How to Start a Food Truck Business

Image by © The Balance

A food truck is like a restaurant on wheels. It has several distinct advantages over a traditional eat-in restaurant. A food truck can go to where the customers are. It has pretty low overhead, compared to a restaurant, and requires far less staff. However, a food truck is still a business that requires a lot of work and attention—especially in the first couple of years. Food truck owners put in long days and have similar problems as restaurant owners, such as slow seasons, bad weather, and a sluggish economy.

If that doesn't dissuade you, here's what you'll need to do to start your own food truck.

Find out Where You Can Do Business

It may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many places don’t allow food trucks or put a cap on the number of food truck permits allowed at any given time. Case in point — both Los Angeles and New York City are two of the trendiest areas for food truck businesses, and both have caps on the number of permits allowed. Assuming your city or town allows food truck businesses, next you need to find out where you can do business. Depending on local ordinances you may not be able to park in the busy downtown area. Before you set up shop in a busy tourist area or business park, make sure it's legit. Also be mindful of other food trucks and restaurants in the area. A brick and mortar restaurant may not take kindly to a food truck setting up right outside their establishment. 

Choose a Business Name and Write a Menu 

Okay, you now have a solid plan for where you are going to sell your food. Now you can do the fun part—decide on a fantastic food truck name. Much like choosing a restaurant name, the name of your food truck business should reflect your food, theme, or concept.

Even if you don’t have the standard plastic sleeve menus that a brick-and-mortar restaurant have, you still will need a menu board and to-go menus for customers to take. You will also have to decide if your menu will be the same every day or rotate with daily specials.

Find Financing for Your Food Truck Business.

The good news about a food truck business is that is significantly cheaper than a sit-down. However, you will still need financing from a bank or private investors. A used food truck can cost between $20,000 to $40,000. A new food truck can be as much as $100,000. If you are looking for a truly economical way to start a food truck business, consider a food cart. An ice cream or hot dog cart may not be the most glamorous option, but it certainly the most feasible for many people. Read on for tips on writing a great food truck business plan that will ensure you get your business started off right.

Stock Your Food Truck

Even if you land a modestly priced used food truck, you will still need to make sure it is going to meet your particular needs. If you plan to serve hot food, such as pizza, French fries or other fried foods, you will need an oven and fryolator. If you plan to sell pre-made sandwiches, then you will need ample cooler space. Outfitting a food truck is much like designing a commercial restaurant kitchen.

Market Your Food Truck 

The good thing about a food truck is that it's a rolling advertisement on wheels. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do some advertising and marketing of your business. Social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, are perfect for building a good customer base. You can tweet in the morning where your food truck is heading, to let followers know ahead of time and post photos of lunch specials to attract customers.

As you get ready for opening day, you'll also want to have an emergency fund set aside. It is true for any small business. Or really, for any person—always have a rainy day fund tucked away. Equipment repairs can be costly. Or a freak rainstorm could drive down business in an otherwise busy season. Be prepared for the unexpected by having some cash set aside.

Have Clear Goals for the Future

Maybe a food truck business is step one toward owning your own restaurant or full-service catering company. Decide where you want to be in a year, five years, 10 years. Having clear goals for your food truck business will help keep you motivated and focused.

Tips for Success

  1. Think small. If you don't want to invest a lot of money, a food cart costs a fraction of a food truck with many of the same benefits. 
  2. Be prepared for emergencies. Start saving money for equipment repairs or other unforeseen events.
  3. Get ready to work long days. You may only serve food during lunch, but you need to prep all that food and clean up, plus do bookkeeping, ordering and other mundane chores.

Food trucks are the hottest trend right now and show no signs of slowing down. If you have ever thought about opening a restaurant, a food truck is a good option. It offers lower start-up costs and lower overhead. Once you have a feel for the food truck business, you can decide if you are ready to make the leap to ​restaurant owner. ​