Whether you’re grabbing a bite after a concert or enjoying an outdoor festival, there’s nothing quite like the fast and fresh-made experience of food truck dining. Interested in revolutionizing the world of on-the-go meals with your killer concept? Here’s everything you need to know about how to start a food truck business in 10 steps.
1. Decide on the type of food truck you want to run
There’s no doubt that you have a favorite food truck experience in your local community, so you’re already a good judge of what works in your area — and what doesn’t. Are your community festivals and craft beer patios overwhelmed by trucks offering street tacos and veggie burgers but short on falafel and kebabs? Or are your streets a food truck desert, waiting for your desserts to brighten up the dining scene?
You’ll need to seriously consider what kind of meal(s) can be consistently and affordably produced in your mobile small business. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but you also don’t want to be too eclectic for your own good. How much cooking and prep do you want to do each day? Are you prepared to spend your days inside a portable deep fryer cranking out designer tater tots, or is yours more of a fresh salad vibe? That might help determine your particular culinary approach.
2. Nail down the business basics
Making the jump from “great idea” to “great business” requires substantial planning. Create a formal business plan that demonstrates you’ve researched your market, considered food costs and potential profits, and figured out the special sauce that’s going to help you corner the local market. (And yes, “special sauce” is already taken. But you’ll find something just as creative.)
You’ll need to establish a legal structure to protect you and your soon-to-be-popping business. It also requires steps such as officially registering your new food truck business with your city or state and opening up a business bank account. These steps will be critical when you begin fundraising.
You’ll also need to nail your marketing strategy early. Are you already a master of social media? Maybe Instagram or TikTok ads will be the way to help generate the buzz for your new four-wheeled dining experience. Have you considered ideas such as direct mail or flyer campaigns, or even a street crew who can let people know how awesome your gyoza-on-a-stick will be? All of these actions can help quickly spread the word when you are ready to hit the road.
3. Start a budget
Next, it’s time to start working out the numbers on your venture. How much will it cost to start a food truck business? A successful food truck can rake in between $250,000 and $500,000 per year. However, start-up costs can run between $50,000 and $250,000.1
This means you need a realistic but scalable budget. Remember to establish a salary for yourself early in the game so you can still pay rent and keep up on your bills. And unless you are the world’s most ambitious do-it-yourselfer, you’re also going to want to hire a cook or two to help you prep, serve and clean, and maybe even a manager once the business gets rolling.
Then there’s the food itself. Sourcing affordable, sustainable and easily accessible (but profitable) ingredients is sometimes a challenge, so think local and keep things creative but simple. Most importantly, pre-plan for the costs of getting the appropriate license or permits to operate.
4. Get funding
Now comes the hunt for start-up cash. It’s been said that starting a restaurant (even a super-cool one on wheels) is the best way to lose a large amount of your in-laws’ money, so be careful when reaching out to friends and family members to help subsidize your start-up costs. Then again, their small investment may pay off big-time if you become a roaring success, so sell them on the way you plan to absolutely crush the empanada market.
Alternately, you may be able to access some start-up capital through a variety of business loans and business grants, many of which will be unique to your community or your state. Both federal and state governments offer a variety of new-business loans for small entrepreneurs; private corporations also offer a range of grants.
5. Buy a food truck
In food truck-era America, we’ve seen everything from converted Airstream trailers or school buses to tricked-out milk delivery trucks serving as food truck platforms. That brings us to the next step: Do you want a fully customized, one-of-a-kind, vegan chicken wing-mobile, or are you willing to go with a pre-built (or pre-owned) food truck to help cut your up-front costs?
Many people have also traveled the food truck route before, so you’ll have plenty of options if you want to take an existing truck that’s for sale and make it your own. Here are some places to hunt for your perfect food truck, both brand-spankin’-new and slightly used:
6. Buy equipment
Unless you already run a commercial kitchen in your home, you’ll need to outfit your food truck with the right equipment to keep you cooking. That means the full trappings of a mini-restaurant, from pots and pans to the right knives, plus food storage, and don’t forget the plates, to-go boxes and napkins you want as part of your trademark experience.
Behind the scenes, you’ll also want to have the appropriate sanitation and cleaning equipment to handle your on-board cooking. And if you want to keep track of your customer transactions easily, there are a wide variety of portable, smartphone- and tablet-based point-of-sale systems like Square, Lightspeed or Clover to act as your digital accountant.
7. Get licensed
While some folks might think launching a food truck is just as easy as whipping up a mobile backyard barbeque, the legalities of safely serving food to the general public mean figuring out the right food licensing. And like any brick-and-mortar restaurant, that means both food handling licenses and Board of Health certificates to make sure your operation is as clean as it is cool. Here are some of the documentation you’ll likely need to acquire:2
- Employer Identification Number (EIN)
- Business license
- Seller’s permit
- Food handler’s permit
- Health department permit
- Fire certificates
Oh – and, remember, it’s still an actual truck, so that means getting the right vehicle licensing and up-to-date tags for your rolling business unless you plan on parking permanently in your mom’s back yard. Your mobility is going to be the key to your success.
8. Hire employees
Has the labor shortage slipped your mind while visions of bison burgers on wheels consumed you? Well, New Food Truck Boss, welcome to the rodeo. Finding talent who’ll be willing to work long hours in hot and cramped conditions was always a challenge; nowadays, finding employees willing to work in food service can be doubly tough. You’ll have to be creative and also competitive on your pay and flexibility.
Like any modern employer, that means a mixture of online ads and some innovative recruiting strategies, from online job marketplaces like Indeed to food-service-focused job boards such as Poached, Culinary Agents or Restaurant Careers. Searching those lists will also help you benchmark the wages and benefits you’ll need to offer to attract a cooking crew who will stick with you for more than one shift.
9. Start a route
In the old days, food trucks were most often found at construction sites and county fairs. But their recent success means you’ll also face a lot of competition, even if your community has a designated food truck night or a healthy roster of summertime events.
Setting up a route to vend your Jerk chicken means finding the right spots and willing partners or approved locations. Food trucks are a hot commodity now, and you never know who might welcome your offerings. Does your favorite local brewery or bowling alley need an injection of your cooking to feed its hungry customers? Is there a late-night, after-the-clubs location that’s aching for your hangover grub? Community research will let you know where to go.
10. Get insurance
You’re cooking. You’re rolling. You’ve got a line of customers a mile long. Now, make sure your business on wheels is protected. General liability insurance from Thimble protects you from getting into a financial pickle if an accident occurs. Also, we know the food truck market can be highly seasonal. That’s why with Thimble, you can get coverage only when you’re working. Just click “get a quote” or download the Thimble mobile app and answer a quick set of questions to receive your quote. It only takes a few minutes. Order up!