How to Start a Food Truck Business

how to start a food truck business

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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 on how to start a food truck business to help aspiring food truck owners get started.

How to Start a Food Truck Business in 21 Simple Steps

Every food truck may look and operate a bit differently. Here are some common steps you can use to get started.


1. Research Food Trucks Locally

If you want to be a successful food truck owner, you need to understand your competition. Identify what cuisines are popular and what’s missing in the market. 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. Consider attending local food truck events to gather insights.

2. Choose a Niche and Know Your Target Market

Food truck customers often like unique menu items. Analyze demographic data to better understand customer preferences. Find something that sets your business apart, like interesting toppings on classics like burgers and tacos. Develop a menu that caters to local tastes and dietary preferences.

3. Name and Brand Your Business

A catchy name and brand will make your business more memorable. Ensure your brand reflects the culinary experience you offer. Choose consistent design elements that are easy to read and communicate a style that appeals to your target customers. Your brand should align well with the vibe of your food truck.

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. Research local business development programs offering financial assistance. Look for available grants for new businesses in your area for extra support. Explore industry-specific grants, particularly those focused on culinary enterprises.

6. Develop a Menu and Set Your Prices

Within your niche, create a short list of items you can make with limited ingredients. Incorporate seasonal specialties to attract customers. Price items based on demand and costs. Consider the local economic landscape to set competitive and profitable prices.

7. Secure a Truck

You need a truck that’s large enough to prepare and serve food. Assess the layout for efficient food preparation and customer service. 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. Evaluate the condition and potential modifications needed. Or buy an existing food truck from a business broker. You can also seek expert advice to make a cost-effective decision.

Read More: food truck ideas

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



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.



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.


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?

The cost of starting a food truck business can vary significantly based on numerous factors. In the United States, you can generally expect to spend from $28,000 to $180,000, with an average cost hovering around $100,000. This variation in cost is influenced by factors such as location, local licensing requirements, kitchen setup, and cooking equipment. The type of truck you choose plays a significant role in the overall cost. Options include:

  • New Truck with a New Kitchen Setup: An all-new setup can cost between $120,000 to $200,000. This option is free from maintenance or hidden costs initially.
  • Used Truck with a New Kitchen Setup: Opting for this setup could range from $80,000 to $115,000. While the initial cost is lower, a used truck may require more maintenance and repairs over time.
  • Used Truck with a Used Kitchen Setup: This is the most cost-effective option, with costs ranging from $55,000 to $90,000. However, it comes with the risk of higher maintenance and repair costs.
  • Renting a Food Truck: If you’re starting on a tight budget, renting a food truck is a viable option, generally costing $2,000 to $4,000 a month.

Additional expenses to consider include kitchen equipment and supplies (estimated at $10,000 to $25,000), inventory and food costs (around $1,000 to $3,000 initially), marketing and advertising expenses, professional service fees (legal, accounting, etc.), employee salaries and benefits, maintenance and fuel costs, commissary or storage fees, point-of-sale system and payment processing fees.

Moreover, mobile app development for enhanced branding and customer engagement can start at $5,000, with more complex apps costing upwards of $20,000. Accounting software like QuickBooks or Xero can add monthly costs of $20 to $60. Efficient inventory management is crucial, including costs for food ingredients, disposable supplies, cleaning supplies, fuel, propane, menu specials, and beverages. Marketing and branding efforts can also significantly impact your startup costs, with expenses for website development, advertising, branding materials, promotions, events, and food truck wrapping.

Securing the necessary licenses and permits is a must for legal operation. These include food service licenses, mobile food vendor permits, health department permits, fire department permits, parking permits, business licenses, sales tax permits, and commissary agreements. Utility costs such as electricity, water, and waste disposal also add to the operational expenses.

Finally, consider the cost of labor and talent required to run the food truck, including chefs, servers, and cleaners. Overall, a detailed budget and a robust business plan are crucial for a successful launch and sustainable operation of a food truck business

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.


Image: Depositphotos, Envato Elements

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Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 12 years. Annie covers feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago in Journalism and Marketing Communications.