If you’re interested in starting a food service business, but don’t want to spend the time and money to set up a dedicated location, a food truck may be the way to go. Here’s a guide to help aspiring food truck owners get started.
Why You Should be Part of the Food Truck Industry
Food trucks offer plenty of exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs. Here are some benefits of choosing this niche:
- Location independence: Your truck can go wherever potential customers are. If there’s a big event or area with lots of foot traffic on any given night, you can set up there to reach more people.
- Low startup costs: You don’t need a dedicated location or a huge team to run a food truck. So it can be easier to break into the industry.
- Built-in advertising: When you set up at an event or drive across town, your truck gets seen. If you have a catchy logo or design, this automatically helps you build brand recognition without extra advertising.
- Multiple income streams: Food trucks don’t have to only offer food at festivals and high-traffic areas. You can also offer catering to diversify your income streams.
How Much Does it Cost to Start a Food Truck Business?
Food truck startup costs vary by location, niche, and business plan. However, a truck, equipment, business supplies, and ingredients generally range from about $30,000 to $100,000.
Is Owning a Food Truck Profitable?
Yes, starting your own food truck can be profitable. Many food trucks make over $100,000 per year. Once startup costs and ongoing expenses are factored in, an annual profit of about $50,000 is usually possible. However, the exact amount you earn depends on your food truck concept, operating hours, menu, and locations. You can also look into food truck franchise options to cut your initial startup cost.
Starting a Food Truck Business in 21 Simple Steps
Every food truck may look and operate a bit different. But there are some common steps needed to get started. Here’s a guide to starting a successful food truck business.
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1. Research Food Trucks Locally
If you want to be a successful food truck owner, you need to understand your competition. Research other food trucks in your area to find a unique niche and learn the hot spots and trends in your local food truck scene.
2. Choose a Niche and Know Your Target Market
Food truck customers often like unique menu items. Find something that sets your business apart, like interesting toppings on classics like burgers and tacos.
3. Name and Brand Your Business
A catchy name and brand will make your business more memorable. Choose consistent design elements that are easy to read and communicate a style that appeals to your target customers.
4. Write a Food Truck Business Plan
Every business needs a plan; here are some things to include in your food truck business plan:
- Market analysis: Look at other food truck owners in your area and consider demand from local customers.
- Product and service list: What types of food will you offer? Consider ingredient cost and what you’ll charge for items; include any extra revenue streams like private catering.
- Marketing strategies: How will you market your business? And what expenses might come with your strategy?
- Financial projections: Based on your market and price list, what can you expect to earn? How does that compare to your projected expenses?
5. Look into Small Business Grants
Food truck owners may benefit from extra funds. Look for available grants for new businesses in your area for extra support.
6. Develop a Menu and Set Your Prices
Within your niche, create a short list of items you can make with limited ingredients. Price items based on demand and costs.
7. Secure a Truck
You need a truck that’s large enough to prepare and serve food. So, you have to find where to buy a food truck. You can find old vans or trucks in local classified ads and have them furbished with equipment. Or buy an existing food truck from a business broker.
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8. Form a Legal Entity and Register Your Business
All businesses need a legal entity; here are some for food truck operators to consider:
- Sole proprietor: This can work for those who operate individually, but it offers no liability protection.
- LLC: Offers liability and low startup costs; this is quite common for food truck operations.
- Corporation: This offers liability protection and a different tax structure, but can be more complicated and costly to start.
9. Open a Business Bank Account
Keep your business and personal assets separate to simplify bookkeeping and build credit. Consider business credit cards for monthly purchases.
10. Get Business Insurance
Insurance can protect your assets if your business experiences any losses. Here are some common types for a mobile food business.
- General liability
- Commercial auto
- Workers comp
- Property coverage
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11. Get the Necessary Food Truck Equipment
The exact equipment needed depends on your niche and how much food you work with, but here are some common categories:
- Cooking equipment like a griddle or fryers
- Refrigeration equipment
- Shelves or cabinets to store ingredients
- Food containers
- Cleaning supplies
12. Get a POS System
A point of sale system helps successful food trucks manage transactions. Common options include TouchBistro, Toast, and Square.
13. Source Your Ingredients
Find wholesale suppliers for all the items you need to create your menu. These are often the same food industry suppliers that work with restaurants with a brick and mortar location.
14. Apply for Permits and Food Truck Licenses
Food trucks often need business licenses, vehicle registration and commercial driver’s license, parking permits for specific locations, and mobile food service permits. Check with your local health department to see what paperwork is required.
15. Prepare for Health Inspectors to Visit
Local officials will also likely visit to check for cleanliness and food safety.
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16. Sort Out Your Taxes
Taxes vary by state. But many food truck owners must pay:
- Business income taxes
- Payroll taxes
- State sales taxes
17. Create a Website and Market Your Business
Customers often research their local food truck community online. So create an online presence with your menu and social profiles to update your locations.
18. Decide Where to Park
Food truck vendors should seek out spots with lots of customers, like high foot traffic areas and special events. Make sure parking spots are approved through your local motor vehicle department.
19. Employ Staff
You may need a small team to make food and serve customers. Apply for a NIE number and meet other requirements of your state before interviewing and training.
20. Maintain Your Truck
Your food truck needs oil changes, tire rotations, and fluid flushes just like any vehicle.
21. Market Your Business and Expand
To bring in more customers, promote your brand on social media accounts, update your location on food truck finder apps, and set up at popular food truck festivals. Once you gain popularity, create a franchise to market your tasty food in new locations.
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More in: How to Start, Restaurant / Food Service Business