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Jan 21, 2024

How to Start a Food Truck, a Step by Step Guide

Starting a successful food truck takes planning, permits and capital. Learn the basics here

How to Start a Food Truck, a Step by Step Guide

Food trucks are seemingly everywhere these days and some cities are even famous for their selections of local food trucks. These trucks might have been viewed as a risk not that long ago, but these days they're incredibly popular and have started a global trend.

But how do you start a food truck and what do you need to know? Read on for all the following tips that will help you get your food truck up and running.

How Much Does Starting a Food Truck Cost?

As you would expect, the cost can vary, but somewhere between $60,000 and $130,000 is a reasonable estimate.

Depending which state you're in and the legal fees you have to pay, how much you're paying for your truck, how much customization it needs, and which niche you're going to be in, the cost can be as little as $10,000 or as much as $250,000.

Sound like a lot? Financing options are available as a small business owner, but before you do that, know the risks involved.

Starting a Food Truck Step-by-Step

Do your Homework

Researching your local food scene is critical. Check existing food trucks and their niches, existing restaurants, areas where a food truck can park and sell, demographics, and busy times when commuters might be customers. This step will reveal whether your food truck contact is likely to thrive and whether there is enough local demand for what you'll be selling.

2. Pick Your Concept

There are two things to consider when choosing your food truck concept. First you should consider your passions and interests, and second make sure you'll be catering to the local population's interests. Merge both of these factors to come up with the perfect concept, and then you can choose your name and logo.

Take your time coming up with those and choose something attention-grabbing, descriptive, memorable, and unique. Because your menu or concept might grow at a later stage, avoid being too specific. A great concept and nice logo should have a positive impact on your customers.

Always consider the margin of your cuisine choices, portability for delivery platforms and how to leave diners with a memorable experience.

3. Work on your business plan

3. Work on your business plan

When your concept has become clear, you can begin to write the business plan for your new food truck. This is a handy way to figure out your business details before you start to invest.

Also, a business plan is what you're going to share with potential investors, so it will need to look and sound professional. Make sure to include all the following:

Create an executive summary

Establish the identity of your brand, describe your goals and show what dishes you plan to sell and why you chose them.

Create company description

Explain why you want a food truck and how yours will stand apart from the competition.

Complete a market analysis

Who is your target audience and which demographic do you think your truck will attract? How saturated is the market? What are other food trucks revenue? How will you attract customers to your food truck verses a neighboring food truck.

Management and organization plan

What is your internal staff structure going to be and how many employees will you need? This section is to describe a clear system of management and staff along with their roles.

Description of product line or service

Detail your menu as well as options for future or seasonal menu items.

Sales and marketing strategies

Describe your proposed marketing techniques and advertising plan to get customers to buy from you. Include a funding request to show where funding will come from and how much you're going to need to start up your business, financial projections for the upcoming 5 years, and an appendix for other information like blueprints, photos and logo design.

4. Obtain funding

Although not suitable for every type of food truck, a farmers' market can work well for some.

Customers at these markets are shopping for locally-sourced ingredients, so a food truck offering fresh dishes preferably made with local ingredients, could do very well there.

Find markets happening around you and reach out to organizers for application process.

There will certainly be plenty of people wandering around with food on their minds.

5. Get permits and a food truck license

Once you have funding, you will need to investigate how to get a license, since the process varies from state to state and, sometimes, in different cities in the same state. Contact your local DMV, chamber of commerce and health department to find out what you need.

The requirements should be similar to restaurant requirements, such as a food service license, business license, employee health permit, and employer ID number. You will probably also need a zoning and parking permit and mobile food facility permit.

Make sure you ask the DMV about any city parking limits or restrictions as well as where overnight parking is allowed.

6. Buy or lease a food truck

Most of your budget will be spent on the food truck itself so take your time to make the best choice. Think about whether you want a new or used truck, whether you'll lease or own it, which dealer you will get it from, and what kind of customizations it will need.

You're going to need insurance as well, to cover any liabilities or physical damage. You might also have to finalize your permits and inspections to become street legal.

7. Food trucks supplies and equipment

Cooking equipment

Grills, fryers, toasters, microwaves, and ranges.

Food prep equipment

Chef knives, work tables, cookware, utensils, thermometers, and cutting boards.

Warming and holding equipment

Soup kettles, fry dump stations and countertop food warmers.

Refrigeration equipment

Under-counter refrigeration, ice machines and prep tables.

Serving equipment

Food trays, napkins, plastic cutlery, cups, and disposable takeout supplies.

Janitorial equipment

Compartment sinks, hand sinks, sanitizers, brooms and mops, recycling bins, trash cans, and floor mats.

8. Choose your food truck Point of Sale system

You will need a POS (point of sale) system so you can take credit card payments online, although some food trucks choose to accept cash only even though not all customers will be carrying cash. If you're getting a POS system, ensure it allows both credit and cash.

Toast, Square and Clover point of sale systems are all popular food truck and restaurant choices since it they allow customers to order and pay via their phone, or quickly directly on a tablet system, and fire tickets and order for cooks so you can concentrate on taking orders without the need to mess paper, pens and hand written receipts.

9. Food truck advertising and marketing

Since your food truck isn't going to be parked in the same place all the time, you'll have to advertise, so customers know where you will be. Make sure your logo is visible, using it on flyers, on the truck itself and online. Also make sure you have a bold menu board which is easy to read and understand.

Your food truck website should include information about the company as well as photos and your regular locations. Social media accounts are also a good idea. As for where to be located, explore a variety of neighborhoods to find a good fit, then go there regularly so you can get to know your regulars.

Community events like food truck festivals and community events are well worth attending and you might even want to sell merchandise with your logo on it, such as mugs, stickers and T-shirts.

Final word: Is a Food Truck Right for You?

There are both pros and cons of opening and running a food truck, which you should consider before getting started. You will be mobile and able to move the food truck from place to place, and you will be able to cater events without having to rent cooking equipment.

Food truck operators can deduct some expenses on taxes, such as truck storage rental fees and of course the food truck itself, which restaurant operators cannot.

It's also good to know the potential disadvantages, one of which is competition and being able to stand out from the competition. Food truck operators can work long hours which include event booking, cleaning, seeking new locations, and maintenance work. Zoning laws change, as do local ordinances, and you need to stay current with these, so you don't risk breaking the law.

Although it can be a challenge starting a food truck business, methodically working through this list and having passion for the business can help you get a foot on the ladder and then from there the sky is the limit!

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