While food trucks are the hot trend in large cities such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, smaller cities are starting to see this phenomenon catch on. Restaurants on wheels can offer anything from pizza and sandwiches to gourmet ice cream or complex chicken dishes. Many would-be restaurateurs are turning to food trucks because of their relatively low start-up costs. Before you quit your day job in hopes of making big bucks driving around selling cupcakes or burgers, read on to find out the 10 things you need to know before beginning a food-truck business.
1 Check your local laws and ordinances.
Does your city even allow mobile food businesses? Some do, but only in certain areas. New Orleans, for example, doesn’t allow any mobile food vendor in the French Quarter except for the iconic Lucky Dog carts. Other cities allow a food truck, but insist that food be prepared at an off-site commercial kitchen first.
2 Get all your ducks in a row.
This includes your start-up plan and the money to fund it, along with all the necessary permits needed to operate in your city. Some cities, such as New York City, put a cap on the number of permits issued. A food truck must also be purchased or rented. While it’s still cheaper than a brick-and-mortar establishment, a food truck – even a used one – will still cost several thousand dollars. Prepare to seek financing through a bank, which will want to see a solid business plan, including information on your competitors.
3 Keep health and safety in mind at all times.
Health and safety are important in any food business. Take the necessary steps to ensure that food is served and stored in sanitary conditions. Consider how you will store food away from the truck, as well as while the food truck is operating. As part of your permitting process, a health inspector will walk you through the regulations before issuing your health license, which is needed to operate a food truck.
4 Check out the competition.
Your competition is not only other food trucks, but other restaurants that serve the same cuisine. You want to see what need the competition is not meeting for their customers so they can become your customers. Be unique. To build a loyal following, your food truck needs to stand out from the crowd.
5 Develop a strong brand and identity.
Once your menu is set, start thinking about your brand and identity. You want something memorable, likable and that will instill trust in your product. If you sell cupcakes, your brand will likely be colorful and cute. Is the menu filled with twists on different tacos? Red and green will probably factor into your color scheme. From your logo to the truck’s design, the look should be cohesive. Also, it’s never too early to think about franchises and establishing a strong brand from the beginning will only help in the future.
6 Presentation counts.
A strong restaurant is built on more than just great food. People want an entire experience when eating out, even if the food is purchased from a truck and consumed while walking. Everything – from the menu and uniforms all the way to the cups used – should be given great thought. You want to create such a memorable experience for customers that they’ll become repeat customers.
7 Location, location, location.
Where you decide to operate your food truck is essential in the success of your business. Park on a downtown street full of office buildings to catch the lunch crowd, or outside of nightclubs to get the late-night crowd.
8 Always remember that you’re running a business.
While you might have fun doing what you love all day long, don’t forget to keep an eye on the bottom line. Manage your unconventional truck just like you would a conventional restaurant. Details such as food costs, portion size, and supply vendors can determine how successful you ultimately are. Keeping an eye on the expenses in the beginning stages will allow you to rule the streets for years to come.
9 Embrace social media.
Not only is the majority of social media free, but utilizing tools such as Twitter and Foursquare can be a powerful advertising and marketing tool. Tweeting your location of the day, as well as specials or promotions keeps your food truck in people’s minds. Social media is a great way to communicate with your customers in a personal, one-on-one manner. Facebook and Yelp are more low-cost ways to engage with the public and spread the word about your business.
10 Think about expansion.
Future franchising or even adding a second food truck isn’t the only type of expansion possible. Many food truck owners multiply their profit by catering events during hours they don’t operate their food truck. With a great concept and a solid business plan, you can carve out your piece of the food-truck pie.