Word on the street: working with street food vendors

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Taste the colours: there are endless possibilities for pubs to work with street food
Taste the colours: there are endless possibilities for pubs to work with street food

Related tags: Street food, Food

As the stigma of unsafe street food is replaced with the notion of amazing flavours and unexplored eating possibilities, here’s how you can make the most of what’s on offer.

As the weather finally heats up, the opportunity to make the most of pub gardens and outside space is ripe.

From hot dogs sold on balmy New York sidewalks to fried delicacies like gorengan fritters that are popular in Indonesia, street food encompasses a wide variety of cuisines and dishes. The UK street food market is now worth more than £1.2bn, according to eating and drinking-out experts at MCA.

Vendors in hubs such as Borough Market in the capital and Digbeth Dining Club in Birmingham have become internationally renowned for flavoursome delicacies.

Facts 'n' stats

2,000 UK adults in a survey by OnePoll shows that 41% of Brits are likely to consider choosing a plant-based or meat alternative dish when eating out at a pub restaurant over the next year.

Try more, buy more 

Street food has always been an affordable option and publicans say it is best to keep prices authentic too. This means customers will be more likely to buy dishes and try different things. Richard Johnson is a food journalist who founded the organisation British Street Food and the British Street Food Awards. He says the stigma behind street food – that it is unhealthy and of low quality – is thankfully being left behind.

Punters are drawn to the accessibility of street food, Johnson explains in his mission statement.

He says: “The best street food is cheap and fresh. Unlike a lot of restaurant food, which is expensive and left standing on a hotplate until some sniffy waiter deigns to pick it up and bring it to your table. And street food is all about offering the kind of food that the British people actually want to eat.

“Restaurants still seem to be hung up on some received notion of what constitutes ‘good food’. The street isn’t the place for that kind of snobbery.

“There are some real food heroes out there working the streets of Britain. The best are specialists – they do a few dishes, and they do them very well. Their ‘menu-not-so-fixe’ can change at a whim according to what looks good at the market that day. Which means that it’s seasonal and local.

“And they know that, if they ever let their standards slip, the public will just go to the [mobile unit] next door. Only the strongest survive. Which is great news now the street is our dining room.”

At the Dabbling Duck in Great Massingham, Norfolk, low prices mean customers are more willing to try different things – giving chef Dale Smith a chance to experiment.

Co-owner Sally Dobby explains: “Everything’s under a tenner so we find that with street food, people order a lot of dishes and tend to share.

‘Street food’ is an umbrella term for a plethora of food types so it can be hard to know what’s a gamble that might pay off and what’s a crowd pleaser.

Starting small and working your way up is a safe bet. The Dabbling Duck started off with pizza in the garden using a fireside oven a few years ago.

Now, the pub is reaping the rewards of installing a bar in a barn outside – which is used to host pop-up events, street food takeovers and parties throughout the year.

Draw a plan of action

Operator Dobby also recommends other publicans consider what their limits are and do not rush to host regular events. 

She says: “We sit down at the beginning of the year for example and look forward a year and put the dates in for what we really want. They are all in the diary and [my advice would be] don’t put too many in. When we first started, you want to do loads and get a bit overexcited about it all.”

But sticking by planned events and pushing them is the best practice, she advises. Dobby adds: “Try not to put too many in the diary. We’re busy anyway, so for us to do too many wouldn’t work.

“We try and be really organised and push those events and stick to it, don’t change the date or the time – just stick to those ones.

“It depends where you are as well I think. For us, we are busy but if you’re somewhere else where it works for you to have an event every month, that works for you.”

Harness local power

Street food events can see the pub take in an extra £1,000 on a Saturday night. Working with local produce suppliers, food businesses and breweries is also a must.

The Dabbling Duck works with nearby fishermen in readying an annual mussels festival in its autumn season, with BrewDog on organising tap takeovers and nearby Norwich-based brewery Grain to work on pairing beer with street food.

“We’re very lucky that we have local businesses who are very keen to work with us and have their own way of pushing their events, really good reps makes a huge difference as well that are really wanting to get on board and know the industry well,” Dobby says.

The Dabbling Duck offers a variety of food, with regular offers including pizza and the mussels festival.

She continues: “Fusion street food is still a big thing, pulling from all over the world what people’s idea of street food is. We didn’t really have it in this country.

“The vegan and veggie thing is huge, people are changing the way they are eating so we find that we need to be on the ball with that and offering something that is not just average.”

More pubgoers are looking for vegan and vegetarian options when they visit pubs – a trend that operators can take and run with when devising street food events.

A survey of 2,000 UK adults via OnePoll shows that 41% of Brits are likely to consider choosing a plant-based or meat alternative dish when eating out at a pub restaurant over the next year.
The research – conducted for Meatless Farm Co – reflects a growing enthusiasm from by many non-vegetarian pubgoers to try out meat alternative options occasionally and to dabble in ‘flexitarianism’.

“Street food is a massive opportunity for pubs,” says Phil Thornborrow, head of foodservice at meat alternative suppliers Quorn. The company recently toured the country in a bid to engage with foodservice businesses and come up with some unique recipes.

“We saw the emergence of vegan junk food, world flavours and formats alongside the continuous trend to eat a healthier and more environmentally friendly diet,” Thornborrow explains.

He adds: “Flavour is key and strong, spicy flavours are featuring prominently on street food menus.

“We discovered there’s never been a stronger, more vibrant street food culture in the UK, with the beauty of street food being its authenticity and outstanding taste, and this is really good news for pub menu planners.

“With street food vendors popping up in almost every major city in the UK and on TV, pubgoers are more receptive than ever before to trying new flavours and recipes from around the world.

“This provides a real opportunity for pub operators who want to create a point of difference by introducing street food-themed dishes, including great-tasting, meat-free options.”

Forward planning

Pubs can get ahead of flavour trends and incorporate into their offers and events.

Tilda UK head of foodservice Annette Coggins advises pubs to get on board with the increasing popularity of new-wave Mexican, west African dishes, and Indian street food.

Coggins recommends: “Get experimenting with a variety of authentic Mexican ingredients including lime, fish, coriander and beans to create a new wave of tortilla, tostada and nacho dishes consumers will enjoy.

“Pubs can make the most of the demand for Indian street food by creating lighter bites and healthier grab-andgo options such as mini pakoras, roti wraps and flavourful rice bowls.

“West African cuisine is set to transform street food, bringing a host of exciting flavours. From Nigerian jollof rice to Gambian chicken yassa, these one-pot wonders lend themselves perfectly to pub menus.”

Ajinomoto Foods Europe communications manager Jessica Davies echoes the experiences of the Dabbling Duck team that co-ordination and forward planning are essential to avoid any glitches, especially with collaborations.

Davies says: “Working with street food pop-up stalls can often lead to a wide range of issues for operators, it’s key to ensure staff time is used efficiently and effectively while keeping customers satisfied.

“When running a pop-up street food offering, preparation and organisation is vital in ensuring an authentic and enjoyable experience.”

Freshness is essential when it comes to customers’ enjoyment of street food at pubs, Davies says. Pub teams must ensure they are on top of orders and that products do not sit out too long to spoil when operating any mobile serving system.

Related topics: Food trends

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