Franchise Spotlight: Food Service

Banks are often suspicious of food service start-ups – unless they’re franchised. Franchises have the scale and streamlined business models to satisfy the discerning yet cash-strapped consumer.

Food service franchises offer a less burdensome alternative to restaurants in terms of investment, overheads and hassle.

Including mobile/outdoor caterers, bakeries, cafes and the replenishment of vending machines, they are typically van-based or require only small premises (perhaps even a kiosk). Minimum capital requirements are generally modest, ranging between £5,000-£15,000.

Sector overview

  • UK catering services market is worth £1.4bn – split fairly evenly between corporate and consumer
  • Franchises have the scale and streamlined models to thrive given the value of high volume/low margin strategies (IBISWorld) amid rising raw ingredient costs and stagnating incomes
  • Many are food vans, which are thriving and ideal for candidates on tight budgets

Food service franchises often generate custom – much being repeat business – from one-off events like office parties, corporate events, festivals, weddings and birthday or engagement parties.

Usually excelling narrowly in a particular speciality, they are comparatively simple to run, which, along with the network’s collective buying power, lowers overheads and prices.

It’s a winning formula for the discerning British consumer with a shrinking disposable income.

Franchises often prepare their streamlined menu using innovative or authentically traditional cooking methods with high-quality, specialised cooking equipment.

To name a few examples: Turkish bakery-cafe TEGTAT; cinnamon roll bakery Cinzeo; The Greek Outdoors, which provides a Greek-style barbeque for outdoor events; and Spitting Pig, which does likewise with spit and hog roasts.

If you’re worried about limiting your appeal, then consider that many brands offer vegan, gluten-free and other specialised dietary options.

Is a food service franchise for me?

A keen interest in food helps, yet you probably won’t need experience in the food service industry. Indeed, from solicitors to management consultants, many franchisees join the sector having tired of office life.

Neither will you need extensive culinary knowledge. The menu is taken care of – which simplifies your role, but might be off-putting if you crave creative control.

What you will need is the ability to grasp, and faithfully follow, a proven formula.

Working briskly is paramount if you’re to keep the till ringing, queues short and customers happy – but not at the expense of quality, consistency or – vitally – hygiene.

Some outdoor catering franchises can supplement an existing catering business or be run part-time.

Snack-in-the-Box is an outlier in this category since franchisees aren’t involved in food preparation at all. Replenishing confectionary vending machines, franchisees must offer “great customer service, a professional attitude and a friendly, reliable approach.”

The structure of food service franchises

Franchises, in general, have comparatively low failure rates and franchises in this particular category buck the trend for short-lived food-service ventures.

Why? Well established, reputable brands offer a proven business model, plus training and ongoing support in all areas of running a business.

And food franchises should – providing you do your due diligence – be compliant with food safety regulations and provide training in food hygiene and how to follow a simple formula for delivering quality food, quickly and cost-effectively.

Head office should also generate leads in your territory, to which you’ll have exclusive access – freeing you to concentrate on delivering great food. They’ll also provide uniforms, business cards and – for mobile caterers – a fully liveried vehicle.

Consider your skills and preferences before browsing the options.

A mobile caterer might appeal, for instance, if your budget is tight and you appreciate flexibility in growing as fast or as slow as you want or can manage. Ambitious franchisees can eventually scale up, at modest investment, to a multi-van operation.

Free of the costs associated with fixed premises and requiring one or two additional staff at most, they also offer low overheads and decent margins.

Cafe2U, which dispenses coffee from the back of a van, is even simpler to operate.

Simpler still to run, Snack-in-a-Box offers family-friendly hours and avoids the stress of feeding queues of hungry customers. And with offices, schools or leisure centres paying nothing to host your vending machines, finding places to deposit these automated cash generators shouldn’t be too taxing.

For alternative food-related categories, check out our fast-food franchises and general food franchises.

Anthea Taylor

About the author

Anthea Taylor is Content Producer at Dynamis and writes for all titles in the Dynamis stable including, and as well as other industry publications.