How to start a food truck business 101

Updated: Jan 18

You are walking down South Beach in Miami and smell that roasted pork from miles away. Upon walking closer, what you see is a mouthwatering classic Cubano made out of this vibrant food truck. Attached to the food truck, you notice a massive line. Some people would say it’s the meaty aroma and the melted cheese scent that attracts customers from every corner. We like to think it’s a combination of food, a Chef, and their team who have a goal of touching people's souls through food. Whatever it is and what matters is the culinary art and happiness you can find at food trucks.


So how does one start a food truck, and why are they becoming more common, you might be asking yourself. The truth is that there are many answers, but all of them bring dreams and goals to life. Below you will find essential information and steps on how to start a food truck and what you can expect along the line.



Table of contents



The basics of how to start a food truck.


What skills do you need to start a food truck?

To start your food truck, you need to have various skills depending on what your role will be. Understand that you can't do everything, but general skills such as basic business practices, culinary arts, and marketing with get you quite far already.


How to define your food truck theme.

Since the culinary world has endless possibilities methods of creating and serving food, you can't treat all food trucks the same. Some chefs know that their food truck will just be serving tacos or burgers, while others might be working on a concept to discover what catches on with people and food critics. The beauty of it is that it can be whatever you want it to be, and adjust the theme as you go. So if you plan on just serving delicious burgers, perhaps going with a familiar catchy name might be your best bet. Why is this important to define the theme? It depends while a standard kitchen can get you far, some recipes are made in a particular way and require specific appliances to get the best results.


What your budget needs to look like to get a food truck started.

As you plan on getting started, good financial planning combined with your culinary skills is your bread and butter to get your line cooks and cashier in action. Start by projecting what equipment and inventory you need and, on top of that, labor cost, which will prepare you for the future.


Cost of Vehicle/ Truck.

Scope out what your food truck needs and what you want it to be. If you start searching, you will see many varieties from concession trailers to common food trucks such as a Chevrolet Step Van to the Rolls Royce of food trucks. The costs associated with a specific model and year you will choose can range from $20,000+ to $100,000+, so choose wisely.


(To get a second opinion, either ask other food truck owners for some advice on choosing the right vehicle for your needs. Or if you are certain what you are looking forroaminghunger.com provides an excellent selection across the country)


Equipment.

Depending on the type of cuisine you are going with, your cost can vary. If you are purchasing your food truck used or standard, some equipment might be included already. However, if your project requires customization or need additional equipment, you may be looking at an average cost of $45,000+

Items such as:

  • Pots and pans

  • Fryers

  • Refrigerator

  • Electric appliances (Such as a blender)

  • Cleaning materials

  • Sink and more


Inventory.

Your startup cost might range anywhere from $1000+ to $2000+. As you continue to operate, this could change if the frequency of your business hours and customer demand increases. We suggest reviewing the JIT system as you can learn and apply some of these methods.


Operating.

Before and after you bought your vehicle and got everything sorted out the way you wanted to, you can account for your maintenance and operating costs. So what does your operating cost look like for a food truck? Your expected cost can look like this:

  • Payroll/ Hiring cost

  • POS System

  • Fuel expenses

  • Utilities (water, gas, air-condition, electricity)

  • Equipment repairs

Licensing.

Before you get out there and start operating, you need to make sure you have all licenses and permits in place, such as insurance, parking permits, food service license, and business license. Depending on the area/ city you want to operate in, your cost can vary, but the average spending will be around $25,000.





How to register your food truck.


Pick an available name.

Before proceeding with your registration process, we suggest you do a little bit of research to see what names have been taken in your state. There are a few ways to go about this. You can research and then develop a name that isn't taken, make a list of alternative names you can choose from, or ad a word or extra letter to get close to your desired business name.


Get your business license.

Visit your state's government's website there you can typically find license information and application fees. Keep in mind that some states have different requirements for starting a business. Such as registering your business in the country, not just the state.


Get your food service license.

In order to be able to sell food products within your state, you first need to obtain a food service license. You can typically apply for a license at your local health department.


Get your parking permit.

Before you park your food truck, just anywhere. You can find out what type of parking permit you need by visiting your county clerk's office and obtain a permit there.





Employ your food truck business.


Define your hiring needs.

Food trucks have different hiring needs than a typical restaurant would, but yet similar. For example, if it's just you and your business partner starting out and notice after a while, you are having issues balancing orders and cooking time. You might either need to hire an additional cook or cashier.


How to write your job descriptions.

Writing a strong job description can be time-consuming and challenging. However, there are templates out there that you can adjust. If you need some advice on this subject, read our article on writing job ads in hospitality.


If you have a business account on Grit already and want to make it easier for yourself. Email our team team@grithp.com and receive job templates into your business account that you can edit to your liking and post your job ads when you are done.


Review applicants.

Using ATS software is common to streamline the process. However, as you start your food truck, it might be better to save some cost and do the work manually. If you have enough funds leveraging an ATS such as greenhouse can speed up the process and make your hiring process a little bit easier.


One of the largest complaints food truck and restaurant managers have is that during the hiring journey managers have a hard time getting a grasp of an applicant their character before the interview. With our pre-video interview tool, managers can request an introduction or answer screening questions from job seekers on video. Making the process hiring process easier.


Interview process.

When finding your potential candidates, set up an in person interview or virtual, in-person can make your decision process of hiring a candidate a lot easier since you can discover more quality information. Virtual can create the same effect and save time for both parties. Either way works but setting up a face to face interview is crucial to discover more qualifications and if the candidate will meet the team chemistry.


Giving the job offer.

Write a job offer letter with a summary of the position, duties, and salary/ hourly wage.



Follow your business model.


Have a food truck business plan.

Your business plan/ model will be your guide. It's a document that explains your value, services, target audience, industry competitors, marketing strategies, partnerships and vendors, and income source.


Why is having a business plan so important? It will become a crucial part of your business when you are selling investors on it. Or something to look back to if you need to realign some things. The Balance Small Business does a great job of explaining how to create one.




Market your business.


Marketing your food truck and it's cuisine.

The food and beverage landscape has become more competitive than ever. Consumers are on social media and other websites to look for reviews and look at the food restaurants, food trucks, and chefs creating in their area. Therefore, it is crucial that you maintain an online presence to your best capability. You don't need to post every day but keep it consistent.


General marketing tips:

  • Give out free samples

  • Create a loyalty program

  • Cater for a company or local events

  • Partner with food bloggers

  • Create a presence on social media


Social media channels to consider:

  • Instagram - Perfect for showcasing food and your team

  • TikTok - Quick videos of anything that is relevant to your food truck.

  • Youtube - Requires more in-depth content, but best practice could be vlogging style.

  • Pinterest - A canvas to discover and find creative ideas. Such as recipes and more.

  • Facebook - Tends to share some relevance with Instagram. A place to share food and anything people would care about emotionally positive or negative if you are into that sort of thing.

  • Twitter- is used mainly for notifying people, either for news or announcements.

As you are starting your food truck business, we suggest you define your target audience and use 1-3 social media channels they would spend most of their time on. If you try to do more, you will most likely get overwhelmed. By limiting social media channels, you ensure a balance in your business practices and continue to focus your time on the essential parts of your business. Ensuring you can produce quality content for your business that your audience will enjoy and engage with.



What are the benefits of starting a food truck?


Food trucks are affordable.

Compared to starting a restaurant, food trucks are pretty affordable. Your startup cost can range anywhere from $25,000 to $120,000, depending on your region, food truck model, equipment, and license. With the right location, your earning can be roughly $300,000 per year.


Food trucks can test out new locations.

As a restaurant or coffee shop, you don't have the ability to move your business around as quickly as a food truck. Having your business on wheels allows you to test out new locations to maximize profits. Versus a restaurant that is in a permanent location has to rely on bringing customers to where they are.


Free advertising.

Businesses in a standing location have to put effort into advertising to ensure foodies are aware of their brand. On the other hand, food trucks are a moving billboard, which is why some of them have vibrant colors and intense designs that grab people their attention from across the street right away.


A food truck can be great to build a brand or to expand on.

As mentioned before, restaurants require a significant investment compared to food trucks. With a food truck, you have more flexibility and control. Therefore, it is easier to build your brand because you have less to worry about. By keeping your cost lower, you may be able to add a fleet of new trucks in the future. And if you continue to network with the right people, you could attract investors who would love to partner up with you to open up restaurant locations if that's one of your goals.


Experimentation lab.

Food trucks typically have a smaller menu, which allows them to make menu changes without customers noticing it very quickly. Compared to restaurants, customers expect specific dishes on the menu, which makes it hard. If it's their favorite cocktail or appetizer, it doesn't matter. They come to experience something in particular because they are aware you are serving that. In comparison, a food truck has more flexibility because it tends to be a spontaneous purchase, but not always.


Exploring catering opportunities.

These days, restaurants also do catering, but they tend to be more limited with what they can provide since they can't transport food easily. In comparison, food trucks can bring the kitchen to the event and, by doing so bringing quality flavor to the party since they don't have to worry about transporting food in a specific way and can cook it on the spot. In conclusion, food trucks have the upper hand to win business and grow their brand locally compared to restaurants when it comes to catering.



Now that you know the most important key points of starting a food truck business. It will be a little bit easier to bring your vision to life and make people smile through the cuisine you will provide them with. Whether it's Greek, barbecue, Mexican or Chinese cuisine, or a coffee shop on wheels, there is want, need and place for all sorts of food trucks out there!



For additional resources on food truck information, view the below links.


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