMS will be considered. An FSMS is a systematic approach to controlling food safety hazards. It ensures that your business is following safety protocols. For more information on the food hygiene rating system, consult our knowledge base.

Handwashing facilities

The law requires all food businesses to have dedicated handwashing facilities for employees. These facilities must be separate from your pot washing facilities, in order to prevent contamination.

Positives of running a burger van business

Positives of Owning a Burger Van

Setting up a burger van business offers some great advantages.

Burgers are a street food classic

Burgers are a staple at food events. Even with more diverse food offerings available, burger vans remain as popular as ever. It is not uncommon to see large queues forming at burger vans, with many people enjoying this classic food at a convenient cost.

Affordable and high-profit margins

Burger vans offer an affordable, high-profit business venture for a variety of reasons. First, ingredients are not too expensive to purchase and as you are serving one main product, some ingredients can be purchased in bulk. Additionally, burgers can often be pre-cooked, cutting down on waiting times. Finally, burgers are usually in high demand, increasing your sales and reducing waste.

Ability to cater for various events

The types of events where you could successfully run a burger van are numerous. This increases your business opportunities and allows you to choose the events that are likely to be the most profitable. It can also help to keep your job fun and engaging.

Versatile

Contrary to popular belief, burgers can be an extremely versatile food. You can serve different meats, such as beef, chicken or lamb burgers, or tap into the increasingly popular veggie burger market. You can also experiment with different toppings, buns and sides.

Flexibility

You can choose how little or often you work. You can fit your business around your lifestyle and determine your own working hours. You can choose to only cater specific events or run your burger van weekly or even daily.

Low start-up costs and running costs

Compared to a traditional restaurant, a mobile business requires a lower initial investment and low start-up costs. This means you will be able to turn a profit much faster. The low running costs associated with a burger van can also help to keep your profit margins high.

Negatives of running a burger van business

Negatives of Owning a Burger Van

However, there are some cons to running a burger van business that you should be aware of.

Increased risk of illness or food poisoning

As you are serving meat and dairy products, there is an increased risk of the food products becoming spoiled or being undercooked. Furthermore, the UK has had several substantial food scares in recent years regarding compromised meat. Such issues would be unfortunately out of your control.

Reputation of burgers

Burgers and other fast-food items have lost some of their popularity as a result of the increased awareness of healthy eating. Even if you offer healthier burgers, some potential customers may still be reluctant to purchase your burgers.

Can be very competitive

As burgers have increased in popularity, so has the number of burger establishments. You will be competing with other burger vans, dedicated burger restaurants and popular fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s and Burger King.

Business could be seasonal

Food van businesses tend to be much more popular in the summer. Your business could be up and down based on several factors that are out of your control such as the weather, the season and your competition. This can make it much more difficult to predict the success of your business and your potential profits.

High stress

As a burger van business owner, you will likely have a large number of responsibilities, including acting as a chef, sales assistant and driver, as well as being responsible for ordering and replenishing stock, taking orders and serving food and beverages. This can be stressful, especially when your burger van is newly opened.

Planning Your Burger Van Business

An effective business plan is imperative to the success of your burger van business. A plan helps to ensure you have a solid business idea, have calculated start-up costs and expenses, considered your competition, and have considered how best to maximise profits.

When planning your business, there are some important questions you should answer and steps you should follow.

Finalise your product

Decide exactly what types of burgers you will sell. Will you offer different burger patties? Will you serve a vegetarian burger? What toppings and relishes will you offer? Are you going to serve sides, beverages or any other food products?

Determine your target market or the types of customers you are likely to attract

Being aware of your target market can help you to plan your business more effectively. Your target market can help determine how you will run your business, the locations and events you will trade at and even your business brand.

Decide where you will operate your business

Are you going to be a street vendor, meaning you will park your van at different locations, or will you trade at events, such as festivals, fairs, markets and social events?

Plan your equipment requirements

Look at our list of equipment above to help you plan the equipment you require for your burger van business. Once you have determined your requirements, you can begin to source and purchase your equipment. Your biggest priority will likely be your vehicle. Consider the type of vehicle, the equipment that needs to be installed, such as a refrigerator and grill, and the overall look of the vehicle. If the visual look of the vehicle doesn’t match your brand, consider what changes you can make.

Calculate start-up costs and running costs

Calculating your initial investment requirements can help you see how long it will be until you start turning a profit. Being aware of running costs helps you to see how frequently you need to run your burger van and how much food you need to sell per month.

Determine your pricing

How much do you plan to sell your burgers for? Can your customers pay extra to add additional items to their burgers? Consider the cost of ingredients and your overhead costs when determining your price points.

Develop your business plan

A business plan ensures you have a clear plan, aims and actions. It can help you to establish costs, potential profits, your product range and your trading plan. Take a look at our business plan template to help you effectively plan your burger van business.

Ensure you have followed all legal requirements and have your paperwork in order

This helps you to avoid any fines or delays in opening your burger van business. Consult our list of legal requirements above to check you have complied with all requirements.

Download our business plan