Food trucks seemed to go from near anonymity to total ubiquity over the past ten years, and many chefs and entrepreneurs see the long lines out front of their local corndog, kebob, falafel, gyro, or taco purveyor and think to themselves, “I could do that.” If this notion has ever crossed your mind, read on to learn the basics about starting your own food truck as well as some of the roadblocks that have the potential to turn your dream business into a nightmare on wheels.
Don’t be mistaken – a food truck is a significant investment.
It’s true that starting a food truck is considerably cheaper than opening a restaurant, but there are still substantial outlays that are required. First and foremost, there is the vehicle itself. Buying a new truck will set you back approximately $100K, minimum. Try to find a used one if you can, but budget at least $40K to pay for the automobile plus whatever retrofitting your operation will require. Do your homework; just because you find a “bustaraunt” on eBay for $10K doesn’t mean it’s a great deal. Perform the proper due diligence, get the vehicle’s engine and transmission checked thoroughly, and inspect the interior closely to confirm it will be able to satisfy health codes.
Make sure you have all the necessary permits/licenses.
In order to sell the dishes you’ve created for your new food truck enterprise, you will need a food vendor’s permit or license. Different municipalities have distinct requirements, but the process generally entails filling out an application and submitting to an inspection of your cooking area(s), storage equipment, and serving apparatuses to get approval from the local health department.
Prior to pouring too much money into your operation, you should research the applicable rules and regulations for your community (a full list of health and safety codes can be obtained directly from your local health department with a simple phone call). Some states require any business selling prepared foods on the street to utilize a commercial kitchen rather than cooking items within the vehicle. If this is the rule where you live, then you will have to budget for the additional expense of building your own kitchen or renting space in an existing one.
Choose your location wisely.
As a new food truck owner, you will want to tread lightly when choosing a spot to set up shop. Selecting a location to park your business is not as clear cut as it may seem. Sure, the best idea is to go where you will find the most customers, but you must avoid stepping on another entrepreneur’s toes or, worse yet, starting a food truck turf war. You will also need to take a look at your city’s/municipality’s codes, as some places designate certain streets or areas as off-limits for street vendors.
Finally, just as you don’t want to steal the spot of the pizza guy who’s been there for 20 years, you also shouldn’t park too close to a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Not only is it bad form, but it may get your tires slashed.
Take advantage of social media to promote your business.
One of the many reasons food trucks have exploded in popularity over the past decade plus is social media. Savvy entrepreneurs and chefs whose food is good enough to generate buzz from area gourmands take advantage of their followers and send alerts announcing where they’re located or what their daily special will be. The power of social media has done a lot to help struggling food truck owners by mitigating the effect of parking constraints due to local regulations or the unwritten rules of peddler seniority.
You will spend hours in a cramped space, and you may not make much money.
Whether you want to supplement your restaurant’s business with an on-the-go option or simply want to be your own boss, don’t be naive about the level of commitment and effort required to be successful. You will spend endless hours in the truck without many breaks. Even though the lunch rush may only span from noon to 2 pm, the time you spend preparing to serve customers and cleaning up after them will most likely be double your revenue-generating time frame (if not considerably more).
After these long hours in the confines of your food truck, you might discover that your profits are lower than anticipated. This could be due to poor planning on your part or something as unavoidable as bad weather (note: in areas with colder climates, food truck operations are seasonal businesses because of the impact the elements can have on sales). If, however, you come up with a culinary concept that catches on in your local community then you will have the ultimate freedom to serve customers whenever and wherever (within reason) you want.
Now that you know the basic requirements for establishing your food truck empire (and haven’t been scared off by the investment in time and resources), all that’s left is to hit the streets and make your dream a reality.