Before your food truck hits the road, you have much planning to do: You must figure out what type of business you want, such as a gourmet food truck with high-end offerings or a mobile catering truck focused on serving events and parties. As a mobile food establishment, your compactness can serve you in good stead -- you can reach out to a broader swath of potential clients than a brick-and-mortar restaurant -- however, you still have to go through a bureaucratic maze to get up and running.
Find and Outfit Your Vehicle
As your largest expense, your truck is a key investment. You can choose from two different types of food trucks: the mobile food preparation vehicle, where you make the food to order, or the industrial catering vehicle, which carries only prepackaged foods. Expect to pay $30,000 for a used retrofitted food truck, says Entrepreneur magazine, or as much as $100,000 for a new truck retrofitted with new equipment. As a mobile business, expect to do routine maintenance, as well as keep your food truck supplied with gasoline and cooking fuels. Startup costs can include commissary rentals, point-of-sale systems and wages.
Hone Your Concept, Tweak Your Recipes
Given the constraints of space, your food truck has to pack a wallop within the confines of a small yet tightly focused menu. Figure out your specialty and stick to it, advises business software company BPlans, and make up for quantity with high-quality offerings. Entrepreneur advises spending at least a few months testing and retesting your recipes on friends and colleagues. Make sure the food can be made in large batches and is easy to serve and transport. When sourcing ingredients, look to local suppliers as well as wholesale food distributors, bulk vendors, farmer's markets and cooperatives.
Get Licensed and Inspected
On the administrative side of the food truck business, you must deal with health inspections, licenses and permits. To prepare for your inspection, contact your local health department for its specific rules and regulations. Inspectors may check appliances and water temperature and ensure fire extinguishers are available. You may be required to furnish documents such as approved food establishment applications, food safety certifications and a valid driver's license. Other required papers may include your menu, labels and proof of liability insurance. For licenses, pay any fees and take required fire-safety classes, as directed.
As a restaurant-on-the-go, your food truck isn't stuck to one location and can take advantage of different kinds of foot traffic. Your chosen spot(s) must strike a balance between observing parking ordinances, encompassing a customer-base that enjoys your foods at those locations and being accessible during prime mealtime hours. As a newcomer to the food truck scene, you may face stiff competition from already established trucks. Entrepreneur suggests staking your turf at potentially overlooked sites such as empty lots, sports venues, conferences, bus and train stations and business districts.
- Entrepreneur: Food Trucks 101; How to Start a Mobile Food Business
- Money Crashers: 10-Step Plan for How to Start a Mobile Food Truck Business
- Business Journals: So You Want to Be a Food Truck Vendor?
- BPlans: The Beginner’s Guide to Launching a Food Truck Business
- Mobile Cuisine: What Does It Really Cost to Start a Food Truck Business?
- Cindy Ord/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images