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How to Start a Food Truck Business in 5 Simple Steps

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Food trucks and food trailers are on the rise.

In 2014, the industry brought in $803 million, and those profits could rise to $996 million by 2020 according to Statista.

This craze has people searching their city streets for mobile kitchens serving unique culinary creations.

Gone are the days when food trucks only offered plastic-wrapped sandwiches, tacos, and hot dogs.

Now you can get delicious creations, made with fresh, high-quality ingredients.

Famous food trucks like Los Angeles-based Fukuburger serve their creations to hundreds of people a day.

If you want to get a foothold in the food industry, food trucks, food trailers, and food carts can be the perfect place to start.

They usually have smaller startup costs and lower monthly overhead than traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Plus, they allow you to change locations if you’re not getting enough foot traffic.

But before you start your own food truck business, you’ll need to know the startup costs, licensing process, and zoning regulations.

If the business owner inside of you is excited to cash in on this ever-growing industry, you’re in luck.

We’re going to give you five simple steps to get your food truck business off the ground.

1. Do Some Background Research How to start a food truck business: a woman serving burgers from a food truck

Owning a food truck is a science in and of itself and will require some patience and perseverance.

The best way to learn what to expect is to talk to people who’ve done it before.

Visit Local Vendors

Luckily, you aren’t the first person to start a new food truck business.

If you’re a true entrepreneur, you know that success doesn’t always come from doing things on your own.

Talking to successful food truck owners can give you a wealth of information that you can’t get anywhere else.

So start networking!

Find friendly owners, and ask all your burning questions.

Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of starting a food truck business.

Attend events that feature multiple food trucks.

Take note of the types of food they’re selling (and which food trucks have the most loyal following).

This will help you with your market analysis and give you a better understanding of your customer base.

You’ll learn what’s popular in your area and what’s missing.

Are there no vegan trucks near you?

That could be your niche.

Maybe your town needs more authentic Asian street food, or maybe comfort food is the most popular thing on four wheels.

Either way, understanding what your market wants and what it lacks will help you create a plan for your food truck business.

2. Create Your Menu and Brand How to start a food truck business: "think outside of the box" written on a chalkboard

This is the step where you need to have a vision of what you want to bring to the table.

Remember, this is a business, and with any business, you need to make your brand stand out.

Create the Right Business Plan

Every successful business starts with a business plan.

Your food truck business plan is where you need to find a way to stand out from other food trucks in your area.

You can do this through branding, public image, fresh ingredients, and unique menu items.

Be prepared to market your business.

Set aside a marketing budget to create business cards, ads, and flyers.

Then plaster them throughout your target area.

Share your business with friends and family to spread the word.

You also need to learn the basics of social media marketing and create a web presence by linking your business to any social media outlets where your target customers are active.

Create an interactive website so people can get the right information about your business.

And don’t forget to list your business on Yelp.

Choose a Unique Name and Eye-Catching Logo

Choosing the right business name is crucial for brand awareness.

You’ll want to make sure it conveys the message of exciting food and a fun customer experience.

Sometimes the stranger the name the better.

Famous food trucks like Grilled Cheeserie, Cinnamon Snail, and Oink and Moo BBQ all have playful names that clearly represent the food they sell.

An eye-catching logo is equally important to the name you choose.

Because your logo will represent your brand to your customers, consider hiring a professional graphic designer if you don’t already have these skills.

Most successful food trucks are vinyl-wrapped with their logo and have custom designs.

When you’re choosing a design, try to picture it on your truck.

Focus on Your Menu Items

Your food is what will make or break your business.

If you’re serving boring food, no one will want to buy from you.

If you’re spicing things up and serving food people have never seen before, you’re more likely to create the buzz you need to bring customers to your food truck.

But remember: Exotic is good, but delicious is better.

It can be hard to decide on menu items for your  food truck business.

Your dishes need to be cooked and plated fast to provide good customer service and avoid long wait times.

You may have the best taco recipe in town, but if it takes you 25 minutes to complete a single order, your customers may walk to the next food truck.

Creating menu items that are fast and delicious will take some trial and error.

Be patient and don’t launch a new menu item until you’ve worked out all the kinks.

3. Save for Startup Costs How to start a food truck business: People wait in line at a food truck

It takes more than just a great logo and menu to start your food truck business, you also need money.

There are startup costs associated with buying and building your truck.

Costs can range from $10,000 to $50,000.
Many factors influence your startup costs and monthly operating expenses.

Some are one-time fees and others are recurring costs.

Here are some of the expenses you may see:

  • Payment processing
  • Insurance
  • Taxes, titles, and registration
  • Permit and license fees
  • Payroll
  • Inventory and ingredients
  • Truck financing and remodeling
  • Gas, maintenance, and repairs

Talk to your bank about securing a business loan or pitch your vision to investors to secure the equity you need to get your food truck rolling.

Find the Right Truck

You need to find a truck that fits your vision, but that doesn’t mean you need to invest in a brand new, custom food truck.

You may be able to find a used food truck or catering truck that’s already outfitted with the equipment you need.

You can also consider setting up a food trailer that you can tow on a standard pick-up truck.

Or you may be able to buy an extra large Ford, Chevy, or GMC van.

Then you can add the equipment you need to cook.

Whichever route you go, you’ll probably need to add some customizations.

Your food truck will likely need refrigeration and a two or three-compartment sink.

(Check your state regulations.

Many states have rules about the number of compartments needed in food vendor sinks.)

Other equipment in your truck will depend on what kind of food you’re making.

If you plan to sell Italian food, you may need to install a pizza oven.

But if you’re serving up quick stir-fries, you’ll only need a stove top and rice cooker.

The right body shop can help you create your custom food truck.

Keep in mind that kitchens weren’t designed to be in trucks, and trucks weren’t designed to haul kitchens.

So things will break down every once in a while.

Set aside funds in case of an issue down the road (or maybe we should say “on the road”).

Since you won’t have to pay the monthly rent that comes with owning a brick-and-mortar restaurant, you’ll probably still pay less for your mobile kitchen than you would for a traditional restaurant.

It obviously helps to be handy with engines, transmissions, and changing spare tires, but if you don’t have those handyman skills, you should look for a trustworthy mechanic with experience in food truck maintenance.

Purchasing an extended warranty can also help cover the cost of your repairs.

Slap Some Vinyl on It

You’ll want to make sure your truck stands out.

Since you’re on wheels, you will probably be in different locations from time to time.

The most successful food trucks are always custom vinyl wrapped.

An eye-catching wrap can lure in new customers and help returning customers recognize your truck.

Get the right tools

Make sure you have everything you need for your mobile food headquarters.

There are a lot of tools, equipment, and intangible expenses that need to be factored into your startup budget.

You may need:

  • A register or point of sale system
  • A generator
  • Kitchen equipment
  • Utensils, pots, and pans
  • Disposable serving dishes

4. Get the Licenses and Permits You Need How to start a food truck business: food trucks parked on a city street

Food truck businesses require special licensing.

You must abide by state and local regulations, and obtain certain permits.

Let’s break this down so you know exactly what you’ll need.

Business License

You need a business license to operate your food truck and sell food legally.

Check with your local small business administration to see what it takes to obtain a business license.

Food Handlers Permit

Most cities and states require food vendors to obtain a food handler’s permit.

You need to take and pass a food safety test to get your food handler’s permit.
You need to understand the basic tenets of safe food handling and food preparation.

Plus, you’ll need a thorough knowledge of your state’s food handling regulations, and an understanding of how to reduce the transmission of food-borne illnesses and diseases.

Check this resource to study up before you take the test.

Incorporation Filing

In order to register your business as a legal entity, You need to get an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS.

You can apply for an EIN online through the IRS website.

Once you’ve done that, head down to your county registrar’s office to register your business.

We suggest filing as a Limited Liability Company.

This ensures that if you get sued for a work-related incident — food poisoning, injuring a customer, colliding with another vehicle — your personal assets won’t be in jeopardy.

Health Department Permit

Most cities and states require a permit from your local health department.

Once approved, you’ll be subjected to routine inspections by your city, county, or state’s health department.

In these inspections, you’ll need to demonstrate that your food preparation practices and the cleanliness of your truck are up to code.

Vehicle Permit

Your business will be on the road and highways, so depending on the state you live in, you may need a commercial driver’s license or a specific type of license based on the length and weight of your truck.

You’ll also want to watch out for zoning restrictions.

Since you’re selling goods, and foot traffic can create traffic problems, there are places that you can and can’t park.

Check your city ordinances to see if there are any restrictions.

If you’re on private property — like in a parking lot — contact the property owner to see if you can set up shop.

5. Start Serving From Your Very Own Food Truck How to start a food truck business: People wait in line at a fish & chips food truck

Once you have your menu, invest in your truck, and get your permits, it’s time to go to work.

The initial startup period is when you need to put in the most hours.

You will be spending time marketing, researching, and smoothing out your system.

Lots of hours will go into trial and error, figuring out the most popular menu items and the best places to park your truck.

But once you get your routine down, operations can flow smoothly.

You may not see the results overnight, but remember that the more effort you put into your business, the more revenue you can get out of it.

Stay Motivated

Your goal is to share your passion for food with others and to make money so you can keep doing it for years to come.

It all starts with a solid business plan.

Success may not come overnight but remember that you’ll only get more out of your business from the effort you put into it.

So what are you waiting for?

Get out there and start slinging street food in your food truck.

You’ll have a cult following in no time.

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