people waiting in line for food trucks

So you want to have a restaurant on wheels?

We don’t blame you, the food truck business has increased about 8% annually. The U.S. Market Research Report cited “that there are over 15,500 individuals who serve food to diners in open-air locations.” It seems that the odds are in your favor to start your business on wheels, but as you know, there is more to think about than your truck’s paint job.

Here are some tips from food truck owners on managing and running a food truck.

1. Raise money for your food truck, and do it early

When it comes to cost, the first thing you need to do is get a truck! I can hear you now … “duh!” But one of the biggest mistakes people make when entering the food truck business is overspending on a vehicle. Sure, that $100,000 gem may have all the bells and whistles you want, but if your proposed food truck doesn’t need anything more than a working flat top and a few freezers, the eight-burner Wolf range might not be necessary.

In contrast, there is a booming secondary market for used food trucks – many of which are practically new, thanks to overambitious owners. Check out commercial vehicle trading sites to find the deals and savings hiding in plain sight.

At the end of the day, you are here to cook. From your actual truck to the grill you cook on, think about how much you are willing to spend. What are you serving up? The types of equipment that you invest in are dependent on the types of food that you are serving. Here are some average costs for types equipment that you could need.

  • The truck itself. $25-100K, depending on new, used, fitted with other equipment, etc.
  • Grille. $2.5-6K, again, depending on new, used, and quality.
  • Fryer. $1-4K

When it comes to food trucks, you have so many options, just like you do when opening a restaurant. You could buy an empty food truck, and custom build it with these parts. Or you could buy a used food truck that served similar foods as you that is equipped properly. This is a good place to start looking if you are in the market for a used, fully fitted truck.

Julie from Sam’s ChowderMobile

sams chowder mobile

“A typical restaurant deals with ongoing maintenance for the facility and kitchen equipment. With a food truck, you have those same maintenance issues, but in addition, you have all the maintenance issues that come with owning a heavily used vehicle.” Review via FoodTruckr.com

2. Invest sufficient time and resources in your new food truck venture.

This is your idea. This is your business. And, most importantly, this is your truck. You want to run this like you mean it and be there as much as you can.

Ask yourself a few questions.

  • Who will be working for me? Will it be a family run operation, or will I need outside hands
  • Do you have restaurant experience? Although this is not a restaurant, all of the things that go into running a successful brick and mortar restaurant also go into running a restaurant on wheels.
  • Many food truck owners can agree that this business takes up more time than you were planning.

Kenneth from Devilicious Food Truck

devilicious food truck

We have learned that this industry relies on the cooperation of other food truck owners, local businesses, and suppliers. There is more to the back end of the business which we didn’t realize before starting it. There is networking, finding reliable suppliers and food preparation, lots of food preparation. Basically owning a food truck is your life.” Review via FoodTruckr.com

3. Understand the laws about where you can park your truck.

So you have got your business idea. You have your truck and equipment. Now, how do you get people to eat from it? Also, what types of health codes do you have to comply with? How about parking regulations in your city? Although this is not one of the most exciting parts of business, it has to be done.

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  • Health Codes. Food trucks in the past got a bad wrap for being perceived as unsanitary or not clean. We are not going to go into detail on this one because abiding to health codes and regulations is different in every state and every city. Check out your local department of health before opening.
  • Parking. Your location plays a major part in the success of your food truck empire. Depending on what city you are in, you could have some major competition. When parking, you should keep two major things in mind. 1, do you have the permits or requirements needed to park there? Will hungry people be around?

Michael and Cheryl from The Burger Bus

burger bus
“If possible, try to secure some locations to park your food truck. Find as many as you can, they don’t always work out.” Review via FoodTruckr.com

4. Create reasons for people to stop at your truck.

  • Who are you? What are you good at?
  • What kind of food are you good at making, and the world is lacking?
  • Is your idea unique enough to stand out from the competition and make money?
  • If you have passion behind these questions, you should answer them saying, “well, I should open a food truck of course!”

Think about it like this:

  • What is your brand? This should be consistent from the clothes you wear to the truck where you work, to the food that you serve.
  • Foodies today want the full experience. It is all about the ambiance and coming down to the minor details.
  • Keep your sense of humor. This is fun. Your audience is fun and adventurous. They are not expecting the seriousness that comes with fine dining.

Since most places already have a food truck scene, if you want to increase your food truck sales, you’ll have to stand out and offer something different and make that known to your (potential) customers. A few tips to keep in mind are: think like a big business (ie, take branding seriously), get clear and definitive on what your brand is, and keep your restaurant mission statement consistent across everything from the exterior of your truck to your business cards.

Mark from The Hogfather BBQ

the hogfather

“The one thing I wish I knew prior to operating The Hogfather BBQ food truck is that I never expected such enthusiasm for the brand. I thought people were honking at me because I was driving slow, but once they got up to the side and front of my vehicle they would take pictures, wave and give me a thumbs up approval. It took some time getting used to that, especially when I timid driving a large truck.” Review via FoodTruckr.com

5. Get all the permits you need out of the way early

It would be great if life was like childhood, and food truck owners could simply start selling like kids at a lemonade stand. Instead, countless state and city departments require a seemingly endless collection of restaurant licenses and permits.

If you live in a small municipality, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. But if you’re planning on entering a competitive-but-lucrative big city, be prepared for plenty of roadblocks and waiting periods. If you’re serious about starting that food truck, start planning the paperwork early, and have a contingency plan in place if there’s a lengthy license waiting period.

Learn more about the restaurant licenses and permits you need here. 

6. Learn from Others

In this way, opening a food truck is like most things—you can learn a lot from simply asking for advice from those who came before you.

No two paths to food truck success will be exactly the same (everything varies based on where you are and what you’re serving, among other factors), but there are a few overarching similarities. Permitting issues and parking debacles, to name a few.

Even just knowing what challenges to expect before diving in can be invaluable in keeping your sanity.

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Hannah can be found riding the slopes of New Hampshire by winter and riding the waves of Rhode Island by summer. In order to satisfy a constant sweet tooth, you can find her bouncing between Ellie's Bakery and Pastiche, both in Providence, RI.