As Britain enjoyed one of the warmest bank holiday weekends on record, thousands congregated under bridges, in disused industrial estates and down side streets to drink craft beer and eat the best food on offer, no matter what your tastes.

The street food boom

In recent years street food ‘festivals’ and markets have become mainstream, with London hosting dozens of markets across the city every day and other towns and cities capitalising on its popularity. Street food markets emerged in the wake of the financial crisis when ambitious amateur chefs had to become more imaginative in order to continue making a living in the industry as consumers weren’t able to continue spending in traditional restaurants.

Now street food is big business. This year sees the introduction of the British Street Food Awards at the O2, cementing the street food market concept in the British psyche. Councils have realised that street food markets are a cheap and easy way of rejuvenating an area. They create a vibrant and bustling atmosphere with music and all sorts of food and beverages on offer, even celebrity chefs are using this platform to promote their brand. However, it’s not just big businesses who can profit from the street food movement, traders who have multiple sites could earn up to £1.5m revenue (weather dependant, of course).

The success of the street food business model

Street food stalls are an attractive business model for a variety of reasons. Many street food vendors originated at local farmers markets. They view street food venues as a platform to expand their customer base and capitalise on the trend for locally produced, sustainable products. Other vendors use the markets to experiment and test new recipes with customers before rolling out new menus in their restaurants or to test the appetite for new products on the high street. Many street food vendors thrive on the ability to set up a food stall with relative ease, minimal overheads and lower rent.

What underpins the success of all street food vendors is how their flexibility and intimacy with their customers enables them to meet customer demands and trends. In particular, street food vendors have responded quickly and successfully to the sustainability movement, the rise of healthy (and not so healthy) vegan options, and have managed to build a loyal following of customers through their use of technology and social media, in particular presenting food that is “Instagram friendly”. This is in stark contrast to the ‘fast and vast’ business model that has seen the implosion of the mid-market high street restaurant sector, claiming high profile victims such as Jamie Oliver’s Italian, Barbecoa, Strada, Prezzo and Byron.

What’s next for street food?

2018 is likely to see street food markets become more refined as they become a mainstream staple. More celebrity chefs and established restaurants are also likely to capitalise on the potential benefits of closer customer engagement and lower overheads.

This trend means that it won’t be plain sailing for newcomers onto the scene. The demand for popular street food locations will drive up prices and, as the market becomes saturated with corporate businesses wanting a piece of the action, it will become more challenging to stay on trend and stand out from the competition.