If you’re a food enthusiast who longs to have your own food business but cannot afford to rent an expensive restaurant location, a food truck can be a great way to kick off your entrepreneurial dreams.
Investing in a food truck is also an excellent way to polish your cooking and business skills before you move on to bigger and better endeavors.
This guide covers everything you need to know about starting and growing a food truck business, from the budget to equipment, staff, permits, and food safety requirements needed for success.
How to Start a Food Truck Business — A Step-By-Step Breakdown
Starting a food truck business calls for hard work, perseverance, careful planning, and of course, a deep passion for food. If this seems like your calling, here are the steps you should follow.
Step 1 – Find Your Concept
A food concept refers to the type of cuisine you plan to serve, for example, an American BBQ food truck, Mexican tacos, or Italian-style pizza.
It’s important to narrow down your concept early on as it will determine your target market, menu items, and branding.
Importantly, don’t shy away from being bold and creative at this stage — this is the time to dream big and do something different from run-of-the-mill food trucks!
Once you’ve come up with a food concept, potential name, and theme for your truck, run some quick online checks to verify that your idea isn’t already taken.
Step 2 – Create a Business Plan
Once your concept is finalized, the next step is creating a thorough business plan detailing how you want to run your business.
If you’re planning on seeking loans or sharing your business with potential investors, make sure to present your plan in a manner that wins you funding. Here are some important average costs associated with a food truck business according to FoodDocs:
- Fuel — $600/month
- Wages — $28,442/year for a single cook
- Business insurance — $560/year
- Marketing costs — $1500-$3000
- Maintenance — $500-$1000
While you’re at work, also set aside time for research. Research your local community to identify the types of food trucks and businesses that already exist in your area, the kind of customer base you’ll be targeting with your location, what your competition looks like, and how your business is unique from others in your local area.
Step 3 – Go Shopping for a Truck
The most important step in your food business journey is buying a food truck and equipment. Your truck will be the heart of your business, so conduct thorough research to get the best possible truck you can.
You can either buy a fully-equipped truck, which will be decked and ready to go, or snag a deal with an empty truck and set it up yourself. Keep in mind the cost of a new vehicle can range from $50,000 to $175,000, so you’ll have to think about how you can fund your truck (a chattel mortgage or a hire purchase may be a good idea).
Also make sure to research your local legislation to ensure you meet the requirements for purchasing, renting, or owning a food truck and that your equipment meets all safety and hygiene standards.
Here are some critical permits/regulations you should look out for:
- Food safety requirements (safety management systems, HACCP plan, etc.)
- Business license and registration
- Fire certificates from your local fire department
- Seller’s Permit
- Vehicle license
- Employee identification number
- Zoning and parking restrictions
You should also consider investing in technology, such as an efficient point-of-sales (POS) system, that’ll help you run an efficient business.
Step 4 – Think About Marketing
Building a restaurant branding strategy is very important for the success of your food truck. You can have the best food truck in the world, but it’s going to be useless if nobody knows about it.
When it comes to modern marketing, it’s a good idea to use social media for establishing an online presence and conducting some free marketing. Craft catchy and unique headlines, communicate when and where your business will begin serving, launch promotional campaigns, and share drool-worthy pictures and videos of your food to catch the local crowd’s interest. Automating some of this workflow with various workflow automation software would help you save a lot of time.
In addition, make sure your food truck business has these key branding elements:
- A website
- A food truck brand, including your values, a logo, color scheme, or mascot
- Social media accounts (Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook)
- Promotions through emails, SMS, calls, online, and TV advertisements
- Local SEO, which will help local customers find your business online. You can get started by DIY-ing at first and then hire a professional to set up a digital marketing program once you start generating revenue.
Step 5 – Build a Team
Once you’ve got your business’ location, truck, and equipment figured out, you now need to hire people that’ll help run your truck with you!
Your staff can make or break the success of your business, so make sure to carefully choose a team that you can see yourself working with long-term.
You’ll spend long hours together in a fast-paced environment and cramped quarters, so ensure your team members are hard-working, determined, and easy to get along with.
Send out advertisements letting your local community know you’re hiring, and conduct detailed interviews and background checks before letting anyone on board.
If possible, consider hiring family members as family-run businesses tend to stand out from the crowd and attract more attention if marketed properly.
Step 6 – Source Food Supplies
You’re now ready to purchase ingredients, foods, cutlery, packaging, and other supplies you need to get started.
If you’re aiming to stay in the business long-term, try to find reliable, trustworthy, and honest suppliers and develop tight-knit partnerships that will benefit you both in the future.
Step 7 – Do a Test Run
With everything on board, it’s finally time to put yourself out there!
Consider conducting a small-scale test run of your food and equipment by serving close family and friends before you announce your business open to the public.
Once you get the good-to-go, market yourself to your local community to begin establishing a customer base. Offer food samples or discount deals for the first week or so of your business, and spread the word through social media to reel in the foodie crowd.
Also, don’t be afraid to test your menu, locations, and pricing to see how your customer base responds. If necessary, partner with other local trucks and businesses to establish yourself in the local scene.
Finally, be open to feedback and critique — the more feedback you gather at this stage, the more you can improve your business. Plus, responding positively to feedback helps you make loyal customers.
Food Truck Business Simplified
Food trucks have the potential to grow into local favorites.
Your food could become a grumpy office worker’s favorite thing on a busy day or a child’s perfect morning meal on their way to school.
So dream big, be bold, and work hard — the rest will be history. Good luck!
Eva Maria Hanson is a Digital Food Safety Specialist. Her mission in FoodDocs is to reverse the misconception of people thinking about food safety as the most boring or scary topic in the business. Her target is to educate and inspire everyone who sells or serves food about food safety.