Starting a mobile restaurant, such as a chip wagon, is an excellent entry-level opportunity for entrepreneurs. Like a restaurant, successful chip wagons attract a regular and loyal clientele with a menu of American comfort foods, such as french fries, burgers, corn dogs and hot dogs. A chip wagon business rewards business acumen and hard work with measurable success factors, including bottom-line profit.
Research the required permits. In almost every city, you will be required to apply for a business permit, which is a relatively simple procedure. Most cities also require food operators to obtain a food-handling certificate prior to operating any type of restaurant. They may also require an inspection of the chip wagon itself to ensure it conforms to health department regulations. Contact your city's health department to determine what permits are required prior to opening.
Purchase or configure your chip wagon. Budding chip wagon owners can either purchase a used mobile kitchen or configure your own. Purchasing allows the business owner to start operations quickly, however building your own wagon provides much more flexibility in the equipment you have available to you. If you are considering purchasing a wagon, visit sites such as craigslist and eBay. If you are considering a custom-made unit, itemize a list of the equipment you need and approach a fabricator for a quote. You can find fabricators online or in restaurant trade magazines.
Develop a menu for your business. Using the equipment in your chip wagon as a guide, itemize each of the menu items you wish to sell. You can stick to deep-fried items or branch out into more exotic fare. Visit some of the chip wagons in your area and perform some competitive research. Notice what people are purchasing and use that as a guide for your own menu. You should focus on foods that can be prepared quickly to ensure you do not become bogged down during the lunchtime rush.
Choose a location for your chip wagon. Decide whether you want to locate your new business in a business area and cater to the lunchtime crowd, or whether a tourist area provides you with a better opportunity. If you are considering a location in a park or on a street, contact your city's permit office for regulations and availability. If you are considering a spot in a parking lot or on private property, negotiate a weekly or monthly lease with the owner.
Set your prices. With your menu items selected and location expenses determined, you are ready to determine your prices. Make 10 samples of each menu item and calculate the value of all the ingredients that were used. When you divide that by 10, you have a good approximation of the cost of each item. To this number, add a portion of the chip wagon's other expenses, including rent, staff and spoilage. Once you have the expense cost of each item, add your profit to determine the sale price. Compare your prices with those of your competitors to ensure you are not overly pricey or missing out on some additional profit.
Contact your city's health department early in the process to avoid surprises.
Keep your menu offerings simple at first, until you become used to your mobile kitchen.