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How to start a food truck business

Are you ready to start your food business on wheels?


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Serve an experience your customers will love by planning out your food truck to a T. You’ll need to consider eye-catching designs and tasty menus, your financial situation and the proper licenses to do business in your area. Take the time to research the business now, so you can turn your mobile restaurant dream into a reality.

What type of food truck should I get?

Food trucks come in many shapes and sizes, and you can deck yours out in whatever style suits you and your ideal customers’ fancy.

Vehicle options

Consider the benefits of using these food trucks:

  • Cart. This small version of a truck costs less up front and works well for targeting lunch and weekend crowds.
  • Trailer. This option gives you ample space and may cost less to purchase. But you’ll need a truck or SUV to tow it around.
  • Truck. You’ll have more options with the types of food you can serve and places you can park. But it does come with higher overhead.
  • Bus. You can offer customer seating or expand your menu. But parking might pose a bigger challenge than other types of vehicles.

Cuisine style

How you get around is only part of the equation. What you serve will likely play a big part in shaping the type of truck you end up running.

  • Casual. Fried finger foods and quick traditional favorites tend to fall under the casual menu.
  • Gourmet. Elevate your menu with fresh local produce and higher-quality ingredients.
  • Specialty. Focus on a specific group of ingredients, healthy meals or build around common dietary restrictions.

How should I plan for my food truck business?

If you want to dabble in this hot food trend, each phase of planning will take some research. Get your business off to a healthy start with ideas that are well thought out and thoroughly explored:

  1. Research the market. To start, talk with veteran food truckers about what it takes to run a food truck in your area. Look at popular restaurants for ideas and find the best food truck spots.
  2. Write a business plan. See this formal writeup as an organization exercise. To complete the business plan, you’ll have to figure out details like how you plan to run your food truck, market it and how many sales you need to make a profit.
  3. Nail the design. Because your logo, menu boards and the truck itself all act as marketing tools, you’ll want a stellar design that attracts your customers.
  4. Test your ideas. Consider testing any concepts, designs or menu items out before investing too much. For example, you might cater a few events without a food truck first or test a new menu item at a farmer’s market.

How much does it cost to start a food truck?

Getting the supplies and right food truck to start a business can add up in a hurry. You might start a food cart with as little as $5,000, but you can expect a truck to run between $50,000 and $100,000. Some food truck businesses even cost more, especially if you’re buying brand new.

Besides the truck itself, you’ll likely spend thousands on licenses and permits. Then, you’ll likely need to rent or buy a commercial kitchen to store your food. Other items you should budget for include: food and inventory, employee payroll, insurance, taxes, fuel, your point-of-sale system and vehicle maintenance.

How should I finance my food truck?

You have a number of options for funding your mobile restaurant, such as:

  • Business line of credit. Use a credit line to pay for nearly any expense while only paying interest on the amount you leave unpaid, similar to a credit card.
  • Equipment financing. Find financing for the equipment you need to get started.
  • Microloan. Take out a small business loan to fund a few main expenses.
  • Traditional business loan. If you need access to more funds, you might compare standard business loan options with the most affordable repayments.

What permits and licenses will I need?

To protect customers and keep food safety a priority, mobile food units face similar licensing requirements as restaurants. Licenses or certification you might need include the following:

  • Business license to do business in your city or county
  • Commercial driver’s license
  • Health department license to get the proper health inspections
  • Food handler’s permit to ensure you know proper food safety
  • Zoning, parking or sign permits based on your local area

What insurance do I need for a food truck?

You’ll want to make sure you have the proper coverage to protect your business and your customers from accidents. You may need these types of insurance:

  • Commercial vehicle. Your truck should have the proper commercial vehicle coverage to meet state requirements like liability, underinsured motorist and personal injury protection. Plus, consider collision and comprehensive coverage to protect against physical damage to your truck caused by an accident, storm or theft.
  • Workers’ compensation. You’ll probably need workers’ compensation to cover injuries that could happen with your employees working in tight quarters.
  • Commercial property. Protect your business equipment and inventory from theft or weather damage caused by a wild storm.
  • General liability. Cover a variety of liability situations, including customer injuries, property damage, false accusations or advertising injuries.
  • Business owner’s package. This package includes general liability, commercial property and business interruption or lost income insurance.
  • Public liability. This extra coverage can protect you against injuries and damage that happen while being served at your food truck, such as tripping on equipment.
  • Product liability. Covers situations like customer food poisoning from spoiled ingredients.

What should I watch out for?

Building a mobile food business comes with a few challenges that you can meet if you plan ahead of time. Those challenges include:

  • Serve the food and atmosphere your customers crave. Rather than opening a food truck that fits your feeding whims, think about the cuisine people in your area want.
  • Consider renting a commercial kitchen. Some local laws require food trucks to store or prepare food at a commercial kitchen. You may need to rent a shared kitchen, rent from a restaurant during closed hours or find a local church with a qualifying facility.
  • Research local food suppliers. You could save money on food shipments by planning a menu around cheap local food.
  • Keep seasonality in mind. Your food truck may not be bustling all year long, so you’ll need to make enough money during the busy season to offset the rest. You can also get creative with events, catering and business partnerships to keep business hopping.
  • Accept credit cards to get the most customers. Not everyone carries cash, and you could be alienating customers if you don’t take cards. You can compare payment processors to find one with mobile solutions for your truck.

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Bottom line

Driving your food business around town poses its own unique challenges. You can mark one huge task off your list by securing financing for your food truck.

Frequently auestions about starting a food truck business

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