Learn the Costs Associated With Operating a a Food Truck

Understand your market before opening your business

Foodtruck
••• stu_spivack/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

While starting a food truck business typically is far cheaper than opening a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant, it still requires a significant investment. Outfitting a brand new food truck can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000, so if you are considering opening a food truck business, it’s important to start with a realistic budget and a good business plan. Beyond that, researching your local food truck market will help further refine your food truck concept.

Food Truck Costs

Food truck start-up costs vary from state to state, depending on licenses, permits, and other fees. For a simple truck, with a minimal mobile kitchen and storage, you could get started with as little as $30,000 or $40,000. But, remember, you get what you pay for. A food truck is first and foremost a vehicle, and you want it to be reliable for both transportation and your food business. Forbes Magazine estimates that an average cost for a food truck is closer to $50,000 to $70,000 for a gently used truck and “reasonable” remodels.

If you are willing to spend up to $100,000, you can get extra bells and whistles or a completely new truck. If your budget is more than $100,000, you may want to look at opening a more traditional standalone restaurant or explore purchasing a chain restaurant. The likely return on the investment will be bigger and faster than a smaller food truck business.

Financing   

Just like financing a new restaurant, financing a food truck requires a business plan. Small business administrations, banks, or private lenders/investors are all options. You may even have enough assets to liquidate that you could come up with the start-up funds yourself.  As you create your food truck business plan, consider your menu, your target customers, and how you are going to market your food truck.

It's also worth considering backing from an established local restaurant that does not have a food truck. You might find a local restaurateur willing to invest in your food truck as a means of expanding his or her own brand. If you are willing to partner with someone else, this has the added benefit of allowing you to enter the market with a brand name and possibly some menu items already familiar to the local community.

Operating Costs

It’s true that food trucks are relatively inexpensive to open when compared to a traditional restaurant, and the overhead is generally small—a few staff people, limited equipment, and a concentrated menu that doesn’t require a lot of storage space. But remember, once you get the food truck on the road and ready for business, there are still a number of costs associated with the day-to-day operations, including insurance, permits, and other fees. Depending on where you do business, there may be a commissary fee which can run anywhere from $400 to $800 a month.

If you plan to accept credit cards for payment, you will need some type of electronic point of sale (POS) and internet access. Some food truck owners also rent out a commercial kitchen for meals preparation, which involves another monthly fee.

Do Your Homework

Food truck owners shared with FoodTruckr what they wished they’d known before going into business, and many comments involved an understanding of licensing and permits. The process sometimes can take months, regulations vary from state to state, and it often is more expensive than anticipated.

It’s also important to understand how food trucks are utilized in your area. The food truck climates in New York City and Los Angeles are different than in Chicago or Boston. Markets in large cities likely are different than those in most smaller communities. Don’t assume that what works in one area will automatically work in another. Spend considerable time researching your own target market to help you better understand local challenges and needs within the food community.