How NOQ is helping ESF deliver amazing food experiences while ensuring flexibility for both customers and vendors.
According to Edinburgh Street Food’s co-founder Andrew Marshall: “Every great city has a central gathering space of independent food offerings,” which naturally lead him to question: Where’s Edinburgh’s?
From Oslo to London, Andrew and co-founder Ben MacMillan had seen first-hand the benefits a lively street food scene can have on a city centre. Not only does it bring a huge choice of quality food to customers; permanent street food markets provide a valuable platform for independent food traders.
Edinburgh Street Food (ESF) opened on Edinburgh’s Leith Street in February 2023. It occupies a 900m2 corner of Edinburgh’s Omni Center, transforming it into a foodies’ paradise. ESF features 10 internal traders, three bars and three rotational guest trader pitches. With over 200 seats in their neon-lit food hall and a further 250-seat urban garden outside, you’ll often see over 550 customers (and their dogs) at ESF at one time.
As any food market operator knows, multi-trader destinations with a high concentration of footfall are not without their challenges. Front-of-house, you’ve got staff to train, customers to please, queues to manage, and a site to keep clean and tidy. Behind the scenes, there’s food safety, allergen information and menu consistency to worry about. Then there are payments to process, commissions to deduct, and payouts to manage. You also have to keep tabs on everything that’s happening across the site in real time to ensure everything’s running as it should.
To learn more about these challenges, and how technology is helping to address them and keep everyone happy, we spoke to ESF’s, Operations Manager: Stephen Busby.
Variety yet consistency; the great paradox of the food market. Customers want a choice of independent food traders, all with their own signature styles and flavours. At the same time, they expect a standardised service across the whole site. Pricing must be consistent, allergens displayed clearly, and food delivered fast and (where relevant) hot. Stephen explained:
“As a customer, I’m looking for good interaction with staff, I’m looking for the correct cutlery and napkins to be brought to me. I want someone to check in with me to make sure that I’ve got everything I need. I want all the touchpoints to be clean and tidy. I expect the food to come out quickly. For example, if you order fresh pasta carbonara, you want that brought out immediately.”
Additionally, customers appreciate choice in how they order and pay. Here, ESF is unique. “Unlike other food markets,” Stephen continued, “We do table service. Staff need to know all the menus and daily specials. They need to know what to recommend and what pairs well with what.” But it doesn’t stop there. ESF also offers online ordering via a web portal accessed via a QR code, which accounts for 74% of their sales. “QR code ordering really took off in the pandemic,” said Stephen. “Some people still prefer it, whereas others crave personal interactions either with a trader or a table server. It’s all about giving them the choice.”
So, you have the service element. Then, of course, there’s the management of the traders. “One of the biggest challenges,” said Stephen, “is bringing together different traders with different levels of experience. Some traders will be used to working with just one food truck and having only one stream of service. Others are used to doing just delivery, where they don’t interact with customers at all. We have to bring all that together and give a solid base that’s not formulaic but ensures a standardised process, so they know what’s expected of them.”
To offer a choice of food, with an array of ordering and delivery options, while ensuring service stays consistent, everything needs to be connected. That’s why Edinburgh Street Food chose to work with NOQ, which supports multi-trader management. ESF can process multi-trader, cross-channel orders in one system. And Stephen can manage menu items, update daily specials, assign terminals, and ensure pricing is consistent across the whole site. Importantly, NOQ’s solution is modular, which means it can be adapted to fit the specific needs of the business. In the case of ESF, the following NOQ solutions were put to use:
Online ordering in one web portal
ESF’s customer-facing web portal is powered by NOQ, which provides a single, branded, interface from which customers can browse and place orders across all the traders. Each trader then receives the order relevant to them and table servers can see clearly which food goes where.
“NOQ’s web portal is fantastic,” said Stephen. “It has a really well-structured interface. All options are beautifully presented and it’s really easy to scroll through the different traders, subcategories and menus. Customers can place orders quickly and see a running total of how much they’re spending. We’re in a financially-conscious time, so it’s great that guests can see what they’re paying for.”
Flexible software and hardware
Edinburgh Street Food staff are issued with all-in-one terminals that contain the full menu so they can select and send orders, take payment, and issue receipts in one hand-held device. “Without NOQ it would be a lot harder for us to get out onto the floor and actively sell,” said Stephen. “NOQ puts the whole menu, across all traders, into the palms of our hands. This is a game-changer, especially when you consider that orders via our servers tend to have the highest values.”
Just as different customers like to order in different ways, different traders have their preferred set-ups. Some prefer to use their own tablets. In this case, they can install the NOQ app, which syncs to the terminal so payments are still captured in the same place. “That’s one of the main benefits of NOQ’s app-based system,” said Stephen. “You can install the app on different devices and use it in different ways. Again, it’s great to be able to offer this flexibility.”
A challenge of any new business is turning planning into action. “You’ve got a vision,” said Stephen, “but how do you deliver it? The reality is that you have multiple traders with their own takings running into the same system you’re using to take orders via a web portal. You have to be able to split that out and calculate percentages against that. NOQ has been fantastic in helping to give structure and add processes to how we want to operate.”
Once you know how you want things set up, it’s time to execute. That’s when things just need to work. Fortunately, NOQ was able to deliver. “The equipment is great; it all works very well and the support from NOQ was fantastic,” said Stephen. “The team were on site to provide training to the traders and get the hardware set up and installed. Everything was good to go and thoroughly tested. We could just turn things on and go from day one. And the team are always at the end of the phone if I need help troubleshooting. They’re always available and always happy to help.”
Food Holdings (the parent group of ESF) has ambitious growth plans, striving to launch their quirky street food market concept in five more UK cities over the next five years.
“We see NOQ as a valuable partner now, and we hope that they’ll continue to develop their features to suit our needs as we grow,” concluded Stephen.
We’d love the opportunity to explore if we could help you deliver amazing experiences to your customers too. Get in touch and we’ll set up a demo.