With the current craze for ‘street food’ having a major impact on our culinary tastes, there’s never been a better time to run a mobile catering business. Once more or less the preserve of hamburger and fish and chips vendors, food vans can now be found hawking delicious and exotic treats from every corner of the globe, operating at festivals, fairs, markets, concerts, sporting events, weddings and everything in between.
Without costs like rent and rates to take into consideration, mobile food businesses thrive on low overheads, being able to move to where the demand is and the novelty appeal of taking speciality dishes to new audiences. Yet running a business on the move comes with its own challenges. As we’ve gradually started to transition to a cashless society, for example, outdoor caterers have had to follow their cousins in the restaurant trade in adopting card readers and contactless payment technology – with the added challenge of relying on cellular connectivity as they move from place to place.
Cashless payments were probably the first factor that pushed food van operators towards tablet-based Mobile POS (M-POS) solutions. Beyond simple transaction processing, M-POS provides the platform for a complete end-to-end business management IT solution, covering everything from inventory to business intelligence. It gives outdoor caterers all the advantages on-premise hospitality businesses get from modern IT suites, but in a form that suits the nature of their business – small, mobile, convenient and flexible.
Here are some of the key benefits street food operators get from Mobile POS, in addition to those all-important cashless payments.
Speed Up Service
At a busy event, a popular food van can find itself inundated with interest, and when you have perhaps just a couple of people serving and preparing food, queues inevitably build. In those situations, every second you can save counts towards processing more orders, providing better customer service and not losing business to other operators. A visual display on a touchscreen M-POS device means you can have all menu items listed as images or icons, and orders can be processed with a single touch. M-POS platforms can also manage workflows in ways that help with more efficient service – tap in an order, add it to a ‘pending’ list and, when the food is ready, bring up the amount owed with another tap. No scribbling down orders, no typing prices into a till, just fast, streamlined service.
Inventory on the go
Every outdoor caterer has been there – they turn up at an event and halfway through realise they are going to run out of key ingredients, with business booming. With sophisticated modern catering management platforms, M-POS terminals double up as your handy intelligence portal wherever you happen to be. Order stock through your device and it will automatically link to your sales platform, reducing quantities with every item sold. You can then set alerts to let you know when something is running out, or even use sales forecasts to tell you when you should think about re-ordering ingredients over a busy run of events.
Again, because you can’t always predict just how busy a particular event will be or how popular your stall will be, running out of ingredients is an occupational hazard that outdoor caterers have to live with. The key is being able to think on your feet, come up with new menu items using what you do have available, and keep trading. A touchscreen M-POS platform makes it easy to dial in new product ideas, calculate a suitable price based on ingredients and automatically add it to your sales ledger.
Bookkeeping and Reporting
Finally, having mentioned sales ledgers, one of the hardest things for mobile caterers to keep track of when they are flat out serving at a busy event is how much they have sold and whether everything adds up when they cash up. Because M-POS puts every sale, regardless of how the customer pays, through the same piece of software, it does all of this for you. You get a reliable record of every transaction and your earnings, and this can link straight into an accounting application, automating a key area of small business management. In addition, all of that transaction data, plus all of your ordering and inventory data, can be used to run business reports, accessible via a few touches of the screen, keeping you fully informed about how your business is performing as you continue to trade out on the road.