How to start a food truck business

Before you can share your food on wheels, you'll need to cook up a rock solid business plan.

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A food truck business can be the ultimate form of independence: not only do you run your own workplace but that workplace is mobile. However, it doesn’t mean that this kind of freedom is without its own obstacles. If you think you might be up to the challenge – and ready to reap the rewards – we’ve put together a brief guide to the ins and outs of starting a food truck business.

  1. How do I pick the type of food truck I want?
  2. What types can I choose from?
  3. How should I plan my menu?
  4. How do I finance my food truck?
  5. Licences and costs
  6. Insurance

How do I pick the type of food truck I want?

Start with research, including local food trends. Identifying those trends is important, and there are a few different variables to note when you think about what type of food truck you want:

  • The local market: is it saturated with a certain style of food? What can you serve people that they would want?
  • Your own cooking skills and equipment limitations
  • Types of food that are “food truck friendly”

The physical layout of the food truck itself might also have an impact on the types of food you’re able to offer.

What types can I choose from?

You don’t have to opt for the most expensive food truck on the market when you’re new to the food truck business. There are multiple options in your venue selections, including the following:

  • Food carts. These are small and mobile, ideal for targeting lunch and weekend crowds.
  • Food trucks. You’ll have more options here, both in terms of the quantities of food you can prepare and the venues you select.

As to your individual food style, consider choosing from these “big three” options:

  • Casual. Fried snacks and classic favourites tend to fall under the “casual” menu.
  • Gourmet. Look for a higher level of ingredients and produce them for casual eating.
  • Specialty. Do you live near the coast where seafood is king? Do you focus on a specific group of ingredients?

How should I plan my menu?

Choosing a menu comes down to two things: serving your market and dealing with the realities of local supply.

If you’ve chosen a seafood specialty food truck, for example, your menu should revolve around the best-quality ingredients you can find within the market. It may even vary depending on the suppliers you’re able to identify.

Make sure you get feedback from customers as you go. They’re ultimately the final “test” for all of your menu items and will determine the overall popularity of your food truck.

How do I finance my food truck?

You have a number of options when it comes to funding your food truck business. You will need to cover costs like the purchase of the truck itself, as well as fund any initial and ongoing business expenses. You can take advantage of one of the following finance options to help you cover costs:

  • Equipment finance
  • Business line of credit
  • Secured business loan
  • Unsecured business loan
  • Fixed-term business loan.

How to compare loans for your food truck business

Finding the right loan option for your food truck will depend on your specific financial situation. If you are just starting the business and need to purchase the vehicle and equipment, your loan needs won’t be the same as someone who’s expanding their existing business.

However, no matter what loan option you choose, there are some general features that you should consider before applying for a loan:

  • The loan amount. Different loan types will have different minimum and maximum borrowing amounts, so it’s important to consider why you need the funds before committing to a specific loan.
  • The interest rate. The rate you receive will also vary based on the type of loan you need. For example, a secured loan will generally have a lower rate than an unsecured loan.
  • Fees and charges. These include application or service fees as well as any fees or charges if you break the loan or fail to make repayments on time.
  • Loan terms. How long you want to repay the loan will narrow down which loan options are available to you.
  • Repayment schedule. While most loans will require you to make regular repayments against the amount you owe, the time frame will vary and some repayment schedules may suit some businesses better than others.

Licences and costs: a brief guide

Starting a food truck business does require that you jump a few hurdles, but that doesn’t mean it will be impossible. Because a food truck has to address the vital issue of food safety, you’ll be expected to qualify for basic food safety handling permits and licences. (See New Zealand Food Safety for the rules and regulations when starting a new food business.) Mobile food units face the same stringent requirements as restaurants.

And what about those costs? With food trucks, much of it is upfront – acquiring the truck itself. But you may also have to front the following ongoing expenses:

  • Maintaining, cleaning and replacing cooking equipment
  • Maintenance on the vehicle itself
  • Labour costs
  • Ongoing insurance costs

What types of insurance will I need to consider?

As is the case with any business that poses some potential risk to the public, you’ll want to make sure you have the proper insurance coverage for your food truck. You may want to look into the following insurance:

  • Vehicle coverage
  • Public liability
  • Damage and theft
  • Income coverage

Make sure that your public liability insurance coverage is comprehensive. This is true for all of the insurance you need for your food truck, but the wide exposure of food trucks to public liability means that a single lawsuit could potentially wipe out your business if you don’t have the proper coverage.

Tips for success

We know that it sounds like a lot of steps, but operating a food truck can still be the fun, independent venture you thought it would be. Here are a few tips for your ongoing success:

  • Buy the proper insurance upfront. The more you know your ongoing costs, the better you’ll be able to budget your business properly.
  • Make food safety a priority. Not only will it help the quality of your product, it will ensure you don’t run into trouble with regulators.
  • Serve your market. It’s not enough to serve food; you have to serve the food people want to eat in your local market. Take the time to properly research your niche and discover what people want.

With the right insurance, your business can feel like a proper restaurant – and this insurance coverage also makes for the right peace of mind. And since it’s that peace of mind that motivated you to get into a food truck in the first place, it’s an important part of maintaining a quality food truck business.

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