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How to Start a Food Truck

How To Start A Food Truck

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In the not-too-distant past, food trucks were a novelty – something that you might see in a touristy area or at a festival. Today, food trucks are a staple in downtowns, near bars, and at events throughout the country. In fact, according to a recent study, the food truck industry has grown an average 6.6% per year between 2016 and 2021 – and has a market size of $1.2 billion in the U.S.

Starting a food truck is an attractive option for many entrepreneurs, particularly given the lower initial costs compared to opening a restaurant. That doesn’t mean that having your own food truck is easy – or that it doesn’t require a lot of planning. Like any food business, opening up your own food truck requires a solid business plan, the proper licenses and permits, marketing, and more.

At Budget Branders, we understand the challenges of running your own business. We are dedicated to helping small to medium-sized companies like yours succeed, by offering custom-branded disposable products at prices and in quantities that make sense. Whether you’re opening a restaurant, bar, coffee shop, or food truck, we can help you take your marketing to the next level with branded cups, bowls, coffee sleeves, and bags.

Pros & Cons of Opening A Food Truck

Before venturing into starting a food truck, it’s important to first decide if running a food truck business will make sense for you. While a food truck can provide many opportunities for ambitious entrepreneurs, there can also be some challenges to overcome as well. 

Pros of Running A Food Truck

  • Increased flexibility: Food trucks give owners greater control over their business. It’s easier for food truck owners to adjust business hours and food menus. You couldn’t run a restaurant as a side-hustle, but you could run a food truck as a side-hustle. 
  • More mobility: When you open a traditional restaurant, you only get one shot to pick the right location for your business. The mobile nature of a food truck allows owners to test multiple locations to find the sweet spots that drive the most business. Your location can also change based on the day or time of day. You may end up parking in the business district for lunch on weekdays and near a public park for dinner on weekends. 
  • Additional tax deductions: Running a food truck can provide additional tax deductions that you wouldn’t get owning a traditional restaurant. Food truck owners can deduct various expenses, including truck storage rental fees and the truck itself. 

Cons of Running A Food Truck

  • High competition: The food truck industry has grown significantly in the past five years. Higher competition means it could be more difficult to create a concept that will stand out from existing food trucks in your area. 
  • Long hours: While you do get to set your own hours of operation, there is a lot of time that can go into maintaining the truck, booking events, cleaning, and finding locations to park. Aspiring food truck owners should be prepared to spend hours on these activities. 
  • Restrictive zoning laws: Local ordinances and zoning restrictions can make it difficult to find locations to park your truck. There may also be restrictions on how long a truck can stay in a specific location, which further complicates operations. Truck owners will have to research and stay on top of restrictions to stay in business. 

If starting and operating a food truck sounds like the kind of exciting and challenging adventure you’d enjoy, you’ll be able to get your food concept up and running in six steps.

Step 1: Make a Business Plan

The first – and most important – step in starting any business is to write a business plan. This plan serves two primary purposes. Not only is it necessary to raise funding for your venture, but it also will be a roadmap for how your company will be run.

A business plan should include several key items, including your concept, a sample menu, design ideas, market overview, target market, management team, business structure, marketing, financials, and any consultants that you plan to use. Drafting a business plan can be time-consuming, but it is well worth the effort. Digging into these details now will benefit you over time, as it will make it that much easier to make decisions about how you will run your business.

While it may be tempting to skip this step – particularly if you don’t need to raise capital for your food truck – make sure that you get it done. There are a number of samples available online that can help you through the process.

Step 2: Figure Out Costs and Equipment

When writing your business plan, you should have already devoted some energy towards determining how much it will cost to start your own food truck. If you have a comprehensive plan in place, it should be a good reference for your expenses.

During this preliminary stage, you should spend a good amount of time getting solid estimates of your costs, including:

  • Ingredients and food
  • The truck itself
  • Equipment 
  • Salary and benefits for employees
  • Maintenance and repairs to your truck and equipment
  • Technology, such as a point of sale system
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Permits and licenses
  • Insurance
  • Fuel

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, food truck entrepreneurs spend an average of $28,276 on permits, licenses and legal compliance to start and operate a food truck for one year. These costs may vary by location, with food truck-friendly cities like Denver having far lower costs than cities like Boston.

While opening a food truck can be less expensive than running a restaurant, a lot will depend on your choices at this planning stage. For example, a custom food truck could cost you anywhere from $75,000 to $150,000. Retrofitting a used truck typically costs less – but it all depends on the type of set up you plan to install. Kitchen-grade appliances like fryers, ovens, griddles, and refrigerators can cost thousands of dollars.

Step 3: Get Necessary Approvals, Licenses, and Permits

Any food business must comply with various rules and regulations in order to operate. These laws may seem onerous, but are designed to ensure that the food that people purchase is safe for consumption. To comply with these regulations, you will likely need approval from the local Board of Health, along with multiple types of licenses and permits.

Your best bet is to consult with an attorney who specializes in this area of law. Depending on where you are located, you may need:

As noted above, obtaining these licenses and permits can be costly. Be sure to account for these expenses in your budget, including renewal and other ongoing fees.

Step 4: Figure Out the Basics of Your Operations

Once you have determined the financial and legal details of your business, it is time to think about how exactly you will operate your food truck. Questions to consider include:

  • Will you prepare ingredients and dishes in advance, or cook to order for each customer? 
  • Can your recipes be made in large quantities? 
  • How easy will it be to serve your food?
  • Will customers be able to eat your food easily while walking at an event?
  • Where will you sell your food?
  • Do you need a permit to park in a particular location?
  • Will you use a point-of-sale system?
  • How will you run your day-to-day business?
  • What days of the week will you operate?
  • Will you cater special events?

Thinking about the practicalities of your day-to-day operations is a critical aspect of having a successful food truck. After all, if you make delicious food, but don’t have a great spot to sell it, then you probably won’t turn a profit. Similarly, if your food can’t easily be served in a take-out box, bowl, or cup, then it probably won’t work as a concept.

Step 5: Hire Employees

When you first open your food truck, you may be able to operate without employees. However, as you grow, you will probably need to add part-time or full-time staff to make sure that you can meet customer demand. 

Keep in mind that you will be working in tight quarters with whomever you hire. This means that you should actually like and want to spend time with any employees you bring on board. 

Any employees that you hire will need to go through an onboarding process. They may also need specific permits or badges in order to work in your food truck. Consult with a legal expert to determine what, if anything, you will need to do to hire staff for your food truck.

Step 6: Start Promoting Your Food Truck

Most businesses aren’t successful simply because they offer a great product or service. Instead, their profitability is based at least in part on their marketing efforts. After all, you can have the best and most innovative food in town and if no one knows about it, your food truck will flop.

There are a number of tactics that you can use to promote your food truck. For most businesses, it makes sense to use a number of strategies to advertise, such as:

  • Social media
  • A website
  • A grand opening
  • Traditional print advertising
  • Giveaways and other promotions

Remember that having a mobile business means that your marketing strategy has to be adaptable. If you are in different locations or at different events each week, then make sure that your fans know where they can find you. This may involve publishing a weekly or monthly schedule, or doing regular social media updates to let people know where you will be.

Let Us Help You Build a Better Food Truck Experience

Running a food truck isn’t for the faint of heart. It often involves long hours in a hot, cramped space, and always working on evenings and weekends. If you do it right, however, you could make a nice profit with a food truck.

At Budget Branders, we want to partner with your business to help make it a success. Our high quality disposable products are perfect for food trucks. As customers walk around with their food and drink from your truck, they’ll be doing your advertising for you – and bringing in even more customers.

If you need custom-branded disposable  branded cups, bowls, bags, and more for your food truck, we’re here to help.  To learn more or to request a quote, contact us today by pressing the live chat button, or sending us a message online.


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