Food Trucks: Why Are They So Popular & How Do You Get One Started?

The food truck movement started around 2008 and is credited to The Great Recession where many culinary professionals lost their jobs and decided to create their best dishes from a much cheaper location than owning a piece of real-estate – a truck!

Think of how much it would cost to open a standalone restaurant – rent, insurance, kitchen equipment, furniture, décor, food and drink inventory, staffing, restaurant POS technology to run the business. The list goes on and on and can quickly get up into the millions. Opening a mobile food truck won’t cost you anywhere near what a restaurant would, and you can bring your food to consumers vs. waiting for diners to come to your brick-and-mortar restaurant.

From New York City to Los Angeles, there are over 4,000 food trucks across the United States, and that number doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

So, what is it about food trucks that has culinary entrepreneurs jumping at the idea?

  1. Less Risk – It can cost anywhere from $500K – $1M to open a restaurant (depending on the location). That’s a lot of money to come up with and a lot of risk! If you get a $1M loan you better hope people are going to love your food or else you are going to be in a lot of trouble. There are even TV shows about celebrity chefs rescuing restaurants from going under because they are in so much debt – cue Gordon Ramsey screaming.
  2. Portable – This may seem obvious, but one of the best things about owning a new food truck is you can take your food to pretty much any location that allows food trucks. If there’s a local event, a busy street during lunch hours, or even just a park where people tend to hang out, you can easily pack up and park there for a few hours.
  3. Trendy – There’s something about the food truck industry that just gives off a trendy vibe. Especially with Instagram being a hub for drool-worthy photos, people always want to be the first to show off the trendiest dishes they can find. So, if you have a food truck, be sure to have a Facebook and Instagram page so your guests can post about your #nofilterneeded dishes on social media.
  4. Test it out – Maybe your ultimate goal is to own your own restaurant, but you are afraid to take the plunge or apply for that outrageous loan. A food truck is a great way to see if people even like the dishes you serve. It will give you time to perfect your menu and build up brand awareness so that when you do open that restaurant, people will immediately want to stop by because they already know and love your food.
  5. Marketing – A lot of successful restaurants will also choose to set up a food truck that sells some of the same dishes they serve in their restaurant for the same reasons listed above. It’s less of a risk than opening a second location, you can bring your food to customers instead of waiting for them to come to you, it’s great way to promote your brand, and it’s a creative way to test out some new dishes.

Now that you know the benefits of owning a food truck business, what does it take to actually start one?

  1. Come up with a Concept – The most important thing to do before going any further is come up with what kind of food will you be selling and make sure you have a clear concept in mind. Finalize your menu, identity, business name, look/branding, prices, etc.
  2. Do Your Research – Look into what kind of truck and menu items are best for the concept that you will have, what permits you need, what kind of equipment you will need, how much ingredients are, find a commercial kitchen, get information from your local health department,
  3. What’s Your Business Model – Now that you have done all your research, it’s time to come up with a plan on how to execute. This will help you stay on track, on budget, and plan ahead for all that can happen.
  4. Funding Food truck startup costs can be anywhere from $50K – $250K. If you have that money laying around, good for you! If not, use your business plan to pitch investors and meet with banks to get the best business loan you can.
  5. Buy a Truck! – Obviously you need an actual truck to run a food truck. So, once you have decided what will work best for your concept and you have the money, go get that truck!
  6. Supplies & Equipment – Refrigerators, stoves, ovens, cleaning supplies, POS systems. There’s a long list of what is needed, so make sure you get everything you need and test it all out before you start operating.
  7. Permits – The golden ticket for a food truck owner! Without a permit, it doesn’t matter how delicious your food is, you won’t be able to park your truck anywhere but your own driveaway.
  8. Insurance – Also extremely important! Make sure not only your assets are protected in case of an accident, but insurance to protect you, your employees and your overall business.
  9. Plan your Schedule – Check out the local events, parks, streets, businesses, etc. that allow food trucks and start building out a schedule.
  10. Get on Social – Create an Instagram and Facebook page to start promoting your brand, sharing photos of your food and listing the different locations where your truck will be so hungry foodies can find you.

Although starting a food truck may be cheaper than opening a restaurant, it is still a lot of work for a small business owner and requires a lot of planning. However, if you follow these steps and have a clear plan and goal in mind, you’ll be on the road in no time.