New figures released recently by Caterer.com have revealed 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 10-year peak in the UK.
Once regarded by some as being a curious fad for hipsters, the UK street food market has grown faster 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, 24% of British consumers are choosing to stop by a street food stall at least once a month. And those most likely to be drawn to outdoor dining are young men living in urban areas.
Why? It’s certainly not for the price point, which, compared to other dining options, is considered by UK diners to represent little in terms of value for their money. Just under a third (29%) went further to say that they regard street food as being a more expensive option than traditional dining.
It seems that even in one of the most price-sensitive industries in the world, money isn’t everything. Just under 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. Some 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.
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 than they would have 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. Just over a third (37%) of those who took Caterer.com’s survey said they thought of it as having become a more gourmet dining experience in recent years.
As a romantic destination, the younger generation still find the time to forgo the sofa for a slice of street food. Half of those aged 18 to 34 said they’d take a date for street food (depending on the person, of course). It’s bad news for restaurant violinists, though, 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, 32% said they’d take a first date for street food because of its informality when compared to that of a traditional restaurant.
Petra Barren, founder of Kerb, commented: “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, while 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 for Caterer.com, added: “With so many people in the UK now enjoying street food on a monthly basis, it’s no wonder that business is booming. It 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, it can offer an independent journey towards realising personal ambitions to deliver great food and outstanding service.”