A mobile food truck business is a great way to expand existing restaurant sales or break into the food industry. While food trucks have traditionally been associated with simple fare like sandwiches, hot dogs, or ice cream, today’s food truck business has exploded into a cornucopia of gourmet treats. Today, restaurant food trucks offer every kind of cuisine and dish from Kung Pao Chicken to gourmet cupcakes to smoked BBQ ribs.
However, setting up a food truck is no walk in the park. Before you take the dive, here are 10 things you should know about starting a mobile food truck business:
1. Not every neighborhood allows food trucks. The first step in starting a food truck business is to find out if they are legal in the area you want to park. Some towns or cities have restrictions for mobile vendors, so your first step is determining where you can set up shop and what regulations are in place or what sort of ordinances are likely to be passed in the future.
2. Food trucks cost money. While far cheaper than a brick-and-mortar restaurant, a food truck will still cost you thousands of dollars up front. Even a used one can cost around $15,000, and then you'll need to outfit it to suit your particular needs. Unless you have a lot of cash lying around, you'll need financing either through a bank, small business bureau, or investors. You'll also have to pay for ongoing costs, which include not only items related directly to food preparation and marketing, but also the costs of gasoline, vehicle maintenance, parking, and local licensing requirements, to name just a few. Before you do that, be sure to do some research.
3. Startup costs go beyond the cost of the truck. As mentioned above, even if you purchase a new truck (which can run as high as $150,000 or more) you'll still need to keep up the truck's appearance with paint, lighting, and signage. Then there is insurance (for the business and your vehicle), propane and/or generator costs, food purchases, and professional kitchen rental fees. Then you'll need to change the oil, the tires, and even the wiper fluid from time to time.
4. A mobile food truck business requires licensing and permits. Depending on where you plan to do business, you'll likely need to apply for special licenses and permits. Sometimes the number of permits allowed in one area is capped, causing a long waiting period for food truck owners. Permits can be expensive and often need to be renewed on an annual basis. In addition to operating licenses, you may also need to obtain parking permits to score prime curb-side real estate.
5. Health and safety are important in a food truck business. If you're serving food to the public, you need to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of both workers and customers. Food should be stored, prepared, and served in sanitary conditions, at the proper temperature. You will need to apply for a health license before you can do business. Your local health inspector will walk you through the regulations needed to make sure your food truck business is safe.
6. Restaurants and food trucks don’t always mix. Competition in the food business is fierce and restaurants in your neighborhood may not take kindly to you parking your food truck nearby. That said, if you only serve dessert, consider setting up shop near a restaurant that only serves hot dogs and hamburgers.
7. Location is important for a successful food truck business. One of the biggest advantages a food truck has over a restaurant is that it can bring food to the customer. However, you need to know where the customers are. It's all about location and balancing where you can legally park in a busy area with a lot of foot traffic. Jockeying for a spot in some busy locations may not be worth the revenues generated from the weekday lunch break.
8. Food trucks still provide a dining experience. From your menu selection to customer service, patrons must walk away feeling as though they've eaten in a restaurant. Think of your food truck as a restaurant on wheels and customers will keep coming back. That means top quality, service, and curb appeal.
9. Social media is a great tool for food trucks. Many mobile food truck businesses turn to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to promote their business. You can tweet where you are going to be each day and post specials and other promotions to your followers.
10. Owning a food truck business is a lot of hard work. Being the owner of any small business is a lot of hard work. It means long hours and wearing a lot of hats. In any given day you might be the cook, server, dishwasher, bookkeeper, and accountant. While certainly rewarding, it's not always glamorous. Before you become a food truck owner, do a reality check and get a sense of what's involved.
Food trucks are one of the most popular restaurant concepts today. The Food Network even has a show about it, The Great Food Truck Race. Compared to brick-and-mortar restaurants, they offer low start-up costs and low overhead. However, a food truck is still a business and as such, requires hard work and dedication to be successful.