9 Steps to Starting a Food Truck Business

A solid marketing strategy is essential to help build your customer base and create a compelling concept for a food truck. A food truck is an excellent money-making venture idea. Food trucks that are successful can make more than $500,000 annually, and the startup cost is around $40,000.

It takes approximately three to twelve months to start a food truck. These nine steps are necessary:

  1. Find out more about local food trucks and the laws that govern them
  2. Select a name and a concept
  3. Register your company and open a bank accounts
  4. Fundraise for your food truck
  5. Licenses, permits, or insurance?
  6. Get your food truck registered
  7. Equipment and supplies can be purchased
  8. Train and hire staff
  9. Your food truck can be marketed

Let’s look at each step.

1. 1.

Restaurant MBA estimates that the failure rate for food truck businesses is 60% within three years. Planning is often the key to a successful food truck or a failure. It is important to plan your food truck business so that you fill a gap in the market, supply a demand and operate within the law. Do your initial research and find out about the local food truck scene. Also, research local regulations and laws. These facts will help you determine if a food cart is the right business model for you.

Well-targeted food trucks draw big crowds.
(Image by James Frid from Pexels)

Evaluation of the Food Truck Scene

There are many food trucks in different areas. Before you start sketching your menu business plan, it is important to get an idea of the type of food trucks that are available in your area. Local food trucks can be found at festivals, farmers’ markets, and food truck festivals. You can start your search by simply searching the internet for “food trucks” along with the name of your county.

Take note of the following:

  • Cuisine You want to choose a food idea that isn’t being offered by other food trucks around your area. You don’t want to be the only falafel food truck operating in a small community. You also want to choose a cuisine that is popular.
  • Prices If most food trucks in your neighborhood sell food between $5 and $8, you won’t be able to go too far from this price range. If your area has many gourmet-style, higher-priced trucks, you’ll be able to let your imagination run wild.
  • Parking Location This will allow you to see which neighborhoods are truck-friendly and which ones aren’t.
  • Hours of operation: Breakfast or lunch is a popular time for trucks if many people commute to your area for work. It is a smart idea to develop a breakfast or lunch menu. You might prefer a late-night snack or dinner menu if you’re in a college or tourist town.

Take note of the service style and menu sizes at local trucks. Also, take note of where they park and how busy they are. You can also check out their social media accounts to see how well local trucks market themselves. Ask truck owners about their most pressing operational issues. They will be eager to share their experience with a new food trucker. The camaraderie and support from other food truck operators is one of the greatest aspects of most food truck networks.

Investigating Local Food Truck Laws

There are three main categories of regulations for food trucks: health, zoning and vehicle requirements. The health regulations regulate what equipment you must have for your truck, what permits your employees require, and whether or not you need a commissary. Zoning regulations dictate where your truck can be parked for service, in what areas, and how long you can leave it there overnight. You will need to register your truck, get a commercial driver’s licence (CDL), and determine what vehicle type you can use.

Each state, county, or major city has its own regulations for street vending and food trucks.

New York City requires that every person who works on a food truck must have a mobile food vendor license. Los Angeles requires all food trucks to display No Smoking signs on their trucks. All food trucks must have a current contract with the commissary kitchen in many major cities.

The Commissary Kitchen is A commercial kitchen that can be rented by the hour or daily and which supports mobile food operations. The kitchens in commissaries have refrigeration equipment and cooking equipment. They also have storage areas that can be used to meet the needs of local health departments. Many provide grease disposal and greywater areas, truck maintenance areas, and secure overnight parking.

You can usually find your local regulations by making a few phone calls to your county or city health department, and one to your county clerk’s or city department. You should always ask questions when you speak to someone.

  • What permits and licenses are required for a food truck? And what does it cost?
  • Are separate food safety certificates required for each employee or can one safety license suffice?
  • What equipment is required for on-truck refrigeration and cooking?
  • Do all pieces of equipment have to be professionally installed
  • Do I have to use a registered commissary chef?
  • Are separate vending licenses required for each employee or for the entire business?
  • Is there a limit on vehicle size?
  • What regulations must street vending trucks adhere to?
  • Is it necessary to have a commercial driver’s licence in order to drive a food truck?

These questions will impact how much it costs to open a food truck in your area and how long it takes to complete the process.

2. 2.

Once you have an idea of the regulations that you will need to follow and what food types work in your area, it is possible to narrow down your options and name your food truck. While you need to take into account consumer demand, food trucks are well-known for their creative mixes and personal flavour. Food trucks that are successful reflect the owner’s personal interests and experiences. Buldogis is a popular Las Vegas food truck that serves Korean-inflected gourmet hot dog. Its owners are both American and Korean.

These are some of the most popular food truck concepts:

  • Fusion dishes This concept combines two distinct cuisines in order to create dishes that appeal more to a wider audience, such as Tex-Mex and sushi burritos.
  • Regional cuisine: Popular dishes like breakfast tacos from Texas or lobster rolls from New England are always a big hit, especially when they’re in tourist areas.
  • Health and organic foods:Acai Bowls, cold-pressed juice and intriguing salad combinations are just a few examples of trendy health food options.
  • Comfort food: From fried chicken to mac & cheese, grilled cheese and tacos, comfort foods often equal big food truck business.
  • Gourmet sandwiches Who doesn’t like a good sandwich! Use non-traditional ingredients, or a theme to make your sandwich stand out.
  • Pizza: A wood-fired pizza cart is very popular. However, it might require a permit from the fire department.

Name your food truck

Once you have a basic idea of the concept, you can choose a name that best describes your food. The truck name will be your logo and social media handle. It will also be displayed on the truck’s side. This guide to naming a business provides a detailed overview. Our restaurant name generator will get you started.

Here are some tips to help you choose a name for your food truck.

  • Use a unique name. If another restaurant or food truck uses the same name, you risk violating a trademark. To check if your name has been taken, you can use the United States Patent and Trademark Office online search tool.
  • Be descriptive of your name: Your name should be descriptive of your food, theme and concept. This will make it easy for potential customers to understand what you offer.
  • Be memorable in your name and easy to pronounce Food trucks rely heavily on word-of mouth for a lot of their business. Avoid confusing names. Aim for four words.
  • Select a name that is scalable: A business name that is catchy and fun will help you grow your business, whether you open new restaurants, add more trucks or create new menu items.

Create your Food Truck Logo

business logo is the final piece of your food truck concept puzzle. It should be able to evoke quality food and compete with other food truck operators. Your logo will be used on all marketing materials, including menus, business cards and social media. If you have uniforms or truck designs, it will be the foundation for them.

The impact of your logo on how people approach your truck can be huge. A skilled designer is the best person to help you with this crucial marketing element. This doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Fiverr lets you view portfolios of freelance graphic artists. They can design simple logos for food trucks or full vehicle wraps starting at $5.

3. Register your business and open a bank account

You will need to register your state and create a business entity before you can start a food truck. There are many business structures available, including sole proprietorship, partnership and corporation. An LLC is the best choice for most food truck operators. It protects you and your assets in the event that your business goes under, or becomes bankrupt.

While filing fees can vary from one state to the next, forming an LLC doesn’t have to be expensive. The cost of filing an LLC can range from $40 to $500. You can find all the forms on the state’s website for business offices. However, it can be difficult and complicated to file LLC paperwork. We recommend that you use a legal website such as Incfile if you require assistance. Incfile does not charge additional fees for filing your LLC. They can often process LLC paperwork within the next business day.

Register for a Business Bank Account

A business bank account will allow you to seperate your personal and business finances. The account will contain funds that you have invested in your company and can be used to pay licensing fees, permits, and vendor fees. Once your truck is operational, credit card deposits will be transferred to this account. You will also pay your employees and suppliers from the account. Ask your bank about business banking options. You can also see our list of the best checking accounts .

4. 4.

The cost of starting a food truck company can vary depending on where you live, what type of equipment you use, and what truck you buy. The table below, based on data from mobile–cuisine.com gives an estimate of the estimated costs for starting a food truck company.

Food Truck Startup Costs

Food Truck Startup Idea Estimated Cost
One-time charges
Buying a Food Truck $5,000 to $125,000
Vehicle Inspection From $100 to $500
Retrofitting your Truck to Code $25,000. – $50,000
Generator From $1,500 to $10,000
POS Software System and Hardware From $500 to $1,500
Paint From $1,000 to $3,000
Truck Wrap From $2,500 to $5,000
First Food Purchases 500 to $2,000
Papers, Utensils and Goods 500 to $2,000
Website Design From $500 to $3,500
Initial Office Equipment and Supplies From $200 to $1,000
Advertising and Public Relations 500 to $2,000
Consulting, Professional, and Legal Fees 500 to $2,000
Recurring startup expenses
Payroll (Up To Four Staff Members) From $1,500 to 3,500
Commissary and Commercial Kitchen Rent From $500 to $3,000
Monthly Credit Card Processing Fees The average sales price is 3%
Fuel $250 to $400
Insurance $5,000
Permits & Licensing 50 to $10,000 depending on where you live
Total Estimated Costs $40,000 – $200,000

Write a Food Truck Business Plan

If you want your food truck to succeed, it will need a well-written business plan. A business plan is what you put on paper to show potential investors and loan officers that your food truck can be a viable investment. A plan to become profitable will help you understand how long it will take your food truck turn a profit, and what funding you need to keep your business going until then. The food truck business plan is a blueprint for how your business will start, grow, and run.

These sections should be included in your food truck business plan:

  • Executive Summary: Briefly discuss the current and future prospects of the food truck industry in your area, as well as your concept and theme. Also, consider other markets and industries that could have a direct impact on your business. This should not exceed a page.
  • Competitive analysis Determine market trends and analyze your competitors in the food truck market. Are there other food trucks selling similar food or traditional restaurants serving the same type of food in your local area? This will help you to explain how your truck can appeal to these people by offering a unique take on a favorite dish, or spiced it up with a secret sauce.
  • Organizational and management: Describe how you intend to manage your business. This includes standard operating procedures, staffing and the responsibilities of each key employee and partner. Is your truck only street-side or will it cater to private events? What will you use to prepare and store most of your food? Please describe the layout of your truck. What number of customers can you service in an hour?
  • Product line List your menu and ingredients. Also, list the cost of cooking the food and the price you intend to sell it. Note if you’re sourcing ingredients from a notable vendor or local farm. This section should demonstrate that you are well-versed in food costs and profitability.
  • Market plan: Describe your plans to market your food truck company. Word-of-mouth and influencer marketing are important marketing channels for food trucks. Your marketing efforts can be boosted by attending well-attended festivals featuring food trucks.
  • Financial projections Break down your projected expenses and profits for the first three to five year. You should have a monthly breakdown of busy and slow months if you live in an area with many seasonal changes.
  • Financial requirements: Describe how much money you will need to fund your food truck. When applying for a loan, indicate how much money you require.

Make sure you include every detail when preparing your business plan. In other words, you should list your marketing strategy and explain how each line item will reach the target audience, what it will cost, and how many customers they will bring in. Your product line should include all food items. The ingredients and price of each item must be listed. Include logos and branded menus. Include photos of the truck as well as a rendering by an artist if you have purchased a truck.

Food Truck Funding

Many people don’t have the capital to start a food truck. A key step in financing your business is financing. A majority of lenders will require you to prepare a business plan prior to issuing a loan. Make sure that you have this plan, as well as the amount and credit history.

These are some financing options for food truck owners who want to start their own business:

  • Loan/finance program for equipment: You can borrow money from truck sellers or equipment financiers to buy the truck.
  • Rollover to business startups (ROBS: If you have more than $50,000 in retirement accounts, you can create a ROBS. This will allow you to use retirement funds to fund your business without having to pay early withdrawal penalties.
  • Business credit cards If your ability to pay off debt is a strong point, a company credit card might be a good choice.
  • Personal Loan: This is an option for those with good credit and less than $50,000.
  • Microloan From Small Business Administration (SBA: Although microloans are smaller than traditional business loans, they may still be large enough to cover startup costs for food trucks. For loans less than $50,000, check out the Microloan Program of SBA.
  • Find investors: It doesn’t matter if it’s a family member or a friend, finding investors to fund your food truck venture requires strategy. To convince investors to finance your venture, prepare your business plan and your concept.

Some funding is not provided by banks or big investors. Crowdfunding can help you to cover some or all your initial budget if your friends and family are supportive of your food truck idea. The business plan can be used as a starting point for creating a convincing crowdfunding page. Crowdfunding for food trucks is a great way to get a crowd of people excited about your truck.

Our How to Crowdfund a Small Business guide will provide a more detailed explanation of crowdfunding.

5. 5.Obtain Licenses, Permits and Insurance

Did you do the same research as in step 1? This is the time to take action and get all required licenses and permits, as well as insurance. There are three types of licenses or permits you will need: general business licenses; food service licenses; and vehicle licenses. Most food truck permits and licenses will cost $100 to $500 depending on where you live.

A mobile food vending permit is one of the licenses your truck needs.
(Image from Charleston-SC.gov)

Licenses for general business include:

  • Doing business as (DBA) registration: If you want to operate your truck in a sole proprietorship, or under a different name than the LLC registered with the state you will need to obtain a DBA.
  • Employer Identification number (EIN), This number is given by the IRS to your business and serves as your identification for tax purposes. You will need an EIN if you are going to hire employees. Register for free at the IRS Website.
  • Business license All small business owners need a licence to operate in the state where they are located. The cost of this license varies from one state to the next, but is usually less than $500. Some states combine the process of obtaining a business license with business registrations, but this is not the case in all cases. To find out the requirements in your area, you should consult your state’s business agencies.
  • State sales permit: This license registers you business with the state’s sales tax authority. All food truck sales are subjected to local and state sales taxes. To ensure that you accurately log your sales tax payments, you must register with your state. This permit is usually free.
  • Reseller’s License: This license allows you to buy wholesale goods and resell them tax-free.

6. Get your food truck registered

Many of the licenses and permits you will need depend on what type of vehicle you buy. This step usually occurs simultaneously with your permit process. A food truck can run from $3,250 to $300,000 depending on its condition.

No matter what your budget is, it’s important to invest in the highest quality food truck that you can afford. You can reduce the risk of having to repair the truck later. Look for a local builder to make sure that your requirements are met.

You should ensure that your truck has the latest equipment, such as:

  • Ovens and refrigerators work properly
  • With the right pressure, hot and cold water can be obtained
  • First aid kits and fire extinguishers are available at board
  • Proper food storage
  • Professional installation of critical equipment

Some places require proof that the truck’s gas and electric equipment was installed by licensed professionals. Ask for documentation if you’re looking at a used truck.

BlackForest Food TruckChalkboard Menus are a popular choice for food trucks.
(Image courtesy of Pinterest)
Screenshot of Used Food TrucksUsed food truck come fully equipped with useful features such as awnings.
Road Stoves image
Screenshot of Mercedes Sprinter Van Converted to Food Truck A new Mercedes Sprinter Van can become a food truck.
Apollo Manufacturing Image
Screenshot of Customized Food Truck A custom truck can be used to convert an old vehicle such as this Citroen conversion. Pixabay image by Artem Dmitriev
Screenshot of Vinyl TruckVinyl truck wraps protect your food truck with eye-catching graphics
(Image courtesy Flash Forward Wraps).
Screenshot of Houston Juiceton TruckHouston’s Juiceton Truck showcases handpainted murals.
(Image courtesy Juiceton Truck).
BlackForest Food TruckChalkboard Menus are a popular choice for food trucks.
(Image courtesy of Pinterest)
Screenshot of Used Food TrucksUsed food truck come fully equipped with useful features such as awnings.
Road Stoves image
Screenshot of Mercedes Sprinter Van Converted to Food Truck A new Mercedes Sprinter Van can become a food truck.
Apollo Manufacturing Image
Screenshot of Customized Food Truck A custom truck can be used to convert an old vehicle such as this Citroen conversion. Pixabay image by Artem Dmitriev
Screenshot of Vinyl TruckVinyl truck wraps protect your food truck with eye-catching graphics
(Image courtesy Flash Forward Wraps).
Screenshot of Houston Juiceton TruckHubbston’s Juiceton Truck showcases handpainted murals.
(Image courtesy Juiceton Truck).
BlackForest Food TruckChalkboard Menus are a popular choice for food trucks.
(Image courtesy of Pinterest)

Where can I buy a food truck?

There are many options available for buying a food truck. A seller can sell a used truck on eBay, Craigslist or through an online directory. A fully equipped truck can be purchased for as low as $50,000. However, it will require that you paint the outside and renovate the interior to suit your business.

Here are some good websites to locate used food trucks:

An escrow service is recommended if you buy a truck online. An escrow service will hold your funds until the seller delivers the truck. They will release the funds only when the truck is accepted by you. eBay, for example, offers an integrated option to pay via Escrow.com in order to protect both buyers and sellers.

A manufacturer such as 800BuyCart can also sell a new food truck. Their standard trucks are priced at approximately $18,000. Ford, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, and Mercedes-Benz are major car manufacturers. For pricing and other options, you will need to contact your local dealer. Prices for new cars from major manufacturers should start at $40,000 plus any equipment.

Construction of a Food Truck

If you have the funds, custom-built food trucks will set your food truck apart. Northwest Mobile Kitchens, Cruising Kitchens and Prestige Food Trucks are experts in building custom food trucks to your specifications. Custom food trucks can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000. Everything is brand new and purpose-built. It doesn’t matter if the previous owners took care of the truck, or if the gas lines were installed by a professional.

Lease a Food Truck

You might consider leasing a food truck if you are only operating sporadically or have limited funds. Trucks are leased by brands like RoadStoves and Mobi Munch, both based in Los Angeles. Leasing is a good option if there are truck agencies in your area. Leases often include a lot of included services. RoadStoves customers get access to a commissary and truck parking as part of their truck lease. Food truck leases are often between $3,000 and $4,500 per month.

Leasing is not an option because the truck can’t be customized to meet your specific needs. Magnetic decals are a great way to personalize the truck with your logo or menu. You may have to stop your business until you find another truck.

7. Buy Equipment & Supplies

Now that you have your truck, permits, and menu in hand, it is time to set up wholesale accounts and finalize equipment requirements. You will still need additional tools, even if your truck has all the necessary equipment. Food truck equipment includes generators, condiment tables and registers. To avoid sales tax and bulk purchases, you will need to open accounts with food suppliers.

If you use your truck to cater event, you may want to purchase tables and chafing dishes.
(Image from Border Grill Truck and Catering)

Exterior and Truck Wraps

The truck wrap covers those bright trucks with nose to tail designs. Professionals should install a full truck wrap. It can last from three to five year. A truck wrap installation costs anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000, including design and installation. If you don’t have the funds, you can get smaller vinyl decals printed at your local sign shop and then install them yourself. You should not leave any area larger than 2 to 3 feet for the professionals.

Truck wraps can be purchased from a variety of companies including:

You can also paint your truck’s exterior. Although this is cheaper than vinyl wrap (ranging from $1,000 to $3,000), it should be done professionally. Painted decorations may not last as long and are less durable than vinyl wraps.

Your contact information and logo should be displayed on your truck’s exterior. Handwritten chalkboards or dry erase boards can be used to display food truck menus that are subject to change. A professionally printed, professionally designed menu is a good option if your menu changes little from day to day. A menu design can usually be requested from the person who designed your food truck logo. You can also use an app-based menu maker like the one provided by Canva.

Cooking and serving equipment

You may be able to cover most of your primary equipment requirements with your truck or commercial kitchen. You may have to buy additional cooking equipment if you require unique elements such as wood smoke, rotisseries or metal skewers. While commercial kitchens may have blenders, spatulas and tongs that you can use, the supplies available in a shared space are often limited. Cambro containers are a good option to transport your prepared food to your truck. Cambro also sells small equipment such as a food processor and baking sheets. Secure storage is a must in a commercial kitchen lease so that you don’t have the hassle of lugging your food processor from one place to another.

Catering will require you to have a few sturdy, collapsible tables as well as chafing dishes. This will allow you to keep your food warm outside. Most small equipment can be found at your local kitchen supply or restaurant. Sur La Table, a popular cooking brand, offers 10% off to professional chefs. These items can be found through Sysco or other mainline distributors. Table linens are the only type of equipment it is not worth investing in. These can be rented by you or your caterers to match the event’s color scheme.

POS Equipment

Consumers are increasingly relying on mobile wallet, credit and debit payments. Recent restudies have shown that 80% of consumers have used contactless payments in the last year. Up to 70% of millennials use smartphones for payment. Although it technically is possible to run a cash-only food truck you will be severely affected by inability to accept debit, credit and mobile wallet payments. A cloud-based mobile POS system is the best way to accept digital and card payments.

These tools have advanced significantly over the last few years, and are now more accessible to food truck owners. Many of our top-ranked food-truck POS systems are wireless and cellular-network-compatible, and many can be used for free. Square For Restaurants is our favorite food truck POS system. You can download the Apple App Store software and get started taking payments within a few hours.

However, POS systems can do more than just pay for payments. A good POS system for food trucks will help you track your inventory levels, alert you when stock is low, count inventory and track cash transactions (reducing the risk of employee theft). Modern POS systems can also be used to log customer information, manage social media accounts, monitor internet reviews, and more.

Setting up Vendor Accounts

Sysco is a mainline distributor. If your food truck is busy, you should open wholesale accounts. You will get a discount on food and beverages, and you can save time driving as many distributors will deliver directly into your commercial kitchen. Once your credit application has been approved, most vendors work on a net 30-system, which means that you have 30 days to pay the invoice. If you wish, you can still pay by check at delivery.

It may be more beneficial to open accounts with local wholesalers than national distributor chains. You should find one that supplies the majority of your food and beverages. The fewer suppliers you have, the less invoices you will need to process each month.

Tip: Create a single sheet that contains your credit application information to speed up vendor account creation. Your name, truck name, address, EIN and banking information should be included.