The key to food stall success

In a world where Michelin stars are now awarded to food stalls, it’s clear the street food industry has become a juggernaut with no signs of slowing down. As reported in the Telegraph, a quarter of Britons now eat at a street food market at least once a month, with the sector now worth over £1.2 billion in the UK. These huge profits reflect a shift in the takeaway market, one which has moved towards higher prices and bigger spends. According to this report, for instance, 64% of consumers are willing to spend more than their usual lunchtime budget on street food. 

Apart from the lucrative appetite amongst consumers, what attracts new vendors to the street food industry is the comparative ease of setting up a business. The outfitting costs, regulations and even tax requirements are much more manageable compared to those of a bricks-and-mortar restaurant. However, while turnover for a market stall can quickly amount to tens of thousands, the profit margins in street food remain very narrow. The London street food scene alone has over 100 street food markets, so making it work is a fine balancing act.

At ICON, we’ve worked with a number of food stall vendors, including chicken sandwich upstarts Butchies (who gave us their tips on street food success here). Here are a few key points to consider when thinking about how to make your food stall a standout.

Be specific, be authentic 

The British public love cuisine from other countries, something backed up by a recent survey, and their appetite for new and unfamiliar foods means they are receptive to adventurous approaches to cooking. However, when deciding what food you will offer you should be wary of tackling a cuisine you don’t know intimately. With so much competition, a lack of authenticity is a quick way to find yourself passed over for vendors serving recipes they have a connection with.

Once you know what kind of food you want to make, the next step is to refine the menu. Start with a small number of dishes and road test them to perfection. Being able to serve up fresh, tasty food with speed is vital, and doing a few things very well is the best approach as a newcomer. Having a small number of key dishes is also a good way to build a following, as consumers will come to specifically associate you with them.

Choose your market wisely

There is stiff competition for hungry stomachs in London, whether that’s for the lunchtime rush or the lazy Sunday morning crowd. Thinking about where you want to position yourself within the broader market also means thinking carefully about where you want to be based location-wise. There is a vast difference between an open market sandwiched between office blocks, and a covered hall with an alcohol license and a corporate owner. Each style of street food market has its own benefits; do the research and choose one which fits with the way you want to work.


Have a brand identity, and market it

Making sure you stand out amongst other vendors means having a strong visual identity. While quality, authentic food is the thing that will keep customers coming back, it’s worth investing time and money in creating a recognisable brand. Familiarity, style and distinction will all help customers discover and then return to you. Signpost yourself so that there is no question about who you are and what you’re selling: translate your visual identity across every element of your business, from social media, signs and menus through to staff uniforms and even napkins.

Consumers care about sustainability and sourcing

Consumers care more than ever about the sustainability and the source of what they are eating. Be sure you know where all of your ingredients come from, and work had to reduce single-use plastic throughout your business.  Minimising waste is not just an ethical consideration – these measures usually end up cutting down on cost too. There are a number of suppliers making compostable takeaway containers and utensils now, and ICON even offer organic fabric options from brands like Earth Positive when it comes to uniforms and merchandise. (Extra reading: our guide to uniform sizes here; our guide to why personalised restaurant workwear matters here.)

Turn your brand identity into another revenue stream

Merchandise can be a simple and lucrative way to add to your revenue stream, especially when it comes to the tourist trade, a huge part of footfall in London’s better-known food halls. If you have successfully crafted a strong visual identity and generated a loyal following for your stall, it makes sense to think about selling things like tees and totes to your customers too. (See our guide to merch for food brands here.) There is no better advert than a happy customer, and custom tees, totes, and other merchandise are now easier to produce than ever.

Looking to create merch or custom workwear for your street food stall? At ICON Printing we can create deliver fast turnaround custom printed t-shirts, tote bags, and more, counting clients from Boiler Room to WeWork, the Tate to Niketown. Get a quote in 2 minutes online.