Cheetah | The Beginner’s Guide to Opening a Food Truck Business: Part 1

The Beginner’s Guide to Opening a Food Truck Business: Part 1

People standing in line for a green food truck. San Francisco, California - August 16, 2014: La Cocina's San Francisco Street Food Festival. Tens of thousands of people attend the annual event featuring street food from vendors across the Bay Area.

Tapping into a $1 Billion Food Truck Market

Food trucks have been around forever, but only in recent years has this business really taken off. Whether its a food cart, concession trailer, or food truck, these kitchens on wheels are popping up everywhere. In the US alone, food trucks reported over $1 billion annual sales expected to grow 7.9% anualy.

 

Starting a restaurant can be very costly, so food trucks offer a more affordable and agile alternative to the stationary restaurant. But it’s not all fun and games. To be a successful street food business, it’s not enough to serve good food. You also need to have a solid business and financial plan, figure out storage and suppliers, and get the proper permits. Most importantly, you need to sell a concept and find your niche in the market to distinguish yourself from the competition. 

 

Before you launch your on-the-go food business, make sure you’ve taken into account the following issues. 

 

Cost of the Food Truck

 

The first thing to consider when starting an on-the-go food business is the cost of the truck. Whether you decide to go with a food truck, trailer, or cart, you want it to be a reliable and well-maintained vehicle. Although a shabby cart can be restored to look nice with a bit of paint, it may not be enough. You will be saving a lot of money on buying or renting a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but you still need to consider maintenance and safety costs. You don’t want your truck to run into mechanical issues or for the power to cut out mid-service. If you can’t afford to buy a truck, plus all the maintenance fees that go along with it, you might consider leasing one. Whatever you do, make sure it’s money well spent.

 

Location Is Everything

 

One of the most important choices a restaurant owner needs to make is the location. But when your business runs on wheels there are a lot more options and the decision becomes a lot more fun. 


If you have a small mobile trailer, kiosk, or cart, it should be easy enough to set up shop practically anywhere as long as its permissible by local law. Choose a location that is trafficked by a lot of people or is highly visible.. For larger trucks, note that they take up more space and might be less mobile. These require more planning as you can’t just park them anywhere. When you set your heart on the perfect spot, check the laws and regulations in your area and get the relevant permits.

Happy smiling male customer looking at billboard at food truck.
You do not need a large menu. One or two specialty items are enough to set you apart from the competition.

Have Fun with the Menu

 

The lifeblood of any food business is its food. After all, the smiles of customers after they’ve had a delicious meal is why you got into this business to begin with. The location, branding, and atmosphere will help draw your first customers in, but it’s the food that will make them come back. 

 

Unlike a regular restaurant, a food truck business often has logistical limitations to consider when planning out a menu. As always, the food needs to be interesting, affordable, and sustainable, and the menu has to be dynamic to keep up with trends and changing demands. Be smart about your menu changes –  you probably won’t be able to afford specialty items and costly local or seasonal ingredients in every dish. To keep expenses down, be selective and invest in the one thing that will set you apart from the competition. 

 

Here are some questions you should be asking when building a delicious and affordable menu:

 

  • What foods would you like to cook?
  • What are recent food trends and popular concepts in your area?
  • Can these foods be easily carried by customers, or do they require a sitting area?
  • What is your preparation process? Plan out the entire process of prep, cooking, and serving. Be mindful of the speed speed and difficulty level. 
  • Where will you be preparing the food? Cooking elsewhere and selling the food on the truck can save you some space and the havoc of on-site cooking. 
  • What utensils and equipment will you be using? Ask yourself if you can afford these, both in terms of money and storage.
  • What are the costs of your supplies for these dishes? Calculate your profit margins carefully.
  • How many menu items will you have? You might want to cut back on the number of choices to ease the preparation process, the cost of ingredients, and to maximize storage space.

 

Once you have these questions figured out, it’s time for the fun part: working on recipes. Gather friends and family to help you experiment and test your cooking. Do this several times for each recipe to ensure your food has these qualities:

  • It is absolutely delicious.
  • It is consistent.
  • It is easy enough to be prepped quickly and repeatedly.
  • It is easy to serve and eat.
  • It is affordable. 

 

Stay Tuned for Part 2

Opening a food truck business is a great alternative for anyone who has a dream of running a restaurant but doesn’t want to buy or lease a large establishment, or for someone who simply wants to be on the street and close to the people. When embarking on this adventure, understand that a mobile kitchen is a unique business, with both limitations and freedoms. Be sure to check out part 2 and part 3 of this guide, with lots more tips and advice on running a successful food truck.

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