If you’ve thought about running your own restaurant, but the cost was prohibitive, consider starting a food truck business. For a fraction of the cost of a full-fledged restaurant, you can become the proud owner of a mobile eatery.
According to market research company IBISWorld, the Food Trucks industry is growing by 7.9% each year. Food trucks are one of the best-performing segments of the foodservice industry. They earn $870 million a year in the U.S.
Wondering how to start a mobile food business? Here are six basic steps and requirements for joining the brigade of roaming chefs.
1) Develop a strategic food truck plan
The goal of any business is to create repeat customers and promote business growth. To successfully do that as a food truck owner, you have to be strategic and inventive. You have limited space, countless competitors, and customers with high expectations. So you have to create an action plan that accommodates all of those things.
Decide what to serve
While the sky is nearly the limit when it comes to what you can serve from a food truck, you do have limited space. That means you need to decide on a specific culinary theme and stick to it.
Do you want to serve burgers, fries, and hot dogs? Or do you have something more sophisticated in mind, like healthy fast food or a spin on an old concept?
I see a lot of food trucks serving the same foods, but it’s much more effective to come up with a unique concept. When we started our business in 2006, there were no other food trucks selling funnel cakes in Las Vegas.”
Know your competitors and be unique
Denette Braud, the owner of Braud’s Funnel Cake Café, suggests considering your competitors. She says, “I see a lot of food trucks serving the same foods, but it’s much more effective to come up with a unique concept. When we started our business in 2006, there were no other food trucks selling funnel cakes in Las Vegas.”
Customize your product
Beyond coming up with a unique concept, Braud also advises customizing your product as much as possible. For example, she says, “Funnel cakes have been around forever. We made our product unique by featuring 17 different toppings. People come from all over the world for our funnel cakes.”
Braud’s concept worked so well that she was able to open a brick-and-mortar store in the Las Vegas Town Square mall in September 2017. She also still runs the food truck.
Create a menu
One of the best parts about eating at a food truck is the convenience and speed. Focus on items that are fast and easy to prepare. While you do want to offer choices, limit the menu to items that feature similar base ingredients. That will make food prep and storage fairly uncomplicated.
Decide your location
Are you going to travel the country in your food truck, or are you going to stay local? Perhaps you’ll decide you want to dominate your local market before taking it coast to coast.
This is an important decision to make during the planning phase, as it will not only determine what you choose to serve but also how you go about marketing your food truck.
Beyond that, make sure you know the “hot spots” and the best times to park your mobile restaurant in every city you go to. For example, if you’re in a bigger city, park near office buildings during lunchtime Monday through Friday, and then park outside of bars late at night on Friday and Saturday’s.
Every city and town is different, and it’s up to you to discover where and when it’s the most profitable time to get cooking.
2) Buy a food truck
Your biggest startup expense will be the food truck itself. You have the option to buy a new or used food truck.
New truck vs. trailer
A new food truck is the most expensive option. Such a vehicle could cost you anywhere from $50,000 for a basic model to more than $200,000 for a customized mobile kitchen. A less expensive option is a food trailer. These will generally run from $10,000 to $30,000. If you buy a trailer, you’ll need a truck to transport it.
Braud opted for a food trailer. She says, “I decided on a trailer because I’ve seen many owners experience breakdowns with their food trucks. With a trailer, you hook up your truck and go.”
Make your truck stand out
Advertise your food truck and make it look like an appetizing place to dine by painting it or getting a vinyl food truck wrap. Wraps feature your company name and logo.
If your budget is tight initially, just put out a banner and flag featuring your company name.”
Food truck wraps typically start at $1,000. Says Braud, “If your budget is tight initially, just put out a banner and flag featuring your company name.”
Be careful buying out-of-state trucks
While it’s possible to find good deals on used food trucks, Braud cautions potential owners to be careful if they buy a truck out of state. She says, “I know someone who had to spend a lot of money having a truck retrofitted for his state to meet health department requirements.”
Take over an existing food truck business
Another option is to find a food truck business for sale. You would buy out the existing owner and take over the business.
3) Get required food truck licenses and permits
Like any restaurant, food trucks require a variety of licenses and permits to operate. Knowing what licenses are needed to run a food truck is important, as is familiarizing yourself with what kind of permits you need for a food truck.
What licenses and permits are required?
Deborah Sweeney is CEO of MyCorporation.com, which offers online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses. She notes the variety of permits required for a food truck.
Most food trucks require a business license, health permit, mobile food facility permit, food handler permit, and food safety certification.”
“Depending on the city or county you conduct business from, you’ll need to check in with your local Chamber of Commerce or the Small Business Association to determine required licensing. Most food trucks require a business license, health permit, mobile food facility permit, food handler permit, and food safety certification,” says Sweeney.
Braud pays for an annual health permit from the state of Nevada. With licensing, she pays for the state, county, and city licenses. She says, “Licensing requirements vary widely. I suggest looking into licensing when you’re deciding on where you want to sell. If you move around, you may need licenses for each spot.”
Laws and regulations
There are also different laws and regulations in each city. For instance, many cities have certain areas where food trucks aren’t allowed. Some cities have food truck associations that you’ll be required to join if you wish to operate there.
4) Do you need a food commissary to run your food truck?
Many cities and county health departments require that food truck businesses use a food commissary. These are established commercial kitchens where food truck owners store and prepare food.
Costs for food commissaries can run between $400 to $800 per month. In some instances, you can store your truck at the food commissary.
5) Consider additional food truck operating expenses
Before you launch your food truck business, you need to stock up on a variety of operational items. These include the following.
- Propane/fuel: costs vary
- Cookware (pots, pans, spatulas): $1,000 to $2,000
- Product inventory, including food, plates, and napkins: $1,000 to $2,000
- Uniforms: $200 to $800
- Miscellaneous (unexpected) expenses: $500 to $2000
- Fire extinguisher: $100 to $300
- Insurance (liability/workman’s comp): $2,000 to $4,000 per year
6) Financing your food truck business
Now that you’re familiar with how much it costs to run a food truck, you may need financing to get your mobile restaurant on the road.
Getting an auto loan may be the best way to pay for your biggest expense, the food truck.
Our personalized auto loan offer engine allows you to quickly and easily get pre-qualified loan offers from top lenders (without hurting your credit score).
Food truck business profits can be lucrative. If sharing good food with appreciative diners from all walks of life sounds appealing to you, you’ll find the ideal career as a food truck owner.
Julie Bawden-Davis is a widely published journalist specializing in personal finance and small business. She has written 10 books and more than 2,500 articles for a wide variety of national and international publications, including Parade.com, where she has a weekly column. In addition to contributing to SuperMoney, her work has appeared in publications such as American Express OPEN Forum, The Hartford and Forbes.