New figures released by hospitality job board Caterer.com reveals how, in just a few years, street food has made a lasting impact on the nation’s dining habits.
It’s been a decade since a new wave of van-based vendors pitched up in both our car parks and our web searches, with 2019 seeing the term ‘street food’ reach a ten-year peak in the UK.
Once seen as a curious fad for hipsters, the UK street food market has grown quicker than the total fast food market, now consisting of over 2,000 separate businesses reaching a total value of £1.2bn in 2018.
According to Caterer.com’s data, a quarter of British consumers (24%) are choosing to stop by a street food stall at least once a month. Those most likely to be drawn to outdoor dining are young men living in urban areas.
Why? It’s certainly not for the price, compared to other dining options, street food is considered by UK diners to represent little in terms of value for their money. A third (29%) went further to say that they see street food as a more expensive option than traditional dining.
Recipe for success
It seems that even in one of the most price-sensitive industries in the world, money isn’t everything. Half of consumers (48%) say they now prioritise ‘authentic experiences’ when they dine out, and when it comes to the perceived authenticity of the cuisine, street food reigns supreme. 45% of those who responded to Caterer.com’s survey found eating at street food stalls to be a more ‘authentic’ foodie experience than most high street restaurants.
This is a view echoed by Chris Hall, co-founder of the award-winning Little Taquero truck from Bristol, who gives the example of customers who have visited Central America saying they’re ‘transported back to the region’ when tasting his recipes.
Variety is the spice of life, and this remains true of the UK’s younger diners. For these ‘tastebud travellers’ the option to feed their wanderlust and experience food from the widest possible range of countries and cultures appeals the most.
But even across the generation gap, today’s figures find that just under half (45%) of all diners agree that street food has allowed them to try a wider range of food that they would have normally expected from established restaurants.
The idea of street food as a quick and dirty option once eaten under the flickering glow of roadside burger van has rapidly shifted in the past decade. A third (37%) of those who took Caterer.com’s survey said they thought of street food as having become a more gourmet dining experience in recent years.
Keep it casual
As a romantic destination, the Netflix and chill generation still find the time to forgo the sofa for a slice of street food. Half of those aged 18-34 said they'd take a date for street food.
It’s bad news for restaurant violinists, as street food’s ‘kerbside casual’ is seen more widely in the UK as an amorous advantage. Far from being a nation of old romantics, a third of diners (32%) said they'd take a first date for street food because of its informality when compared to that of a traditional restaurant.
It will come as little surprise to learn that street food is an urban phenomenon. London continues its reign as the out-and-out street food capital of the UK with a third of its diners, approximately 1.1 million people, chowing down at the city’s street food markets each week.
And Londoners continue to pay a price for the privilege. The average price of street food in the capital is the highest in the country, coming in at £7.50 – that’s £2.40 (47%) more expensive than similar offerings in Nottingham and Cardiff.
Despite charging a premium, the growth of street food outlets in London shows no signs of slowing down, with new outlets and permanent locations increasing at a rate higher than any other city. This is good news for the capitals ravenous regulars who are the most likely in the UK to value the diversity of food on offer.
However, such is the appetite for street food that curious customers across the UK have been quick to grab a slice of the pie. A quarter of dedicated foodies in Birmingham (29%), Norwich (26%) and Brighton (25%) now take a bite out of their local offerings at least once a month.
Despite the turbulent business challenges faced by high street restaurants in recent months, today’s figures show customers aren’t necessarily seeing street food as a replacement for a sit-down meal but as restaurant-quality outside the restaurant, with casual restaurants still the top choice for dining out.
Petra Barren, founder of KERB street food markets in London, sees street food as offering an all-new career direction for budding chefs with foodie ambitions:
‘‘Street food has become a lot more normal and legitimate, and with legitimacy comes a wider spectrum of people realising how it could be a viable business option for them. A street food stall can provide access to an immediate audience, whilst also giving a chance to show skills to potential investors. At a time when it’s very hard to open your own restaurant without having proven your product, this is a fantastic opportunity and stepping-stone into the industry.’’
Neil Pattison, sales director at Caterer.com commented: ‘‘With so many people in the UK now enjoying street food on a monthly basis, it’s no wonder that business is booming. Street food brings fresh approaches to the dining out experience, helping the hospitality industry foster and support a whole new wave of talent.
In less than a decade, we’ve seen how some established street food names have developed their offering into national chains and household brands. For those willing to take up the challenge, street food can offer an independent journey towards realising personal ambitions to deliver great food and outstanding service.’’
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