Once associated with low-quality burgers and soggy chips from a grubby van, street food is now synonymous with cutting-edge, tasty food, offering cuisines from across the globe.
Like it or not, street food is a trend that is here to stay. With customers increasingly looking for new and exciting experiences in both their dining and eating-out occasions, the flexibility, variety and vast opportunities presented by street food are factors pubs can’t afford to ignore.
But how can you get the most out of the latest trend to ensure your dry sales don’t go stale?
“We have always been great defenders of the British pub within street food,” says food consultant, author and founder of British Street Food Awards Richard Johnson. “The whole street food revolution wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the explosion in the number of new independent brewers.
“The partnership with alcohol and pubs has always been central to what street food is about and to see these great British institutions only serving sandwiches on the bar just seems like such a wasted opportunity.”
The benefits of street food to both operators and traders is obvious, Johnson argues. “The biggest thing is that you can swap things around a bit and change your offering,” he says. “You just can’t do that with a regular menu and a regular chef because of the time and paperwork involved.
“The flexibility is attractive to everyone, not just the consumer. The landlord gets a rotating menu and can attract a different demographic, while the traders can also appeal to a different crowd.
There are also more delivery options like Deliveroo and UberEats, so that could also be a real growth area for pubs in the future.”
Pubs have two main options when deciding how best to incorporate street food into their menus. For those venues that lack the facilities or staff to operate a full kitchen, bringing in an external trader for a residency in your kitchen can be a popular option.
Dip it real good
Last month Londoners were told they could get saucy with US fried chicken brand Slim Chickens, which has set up shop in Boxpark Shoreditch, East London.
Using a giant interactive billboard to advertise its wares, Slim Chickens is offering 12 of its tried and tested saucy recipes, including garlic Parmesan, mango habanero and sriracha garlic.
General manager of Slim Chickens Kalila Tiffany says: "Since launching last month we've had thousands of people raving about our range of sauces, so we thought what better way to get even more people tasting the sauces of our success than with this delicious dippable billboard."
Residencies can be rotated on a monthly, bi-monthly or six-month basis, depending on their popularity, giving punters a reason to get excited and to come back to try new food offerings.
Since taking over the Rose & Crown pub in Kentish Town, north London, just under four years ago, co-owner Ben Caudell has put rotational street food at the centre of the pub’s offering, installing a pop-up kitchen in the garden.
“The whole concept of the pub is to rotate everything all the time,” he explains. “We are a craft beer specialist pub and rotate all our lines daily. We like to keep people on their toes so that they don’t know what is coming on next, and it is the same with the food.
“We change our street-food offering every three months, which gives people enough time to build up a good relationship with the locals but not so long that people start getting fed up with it and turnover starts to drop off.”
The Rose & Crown charges traders a flat rental fee to operate on site, but does not take a percentage of the profits from sales, instead relying on the increased trade and new customers brought in by the exciting range of food on offer.
“For us, it is just about having a new and exciting food offer, which will hopefully bring about more drinks sales and also new trade,” Caudell says. “It is also great to be able to give traders a chance who maybe can’t afford to open up a restaurant or a small permanent venue.”
Easy to eat
The current residency at the Rose & Crown is the south Mexico-inspired trader Yucatán. Co-founder Matt Curry-Fagan believes that street food and pubs are a natural fit due to the snacking nature of the dishes involved.
“Street food is designed to be quite easy to eat,” he explains. “It’s not formal, or about sitting down with a knife and fork. It’s good bar food; you can eat a taco from one hand and still hold a pint in the other, so it works well for the guys in the Rose & Crown.”
“We’ll often have people that come in around 6pm and order a few tacos each, and then are still here a couple of hours later and will order some more.
You’d never have two meals in a restaurant but, in this kind of scenario, it works really well and moves people away from just buying a packet of crisps or nuts.”
Even if your venue already has a food offering that you’re keen to keep on, this doesn’t mean passing up on the opportunities presented by street food.
Indeed, many venues now operate with pop-up vendors on Friday and Saturday nights, helping to alleviate the pressure on the permanent kitchen.
The Royal Oak in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, is one such venue – a wood-fired pizza van has a regular slot outside the pub on Friday nights – and manager Adrian Collacott believes the diversity presented by having multiple food options has helped to drive footfall.
“The wood-fired pizzas on a Friday night have proved hugely popular among our clientele,” Collacott explains. “It’s nice to be able to offer customers the chance to have something that isn’t normally a part of our menu, and having a more diverse range of food on offer is always going to be a winning combination.”
One potential fear, of course, is that having a street-food trader on-site could reduce regular kitchen sales, and although the Royal Oak has noticed a slight downturn in dry sales when the pizza van is operating, Collacott believes this is compensated by customers spending longer in the pub as a result.
“If customers stick around to eat on a Friday night then they are more likely to stay out all evening and, consequently, although our kitchen might be a bit quieter, our overall sales are more positive on the whole,” he says.
“We’ve also started offering a deal on our burgers from 5pm to 7pm to encourage people to still order from the kitchen if they don’t fancy a pizza; it’s all about finding that balance.”
Social media is vital
Once you’ve worked out the route to take with your street food, the importance of working with your chosen trader to promote the offer cannot be understated.
Social media is a vital tool here, and the opportunities presented by having an ‘Instagram-friendly’ trader with a large following should not be ignored.
“We have a really good relationship with the guys at the pub,” explains Fagan-Curry. “Between us and them we are posting at least once a day on Instagram and Twitter, talking about the food offering. It is a very symbiotic relationship and we will always be tagging each other to reach as many people as possible.
“It is very important that both sides are putting the same level of energy and commitment into it.”
Caudell agrees with this sentiment, and even hires a dedicated social media manager to ensure that everyone is in the know about the Rose & Crown’s food and drink offering.
“It’s a case of just making sure we are sharing the load in terms of information about the pub and the residency,” he says. “Yucatán have been amazing; they’ve been one of the most successful in that regard. They’re very young, enthusiastic and vibrant, which is great for us.”
So, whether you’re looking to introduce food into your pub for the first time, or merely spice up your existing offering, the risks of experimenting with street food are low, while the rewards are potentially very high. It’s time to put down the peanuts, and hit up the pop-ups.