The perception of catering vans as ice cream men playing Greensleeves and smoky vans serving greasy burgers and chips on a Friday night is a thing of the past; nowadays, gourmet street food is on the menu and has become very big business.
The hunger for gourmet street food started out in trendy parts of East London four or five years ago but has now spread far and wide. Now, even the sleepiest towns probably boast an aspiring chef creating dream dishes in the back of his catering van.
And you can forget the bacon baps – these new catering vans are more likely to be turning out veggie and vegan food, Thai, north African, sushi, noodles or curry dishes.
But which vehicles are best to convert into catering vans? Adrian Flux investigates.
Le Camion Gourmand, which promises “authentic, seasonal and wholesome” healthy and raw street food, has underlined its green credentials by covering the Renault Traffic from which the company trades in artificial grass.
Buying new or second-hand?
The first thing to consider is whether you should buy a new van or a second-hand one. There are pitfalls and advantages with each option.
The problem with a second-hand catering van is that you won’t really know how it has been treated in the past, what problems it may have, or what problems you can expect it to have in the future.
The advantage is that it will already have been converted, will probably be ready to go straight into business earning you money, and your initial outlay will be a lot cheaper than buying new.
However, you may incur extra costs as the catering van’s equipment will be older and may need updating.
As well as the initial cost of buying brand new, there will be a long lead time for the catering van conversion work to be completed if you are getting a specialist to do the job.
Of course, a new van can be designed and fitted to your specifications, which is a huge bonus.
So, new or second-hand? Look at your budget and work out how long you can wait before getting on the road.
How do I choose a catering van?
When considering which van you should buy you need to ask yourself how much room you will need inside. Will there be enough space for all the food, preparation equipment and the staff cooking and serving customers?
And it’s not just floor space. Unless your team are all vertically challenged, you’ll probably need a high-top or pop-top roof so you all have plenty of headroom.
If you’re going for something small, such as a trike set-up for a barista, you’ll need easy access to all your ingredients and equipment from the outside.
Top models for catering van conversions
At the end of the day, your catering van is a business acquisition and will be your livelihood so you want something very reliable. Here are a couple of vans that would do the job.
AEC Routemaster double-decker bus
It’s the daddy of them all when it comes to catering vans geared up to serve gourmet nosh.
Replace the seats downstairs with Neff kitchen equipment, bespoke cabinetry and a bar, and add an outside serving hatch for takeaways. The upstairs will convert into a fabulous restaurant and a room with a view. Tickets, please!
The Routemaster ran in London for almost 50 years and was finally withdrawn from service in 2005. The double-decker will immediately add a little vintage style to your gourmet catering van experience.
VW Camper or Westfalia
A little like Dr Who’s Tardis, small on the outside but big on the inside, the vintage VW is perfect for a catering truck.
The pop-top gives you plenty of headroom, and as the van is designed for self-catering, the interior already has all the essentials like plumbing, fitted utensils and kitchen equipment.
The awning might even afford a little shelter for diners needing to escape the inevitable summer downpour.
But the best thing about the iconic camper is the fact that its mere presence at an event or in a layby will immediately inject a frisson of hip 60s vibe, whether the menu is falafel, stir-fry or Cambodian street food.
Move over white van man and move in the chef’s “toque blanche”. The Transit is the most popular van in the UK because it is versatile, robust, roomy and consistently outperforms others in its class. It also constantly delivers enviable build quality.
The panel van can be specified in three load lengths and two roof heights, creating work areas from 9.6m³ up to 15.1m³ — that’s plenty of room for a catering van.
The 180 degree opening rear doors allow for easy loading and unloading of ingredients and other catering equipment, and an easily installable awning can be used for customers or as an area for an outside barbecue.
Nissan NV2500 Cargo
If you want a little extra pep to get you to and from events more quickly, the Cargo comes with a V8 engine. And that’s not even mentioning its huge towing capacity, masses of floor space and a high roof, which makes it perfect for converting into a catering van.
It’s not too easy on the eye but it’s an incredible workhorse and it comes in a lot cheaper than many rivals in its class.
The Citroen H will serve up a little vintage charm and a great big slice of wow when you pull up at any event. The “H” is guaranteed to stand out from the crowd even if your street food doesn’t!
It will look like it’s been plucked directly from the Champs-Elysees in Paris where it should have been serving crepes to a discerning clientele of artists and bon viveurs, but it will look uber cool on your local high street too, rustling up its own speciality dishes.
Sud Italia, offers dishes “just like mama used to make” in a roaring wood-fired pizza oven installed on the top of a tiny Piaggio made Ape Classic 400 three wheeler – imported from Italy, naturally.
Imagination in choosing your catering van is all part of the recipe
Just take a look at a couple of the catering vans found at trendy Spitalfields Market in London on an average weekday.
Le Camion Gourmand, which promises “authentic, seasonal and wholesome” healthy and raw street food, has underlined its green credentials by covering the Renault Traffic from which the company trades in artificial grass. Now that does stand out from the crowd.
And just along the road is Sud Italia, offering pizza “just like mama used to make.” The innovation? They cook it fresh in a roaring wood-fired pizza oven installed on the top of a tiny Piaggio made Ape Classic 400 three wheeler – imported from Italy, naturally. It’s another eye-catcher that sets the taste buds tingling and pulls in the crowds.
And to prove it’s horses for courses, up in rural King’s Lynn Emily Holt and her team at the Juniper Box have created a stylish mobile gin bar from a horse box, and it’s available for hire at a variety of events.
Adrian Flux catering van insurance? Very tasty
If you have a catering van you will know just how fussy some people can be. Well at Adrian Flux we think you should be just as fussy about your catering van insurance.
Adrian Flux arranges insurance for a huge range of catering vans and mobile shops, meaning that whatever your business, we can help. From burgers and butties at the football to pizza and ice cream, mobile bars to baristas and everything in between, if you own a catering van, we will be able to come up with a tasty deal on your insurance.
Call 0800 369 8590 for a swift no-hassle quote that could actually save you money — 79.5% of all customers receiving an online quote in July 2020 could have obtained a cheaper quote over the phone, based on the information they provided.