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Small Business Tips

How to Start a Food Truck Business

Manasa Reddigari

Eager to show off your culinary chops and please the palates of the public? You could be in for the ride of life when you start a food truck business. But before you can call yourself the owner of a bona fide food truck, you’ll need to concoct a recipe for business success.

Keep reading to learn how to start a restaurant on wheels in seven steps.

Create a business plan

Turn your culinary concept into a fully-formed startup proposal by putting it to paper in the form of a business plan that identifies the food truck name, concept (e.g., organic, fusion) and types of menu items. Define who your competitors and target market are and how you plan to market and sell your cuisine to them to turn a profit. You should also define your management structure and identify the funding source you plan to use to pay for the start-up and ongoing operating costs of a food truck (e.g., a business or personal loan, your own savings, etc).

Obtain licenses, permits, and insurance

Opening a food truck usually requires getting a business license, a mobile food vendor license and potentially a commercial driver's license. Getting a mobile food vendor is highly competitive in cities like New York, Boston or L.A.

You will likely also need a health permit and fire certificate to ensure that the environment in which you plan to cook and the cooking equipment you will use are sanitary and safe. Get business insurance to protect yourself from financial losses that could stem from going mobile (e.g., fires).

Hone in on a location

Check local ordinances on zoning and parking to determine where you can legally host a food truck business. Of the permissible locations, pick one in a desirable part of town that receives a steady stream of traffic and won't cause a conflict with neighboring storefront owners.

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Get and equip your food truck

Use the funding source you identified in your business plan to buy or lease a quality food truck built to code. Then, purchase associated equipment and supplies for cooking, storage, and cleaning. You might also need specialized cookware such as an ice cream maker or a pizza oven. Don't forget to buy safety gear such as first aid kits and fire extinguishers.

Decorate your truck

Be sure to decorate your mobile eatery with an eye-catching design, logo and menu board. Your menu need not be set in stone over the life of your food truck business, but your first menu should, at a minimum, align with the name, concept, and types of menu items defined in your business plan and cater to the preferences of those in your target market.

The menu items should also be distinct enough to tempt locals to choose your food truck over others nearby. When you've settled on a list of menu items, have the menu board professionally printed or write it out on a chalk or dry erase menu board in large, legible, non-cursive handwriting that passing customers can see clearly.

Stock your food truck

Stock your truck with any foodstuffs or ingredients you will use for cooking, but not so early that they perish before your first day of business. Remember: You want your culinary offerings to be as fresh and flavorful as what's on offer at a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Market and sell to your target audience

An essential, but an often forgotten step of how to start a food truck business is marketing. No matter your crave-worthy your food is, it won't sell itself. You'll need to generate buzz about your food truck by implementing the market strategy you outlined in your business plan. It should include a mix of digital approaches such as social media and traditional marketing ideas like flyers, magazine ads or radio spots.

Many meals on wheels businesses get their start catering for private celebrations or corporate events. When you're not bringing customers to you, go sell directly to them at local events you have permission to attend and park at, like outdoor concerts or food truck festivals.

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