8 steps to setting up a food truck

Posted 7 months ago in Small Business Tips
by Megan Jensen

Maybe you’ve thought of opening a restaurant, but don’t have enough working capital to start with a brick-and-mortar storefront. A food truck could be a good alternative. Lower overhead, the ability to move locations if a certain place doesn’t generate enough revenue, and no need to pay wait staff or dishwashers. 

While it may not be the simplest business to set up, you can be super successful if you’ve got a unique offering and good places to sell.

Here’s a helpful path to take if you’re thinking about opening a food truck.


1. Come up with a plan

A well-thought-out business plan is essential to the success of any new business. What are you going to sell? How are you going to sell it? Where are you going to sell it? How are you going to make it? How much will your supplies cost? How much will you charge customers for it? What is your target time for breaking even? How long will it take you to turn a profit? All of these are important questions to ask before you jump in with both feet. A good plan provides a blueprint to help you know exactly what you need for your business to be successful.


2. Create a branding strategy and choose a target audience

Your brand is one of the most important facets of your business, since it’s how people will think of you and remember you. What type of image do you want for yourself? What types of customers are you going to target? Do you want the messy BBQ, picnic table image, or are you going for a higher end, gourmet, more sophisticated feel? The answers to these questions will determine your menu, your uniforms, your way of greeting customers, the supplies you use, how you present your food, and how you market yourself.


3. Plan your menu and find a supplier

Having a unique menu is key to your success. You don’t want to sell the same items that too many other trucks are selling. Take some time to find out what types of food are already in the area, and find a way to make your offering stand out. What can you sell that no one else in the area is selling? How can you put your unique spin on a well-known item?

Finding a supplier should be one of your least difficult challenges, as there are generally many options for restaurant and concession supply. Search for food suppliers in your area (the closer the better), as well as restaurant equipment supply stores where you can get your kitchen implements and disposable products at a better price than regular retailers.  Once you’ve got your costs nailed down, you can accurately price your menu. 


4. Get a license

Depending on where you’ll be setting up shop, getting a mobile food vendor license could be challenging, especially if there are already many others, and if the city has a limited number of licenses to give out. Do a little bit of research and find a place that’s not already overrun by food trucks, and it’ll probably be easier to get a license. Some cities require food trucks to be connected to a commissary (a commercial kitchen) in order to get a license. Make sure to get all the info so there are no surprises.


5. Find a truck

In your plan, you should have outlined the type of food you’ll be offering and how you’ll be preparing it. This will determine what type of truck you need. Cooking capacity, or simply warming? Refrigeration, freezing, drink coolers, display space? There are food trucks of every type you can think of. Make sure to get one that works for what you’ll be offering. After you find a good fit (but before you buy it) you’ll want to call your county health inspector to make sure it meets code.


6. Arrange funding and insurance

Getting a loan definitely isn’t the most exciting part of starting a business. But sometimes it’s necessary, especially if you don’t have enough to start up on your own. Many banks have business loans at reasonable interest rates available for people like you who are looking to start a business.

When you start your own business, insurance is a must. You need to cover yourself in case of accident, theft, loss, and potential liabilities. Being uninsured can end up breaking you when problems start to crop up, so don’t take that chance!


7. Find a place to set up

Some people make the mistake of thinking they can just park their food trucks in any parking lot, or along any roadway. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. You could face fines if you set up shop without permission. Start with areas that have lots of people milling around: music festivals, sports venues, business districts, parks, etc. Talk to HR reps about the requirements and any costs associated. And don’t be too impatient! Give any location at least a week (or several tries if it’s not a consecutive event) before you abandon ship.


8. Market yourself

While you will have customers that find you at events they’re already attending, business will be better if you can create a loyal following that searches you out. Be sure to take advantage of popular social media platforms to get your name out there. Take pictures of your food, share video of the events you attend, post customer reviews, and let your followers know where they can find you on any given day.


Setting up your business can be a time-consuming process. ZipBooks can save you time by helping you keep on top of your expenses, vendors, billing, and payroll, so that you can devote more time to the yummy stuff! 

Happy food trucking!

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