How to Start a Food Truck Business

Order up success with this complete guide on starting a food truck business.

Scene from a food truck
November 18, 2022
Mollie Jackman
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Reading time about 7 min

You don’t have to scroll through trending Netflix shows to know that foodie culture is big, and food trucks offer restaurateur dreamers an economically viable way to break into the restaurant scene. This path can save you money and serves as a built-in marketing tactic. And having a mobile business is a great way to spread the word about your concept, exposing new customers to your brand and product.

According to foodtruckoperator.com, the average cost to start a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the U.S. is around $67,000. Compare this amount with the $20,000 startup cost of a food truck, which is over 70% lower. The unconventionality of mobile kitchens allows business owners to experiment with more niche food options like fusion, regional, and uncommon international cuisines.

Follow these steps and tips for how to start a food truck to launch your business and watch your dreams take off.

Person holding the key to a new food truck

Starting a Food Truck

Ready to take the first steps to set up your food truck business? Starting with the basics, we’ll walk you through choosing a successful concept, ensuring you have the correct permits and plans, and acquiring your start-up necessities (you know, like the actual truck).

 

Complete Market Research

Even if you already have a food truck business concept in mind, it’s important to ensure a market for your product. Maybe you make the world’s best falafel tacos, but it might be an uphill battle tempting folks in your area away from their beloved Asian cuisines.

Pause here and conduct careful research regarding your food offerings and even the name of your business.

 

Create a Business Plan

You’ve got your market analysis in hand. Now you can create your [food truck business plan]. Don’t skip this step — even if you think you have everything mapped out in your mind. You can start by downloading a food truck business plan template or by adding the following to your business plan:

  • A summary of your concept, brand, products, and goals. Establishing these gives your food truck business integrity as you build and grow.
  • Market research information, including demographics, market size, and how your truck will meet your customers' needs. A key question to ask at this stage is: “what makes my business stand out?”
  • Representation of your business and management structure. How many employees will you have, what are their jobs, and how will promotions be handled? It's important to show that you're organized and plan to manage all aspects of your business.
  • Your price structure, where you’ll calculate your cost to operate and how much you need to charge for your menu items to turn a profit. Don’t forget to factor in paying yourself a reasonable wage.
  • Your marketing plan starts with how you’ll announce the launch of your business. It’s a good idea to reach out to local broadcasting and publication organizations to help spread the word and build hype around the newest food truck in town — yours!
  • Financial projections, including any funding requests. These documents are important to include in your plan and show investors the financial longevity of your business.
  • Any additional information you think is relevant can be added to a final section that incorporates miscellaneous items of importance.

 

Acquire Permits & Licensing

Food trucks require slightly different certifications than brick-and-mortar restaurants. You’ll need more than just a simple business license and food permits to get your truck up and running. Check out some of the specialized permits you may need to acquire.

 

Start Raising Capital

Once you’ve completed your business plan and started the licensing process, it’s time to start collecting funds to get your food truck rolling (pun intended). If you have startup funds already saved, great! But if not, there are a few ways you can go about gathering start-up money:

  • Request sponsorships from local businesses.
  • Talk to friends and family about investing in your truck.
  • Open a business credit card (check out these options specifically recommended for food truck businesses!).
  • Look into small business loans from a bank or credit union.
  • Start a crowdfunding page.

 

Get Your Truck

Owning a truck seems necessary to start your business, but did you know you can also lease a food truck? While leasing may offer a different level of personalization, it can be a great way to get started with less funding. Take into account any customizations you'd like to add when determining what food truck to buy or lease, and check out this guide to choosing a food truck to ensure you've covered all the necessities.

Person paying for food at a food truck.

Running a Food Truck

Congratulations, you’ve successfully made it through the startup phase of your food truck business! Now it’s time to get into the details and discuss how to operate. Answering the following questions will help you make sure you’ve got your operation fine-tuned.

 

How Will You Prep?

You've likely already considered food prep when planning your food truck concept and business model, but now it's time to implement those plans. Working with limited space inside your vehicle, it's essential to prep and compose your dishes to a science.

 

What Will You Need?

You've got the truck; you've got the plan. Now it's time to fill it with all the necessary equipment and supplies to serve your delicious dishes. Check out this extensive list of food truck supplies that covers cooking equipment and everything you need to serve food, store it, keep it warm, and clean it up when you finish the day.

 

How Will They Pay?

Food truck? Check. Equipment and food prep? Check. Payment? Let's talk about it. Of course, there's always the cash-only model that some trucks still use, but today it's much more likely customers only have a card on hand. Whether you'd like to use a full POS (point of sale) system or a mobile-based service, several food truck POS apps and devices would be great assets to your operation.

 

Who Will You Hire?

Aside from the quality of your food, the staff of your food truck is one of the most critical factors. So much of your marketing takes place as you travel around town, post at different locations, and serve your local clientele. The right staff will get customers excited about your food and your business.

How to hire food truck employees

Food truck owner promote business online.

Growing Your Food Truck

You’re officially up and running, and now it’s time to look to the future of your food truck business. How can you take your successful food truck concept and create something even more profitable?

 

Marketing & Advertising

One of the best things about a food truck business is that it functions as an advertisement for itself. As you drive your truck around town, it acts like a moving billboard — announcing your presence to everyone in the area. Other successful food truck marketing methods include:

  • Developing a strong social media presence.
  • Creating engagement with your followers.
  • Pairing up with other local businesses for pop-ups.
  • Offering a way to order food online.

Explore these and other food truck marketing tips from Toast.

 

Expansions

When your food truck takes off, demand may become higher than you can meet with just one truck. Consider expanding your food truck business by building a fleet of vehicles or adding a brick-and-mortar location to serve a broader customer base.

 

Optimized Strategy

As your business starts to boom, your strategy should match pace. Whether this means adjusting your menu, hiring more employees, buying a bigger vehicle, or raising prices — among other approaches to help ensure the success of your food truck — you’ll have to adjust along the way.

There's a lot to consider when learning how to start a food truck, but you can keep it organized and armed with the right tips and advice. If you follow the steps outlined above, you and your truck will be on the road to success in no time. You can also learn more general tips for starting a business to set you up for success!

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