Food trucks have very quickly became a popular way of getting into the restaurant business. They are not only becoming popular in large cities, they are becoming a trend in the suburbs and even small towns as well. The costs associated with starting a food truck tend to be lower than opening a brick and mortar restaurant, so it is appealing to those that want to get started but might not have a huge budget. I have a decent amount of experience working on and learning about the food truck industry, so I hope that I can help point you in the right direction and give you some tips that might help you get started.
Should I Start a Food Truck?
Before we go any further with this, you need to ask yourself. Are you willing to put in the effort that it takes to run a food truck? It is not easy. It is just like every other business, and although it is not a full blown restaurant, there are still hurdles you have to jump through. You will still need to go through the same processes that a regular business goes through, so don’t expect to just throw a grill into a trailer and get rich tomorrow. If you are willing to put the effort in, handle the long hours, and work on creating not only great food but a great brand, then maybe the food truck business is for you.
How Do I Fund My Food Truck?
This is a question that people have no matter what business they decide to start. Where do I get the money to start? There are a couple options available, so it all depends on what your finances are.
Pay for it out of pocket
There is something nice about being able to get started with your own money. If you want to avoid having to pay interest on the money you get from somewhere else, you can try saving up the money to get started.
Take out a business loan
If you go this route you will want to make sure that you have a good credit score, and are in good standing with your bank. The bank will lend you the money to get started, and then you just have to pay them back plus interest. This can be a great way to get started if you don’t have enough in your savings, or if you just need some extra money on top of why you have saved.
Find a business partner
The best way to cut down on your costs is to split it with someone you know that has the same dream. This could be a friend that you want to go into business with, or it could be an investor that takes a percentage of the business in exchange for helping you get started.
What Do I Need To Get Started?
This is not going to be a complete list of all of the things that you need, because every business and every state is going to be different, but I will make sure to list all of the important things you will need, and you can go from there.
A Truck, Trailer, or Cart
This one is fairly obvious, but you really need to think about what your budget is, because this will likely determine which option you choose. A truck is more expensive than a trailer, and a trailer is more expensive than a cart. The differences can be tens of thousands of dollars between each option, however each has it’s own set of perks. Carts are more able to get in places that trucks and trailers can’t, while trailers and trucks can put out more food and larger menus. So put some real thought into which option you go with, and make sure you weigh the pros and cons to see which one works best for you.
I shouldn’t have to tell you that without cooking equipment your food truck is just an empty truck. Depending on what style of food you plan on selling, and whether you get your equipment new or used, you could still be looking at tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. I promise you that you will end up needing way more than you thought you would. It is not simply just throwing a fryer and a grill into a truck and serving food. You need things like refrigerators, freezers, sinks, hoods, etc. I recommend the Webstaurant Store if you are interested in researching equipment cost. You will find almost anything you could possibly need for your truck on their site.
A Business License
No matter what business you go into, you should make sure that you get a business license. Not only does this help to make you a legitimate and credible business, but it also keeps you out of trouble with the law. Not to mention that many places that you will want to put your truck will ask you for your business license and information before allowing you to set up your truck there. You can go through a number of different insurance companies, and although I am not affiliated with them, Legalzoom has a very reasonably priced and easy process to legally becoming a business.
This is very important. Whether or not you will ever actually need to use your business insurance, you need to have it. Say someone gets sick from your food, your truck gets damaged, or you accidentally hit someone’s car while backing up, your insurance will help cover the costs and prevent you from losing your business. Do not avoid getting business insurance for your food truck because things will happen eventually, and it is better to be safe then sorry.
Health Department Approval
Contrary to popular belief, food trucks go through the same health department guidelines as a brick and mortar restaurant. You still need to show that you have hand washing sinks, clean equipment, and the training required to handle food safely. The health departments job is to make sure that you are safely delivering food to people, and not getting approved by the health department will cost you tons of money in fines, and could get your business shut down. So make sure to check with your local health department to make sure that whatever truck, trailer, or cart you are buying or building is up to code. It will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.
Even though you have a business license, you will still need a vendors permit. This gives you permission to sell your food inside the city that you are in. Many vendors permits also outline the when and where that you are allowed to sell. Different cities have different rules. Some you can’t sell in public parks, or you can’t sell after a certain time. It all depends on where you are located at, and you might be required to get a permit for every city or county that you intend to operate in.
This one is so obvious that I almost didn’t put it down, however the type of food that you decide to sell will obviously make a huge impact on your profit margins, locations that you will set up, and the types of equipment that you will need. It is also what is going to get people taking about your truck and keep them coming back. Whether you decide to sell ice cream, coffee, burritos, or burgers, you need to sit down and at least plan out a basic draft of the menu that you plan to sell. Keep in mind that space on your truck is limited, so keep your menu relatively small. You don’t have space in the fridge for things that aren’t going to sell.
A Business Plan
I saved this one for last because it is so important. You need to have a full blown business plan, especially if you plan on getting a loan from the bank to start your food truck. You need to write out everything you can think of. Things like how much it will cost, where you plan to sell, and the amount of customers you plan to bring in each month all need to be in your business plan. This is the key to success if you ask me, so don’t skimp on it and don’t be lazy about it. This isn’t some homework assignment this is the foundation for which your truck will be built.
What Kind of Food Should I Sell?
This is a really tough question, and one I have debated over and over again in my mind. There are a couple different things to think about.
What food are you passionate about?
If you are passionate about a certain type of food, or maybe you are really good at making a certain food, then maybe that is why you should go with. I worked in a restaurant that sold Chicago styled gyros and hot dogs, so not only do I enjoy the food, but I am extremely knowledgeable on how to cook it and what you need to make it. If you have a whole book of your grandmothers Italian cooking recipes than maybe that is the one for you.
What foods can be made and served quickly?
One of the greatest perks of a food truck is that it is convenient. The food is good and you can usually have your order in a couple of minutes. So if you want to be able to keep up with some of the crazy crowds that you are going to see, especially at festivals, you need to find a food that can be produced quickly. This means that super intricate foods like broiled fish might not be a good idea, no matter how popular they are in Wisconsin small towns on a Friday night.
What food is popular?
There are plenty of food trucks out there who have capitalized on the trends in the food industry, whether that be a vegan, vegetarian, or keto-friendly truck. Capitalizing on a popular food trend can be a great choice for your food truck, and can gain you a sort of cult following. There are people who want to experience food trucks, but their diet restricts their options.
What foods are never going to lose their popularity?
Some foods will just simply never go out of style. Burgers, hotdogs, burritos, pizza, etc., will always be around and people will always crave them. So sticking to the regular foods that people eat will ensure that people try your truck. Just keep in mind that there will be a lot of competition, so make sure that you add your own flair and make your food the best of the best.
How Much Money Does a Food Truck Make?
The amount of money that you make depends on a lot of different factors. If you are at a large festival, then you might make a couple thousand in a day. If you are sitting on the street on a rainy Tuesday, you might struggle to break even. So it all depends on your location, the weather, the amount of traffic, your food prices, and a million other factors. It would take forever for me to break down every scenario, so let’s just say on an average day, with decent traffic you should be able to clear a couple hundred dollars on the low side. Stick with it and find out what works best for you and your truck.
Where Should I Set Up My Food Truck?
Just like every other business, a lot of your success comes from location, location, location. You need to find locations to set up that have a steady flow of traffic, have good visibility, and most importantly, that you are legally allowed to be in. So what are some good locations to park my truck?
Obviously there are only going to be so many festivals a year near your area, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be a big income source for you. Not only are they full of people, but a lot of these people come specifically to spend money. How nice is that? Putting out amazing food, having a good brand/concept, and being a frequent festival seller, can all be great ways to boost your income during festival season.
Food Truck Rally
Similar to a festival, food truck rallies are a great way to get your truck out there. Basically a food truck rally is an event where local food trucks all get together. This helps to ensure that crowds will show up, and often these events will include live music, or other activities to drive a crowd. Networking with experienced food truck owners in your area can help you to learn the ins and outs of the industry, along with provide more info on quality locations near you.
Office buildings are awesome because workers often don’t get a super long break, meaning that they have limited options besides packing a lunch and getting food from the vending machine. If you can get permission from large office buildings to park there every day or even a couple days a week, you can get exclusive access to hundreds of customers. This is a great way to stay busy even during slow seasons.
This may sound like an odd suggestion, but let me explain why I believe in this. Breweries are really good at selling beer/alcohol, however not many of them sell food (or even snacks). Breweries and bars are a great partner for a food truck because they almost always have customers, and drunk people love food. So see if you can find a bar or brewery in town that you can partner up with.
Last, but definitely not least. Park your truck on the street! This is where it all started! Find a busy street downtown or on a main street in your area (preferably with lots of foot traffic), open up, and start selling. Not only are you going to get a lot of interest, but every car that drives by is going to see your truck, and there is nothing better than free advertising. Just make sure to check the regulations in your area to make sure that you are parking legally. Nothing ruins a day of selling more than a fine!
How Do I Market My Food Truck?
Marketing your food truck is a lot like marketing any other business, except you get the added bonus of literally driving a billboard. So what are some of the main ways that you can get the word out about your truck?
Word of Mouth
Let’s be honest. People love to talk. We talk about what we did last weekend, what we are doing next weekend, and everything in between. Word of mouth marketing is the original viral content! So you better believe that if you are putting out good food, that people will tell their friends and family about it.
Between, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., everybody has some kind of social media. One of my favorite things about social media marketing is that with a little time and effort, you can build a solid following for absolutely free! Social media is a great way to introduce new menu items, get ideas from customers, and keep your customers updated on where your truck is going to be and when. So don’t sleep on social media!
Find a Good Parking Spot
Even when the food truck I worked for wasn’t operating, it was parked it front of the restaurant on the side of the main road. This meant that the thousands of cars that drove by everyday saw the giant orange gyros truck. Not only did this work in building a following for our truck, it also got a lot of people into the actual restaurant. Zoning laws required the sign on the restaurant to be fairly tiny, but nobody said anything about a giant sign on the side of the food truck!
Never underestimate those little cards. Business cards are not expensive, and I’m not going to list the millions of reasons that you should have some for your truck. Hand these cards out to anyone you meet that might have a lead on a new location, or that might need catering, or whatever the reason might be. Or you can pin them to bulletin boards around town. For ten cents a piece or whatever price you get them for, business cards are definitely worth it when it comes to spreading the word about your truck and networking.
Thanks for Reading!
I love researching, learning, and talking about business, but starting a food truck is definitely on my bucket list. I hope that I have been helpful and have answered some of the questions that you might have had regarding opening your own truck, trailer, or cart. If you have any other questions feel free to leave a comment and I will try my best to answer them!
If you enjoyed this post, or you want to learn more about business, saving and earning money, or success tips in general, you can like this post, and follow the blog via email. This way you can stay updated when I post new content. Thank you so much for reading, and good luck on your food truck journey!