Busier lifestyles, the evolution of food delivery apps, and a notable shift favouring casual dining experiences have seen a surge in the popularity of food-to-go businesses in recent years.
As people grow more mindful of their health and remain increasingly constrained by time, there’s a rising demand for more diverse cuisines and eateries catering to on-the-go consumption.
In this guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know to launch your own successful food-to-go business. Let’s get started.
What types of food-to-go businesses are there?
If the thought of investing in a restaurant or a full-scale commercial kitchen has been a barrier to your culinary ambitions, you’ll be glad to know that today there are plenty of cost-effective avenues to consider, away from the traditional restaurant or café setup.
From rented kitchens that allow you to make flexible use of professional equipment, to mobile food vans that can chase the crowd at festivals and events, to pop-up shops and converted shipping containers, or simply your own home kitchen; there are more small-scale ways than ever before to get your food business up and running, with minimal overheads.
As well as where you’ll base your food-to-go business, you’ll need to carefully research and consider the type of market you want to cater to and the concept that best suits your style and skills.
Some popular areas include:
- Sandwich and deli counters
- Fast food and quick service restaurants
- Ethnic and specialty cuisine
- Vegetarian and vegan cuisine
- Gluten-free products
- Food trucks, pop-up bars, and street food
- Juice and smoothie bars
- Coffee shops
- Meal prep services
- Delivery-only/online restaurants
Whatever you decide, spend time clarifying your target audience and the unique selling points you can offer. Once you have your concept, it’s time to take the next step in setting up your business.
9 steps to starting a food-to-go business
1. Create a business plan
Depending on your concept, the associated costs and overheads can vary vastly, so it’s a good idea to prepare a comprehensive business plan outlining your objectives, pricing strategy, marketing plans and financial projections.
Having this document in place will help ensure the viability of your plans and serve as a roadmap for your venture. What’s more, it’s also highly useful should you need to secure any funding or financial support.
2. Choose your business structure
Once you have a plan in place, it’s time to officially register your business and choose a legal structure to suit your situation.
There are several options to consider, depending on factors such as liability, taxation, and record-keeping. Two popular options include:
This is the simplest way to start a business and is particularly suited to those running a food-to-go business from home.
As a sole trader, you are completely responsible for your operations and must register for Self Assessment, allowing you to pay any Income Tax and National Insurance owed to HMRC in an annual tax return.
It’s important to note that sole traders are personally liable for any debts or legal claims brought against them. As such, it’s highly recommended to take out adequate insurance protection, which we’ll take a look at below.
A limited company is another popular option, especially for those wanting to gain greater credibility and a professional status.
Registering as a limited company provides you with limited liability for any debts or legal claims, and opens up access to numerous tax-saving benefits.
While limited companies are subject to stricter regulations and administrative responsibilities, a trusted formations agent like 1st Formations can help simplify the processes involved.
3. Find the right location
Choosing the right location for your food-to-go business will be paramount to its success. You should consider a number of factors, including:
- Areas of high foot traffic
- Accessibility and transport links
- Other competitors in the area
- Safety and security
- Community support
- Nearby amenities that complement your offerings
- Costs and budget
Ultimately, the location of your business will determine the clientele you reach, how many customers you can serve at one time, and the level of competition you’ll be up against. Finding the right balance will be critical to your success.
Of course, if you’re planning on being based solely online, you will need to build your virtual visibility to reach hungry customers online, through a strong website, social media channels and delivery apps – which we’ll explore in more detail later on.
4. Understand the rules and regulations
If you’ve worked in the food industry before, you’ll understand that there are a number of regulations you need to adhere to. No matter what type of food business you’re running, it’s essential to familiarise yourself with the requirements and gain up-to-date training.
There are several areas to be aware of:
When starting any food business, you’ll need to carry out a risk assessment. This involves identifying and evaluating potential risks within your operations and taking the appropriate measures to mitigate those risks.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has outlined guidance on how to carry out a risk assessment in your business.
You will also need to manage your food safety standards on an ongoing basis, by following an official Food Safety Management System such as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) procedure.
Good food hygiene is a critical aspect of running a food-to-go business. You must be sure to comply with the Food Hygiene Regulations specific to your region.
For detailed guidelines on correct food hygiene, visit the Food Standards Agency.
Failure to comply with high standards of food hygiene may not only disrupt business, but could have legal consequences and even lead to business closure.
Although not compulsory, it’s highly recommended to pursue a formal food hygiene qualification to demonstrate the highest level of food health and safety knowledge. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health offers guidance on the different types of accredited food hygiene certificates available.
As a food business, it’s a legal requirement to provide allergen information about your products to customers and follow the rules on labelling. It is your responsibility to inform all customers if any of the food you serve contains any of the 14 allergens as outlined by the Food Standards Agency.
As a business, there is free allergen training available to you, to help clarify the practices you should be aware of.
It’s important that you keep organised and up-to-date records of any suppliers who provide ingredients to your business and any businesses you supply with food. This enables accurate withdrawals and recalls should any problems arise with unsafe food after it has been supplied.
5. Choose reputable suppliers
it goes without saying that the better your ingredients are, the better the finished product will be. Prioritising the quality and safety of your food relies on finding a reputable supplier.
When choosing your suppliers, you should conduct extensive industry research. Network at trade shows, events, and online, and connect with suppliers to learn more about the latest trends and offerings.
You might also consider reaching out to other businesses that you have a good relationship with, to ask for recommendations.
When weighing up your options, you should ask some important questions such as: are they registered with the local authority? Do they demonstrate regulatory compliance? Do they have any certification of quality assurance? Focusing on establishing an excellent supply chain will set your food business up for success and growth in the long run, helping you to stand out from the competition.
6. Purchase the key equipment
Acquiring your equipment will be key to the smooth running of your food-to-go business, as well as the quality of your products. Of course, the type of equipment that you will need will depend on the type of food or drinks you are predominantly serving or specialising in, as well as your budget.
Again, you should aim to find reputable suppliers of quality commercial kitchen equipment. Look for recognised brands and companies with a proven track record of supplying quality products and reliable customer service.
If you are constrained by your budget, then second-hand equipment can be a cost-effective solution. Platforms like Amazon Warehouse, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace can be useful when searching for used equipment, but be sure to thoroughly inspect any products for signs of wear and tear before finalising your purchase.
Of course, you can upgrade your equipment to tackle higher demand as you grow.
7. Get the appropriate licence
The specific licence(s) you’ll need as a food-to-go business will vary depending on the nature of your operations and your setup and location.
That said, all food businesses will need to register with their local authority at least 28 days prior to trading. The good news is registration is free and it cannot be refused. You can find out more at GOV.UK.
In addition, you’ll need to apply for the appropriate licence to suit your operations. This may include a:
- Street trading licence: you may need this licence if you plan on selling food on public streets and pavements.
- Premises licence: if you plan on selling alcohol. Or you plan to sell hot food and drinks between the hours of 11pm and 5am.
- Food premises approval: you must apply for this licence if your business involves handling meat, fish, egg or dairy products.
8. Get insured
As mentioned, starting a food-to-go business comes with potential risks. Whether it’s an allergic reaction, supply chain disruption, or an injury in the kitchen; protection from insurance is essential.
Some important policies to seriously consider include:
- Public Liability Insurance: if your premises is open to the public, then you are strongly advised to take out this type of insurance. It protects your business from claims made by customers, suppliers, or any member of the public who is injured on your premises – for example, in a slip or fall.
- Product Liability Insurance: this is another important policy for food-to-go businesses. If a customer becomes unwell as a result of consuming your food, it can cover costs relating to legal claims and compensation due to contaminated or defective products.
- Business Interruption Insurance: this policy covers financial losses due to unexpected events that prevent your business from operating, such as floods, fires, theft, or damage.
- Business Equipment and Contents Insurance: if you heavily rely on specific equipment like ovens, food processors, and refrigerators, then this can be a vital lifeline, providing coverage should your equipment malfunction or break down suddenly, covering repair and replacement costs.
- Employers’ Liability Insurance: if you have employees working for you on a full-time or casual basis, then this insurance is a legal requirement. This policy must be obtained from an authorised insurer and provide a minimum of £5 million of cover.
When choosing which insurance policies to take out, it’s strongly advised to consult with an insurance professional to determine the protection that’s most suited to your food-to-go business.
9. Build an online presence
Widespread access to the internet has revolutionised the way we consume food. Today, it’s a must for food-to-go businesses to build a presence online.
A professional website and social media presence can help to significantly boost your visibility, and offer online users searching for food options in your area a chance to discover your menu and make orders online.
Using high quality photographs is a great way to create engagement and showcase your menu, giving browsers a taste of what’s on offer.
Online platforms also provide a space for customers to leave reviews about their experiences with your food. Positive reviews can build trust, credibility, and social proof, encouraging others to try your food. It’s important to respond to reviews, both positive and negative, to demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction and continual improvement.
Food delivery apps have also taken the food industry by storm and can play a vital role in the success of your food-to-go business. By partnering with apps like Just Eat, Deliveroo, and Uber Eats, you can tap into a larger customer base and reach an audience who prefer the convenience of ordering food for delivery or collection via an app.
These apps take care of the logistics of order management, delivery dispatch, and payment processing, which can save you considerable time and free you up to focus on producing quality food.
Thanks for reading
We hope this guide has been useful and helped clarify the essentials for starting a food-to-go business. As with any business journey, starting a food-to-go business will take plenty of time and dedication. But with the right combination of passion and perseverance, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be a success.
Don’t forget, 1st Formations are here to help. If you need some assistance or advice with getting started, get in touch with our expert team today.