The Complete Breakdown of Food Truck Operation Costs

expensesFood trucks are advertised as a cheap way to start a business. But if you’re planning to get into the food truck business solely for the reason for low start-up costs think again. The initial investment and on-going monthly costs are significant. In this article, we’ll outline the basic costs starting a food truck and provide a spreadsheet you can use to estimate the price of getting in the game.

Food Truck Expense BreakdownDownload this spreadsheet and plug-in your own numbers to get an overall estimate of what it will cost to get the business up and rolling.

The Myth

A couple reasons food trucks are considered a low-cost business is that you don’t need to sign a lease for single restaurant location and can get by with few employees if you plan to manage the day-to-day operations yourself. These advantages are true, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be overhead.

Depending on the regulations of your city, you may be required to use a commissary. Commissary costs can run from $400 – $800 per month depending on the services that are provided and location. You’ll also need to pay for insurance that can easily run from $2000 – $4000 per year depending on coverage levels and what percentage of the year you plan to operate the truck. There’s also permits and business license fees that are required just like any other business. Then there’s the truck.

business-kit

The food truck or trailer is the biggest and most part of your investment. After all this is where you’ll be spending most of your time, cooking, and it also promotes the brand and vision of your vending. You’ve probably read that the cost of a food truck can vary greatly. Anywhere from $15,000 – $100,000 is the range that a food truck can cost, but most fall somewhere in the middle.

Reader Warning: Most experienced and successful long-term food truckers will tell you that opting for the cheapest vehicle and equipment isn’t the way to go. The vehicle truly is the heart and sole of your business and investing in better quality equipment can help reduce repair frequency and help ensure you’ve got more up-time.

Here are a few supplementary resources you can use to get a wider swath of perspectives on the costs of operating a food truck:




Food Truck Case Study – This is a case study with Anthony Salvagno that takes you through the full-process of starting a food truck in real time. There’s a full episode on how much was invested in the food truck. If you want a real-world example of how to start a food truck this series is it.

Are Food Truck Start Up Costs Low? – Eric Silverstein is the owner of The Peached Tortilla, an award winning food truck in Austin, Texas. In this article Silverstein shares his perspective on the topic of food trailers being a low-barrier to entry business.

Food Truck Economics – In-depth breakdown and analysis of the expenses of operating a food truck. Recommended reading.

How to use the Spreadsheet

We encourage you to download the food truck cost spreadsheet to estimate how much starting your vehicle would cost. Remember that every city / state will have different laws and requirements so your cost will vary. This spreadsheet is a great way to get you in the ball-park for a cost estimate.

Food Truck Start-up Costs
Equipment Estimated Cost Notes
Food Truck + Wrap & Equipment $25,000 – $100,000 Feel free to add your personal notes here.
Initial Product Inventory $1,000 – $2,000
Permits and Licenses $100 – $500 Varies a lot depending on where you operate.
Website Free – $5,000 Varies a lot depending on what you want.
Facebook / Twitter Free
Register / POS $200 – $1,000 Can also use an iPad and an app for credit transactions.
Uniforms / T-Shirts $0 – $1,000
Paper Products (Plates / Napkins, etc.) $200 – $300
Misc. Expenses (Like a Chalk Menu) $500 – $2000 Plan for some unexpected expenses here and put it into the budget.
Smallwares: Pots, Pans, etc. $1000 – $2000
Fire Extinguisher $100 – $300
Total Low End $28100
Total High End $114100
Food Truck On-Going Costs
Item Monthly Estimated Cost Notes
Commissary $400 – $1,200 Varies greatly depending on location and services provided by commissary.
Phone / Internet $100 – $200
Fuel $500 This will vary a lot.
Labor ??? $8 – $15 per hour is average rate.
Repairs $1000 Better to budget for it.
Food / Beverage Restock ??? Depends on food cost and frequency of operation.
Paper Product Restock ??? Depends on food cost and frequency of operation.
Total: ???

 

After you get the cost estimate figured out. The next thing you’ll want to do is estimate how many meals per month you’ll need to serve to turn a profit after expenses. But that’s a topic for a future blog post.

  • Sarah

    What about rent to store the trucks overnight? Surely there has to be some monthly cost for this…? Or is it included in commissary?

    • Brett@FoodTruckEmpire.com

      Hi Sarah – You raise a really good point. The price for overnight storage is a variable. If you own your own place, you might be able to get away with storing the vehicle for “free” at your home. If not the cost will vary widely depending on the commissary you use to park on-site.

  • Guest

    Where is the link to download the spread sheet ?

  • Dave Sully

    for the template, how do I fill it in? as it says only read mode?

    • Brett@FoodTruckEmpire.com

      Thanks for stopping by Dave. Copy and paste into an Excel spreadsheet is the best way to get it.

  • Great breakdown of costs! Seems to be spot on depending on what area you are doing business.

    • Brett@FoodTruckEmpire.com

      Thanks Loco Taco! Let us know if there’s anything that should be added based on experience.

  • Stephen Peterson

    I have a question. I have followed the “complete breakdown of food truck operation costs” as a guide to lay my business plan out. I have some confusion with regards to an article i am reading through that states this “As some of you may know, Mobile Food Vending Unit Permits (i.e. food truck permits) have a government wait list that’s backed up by many years. While a legitimate two-year truck permit will only cost you $200, if you want to get your business started in this decade, it will cost you around $15,000 to purchase one from a secondary seller”

    Can any confirm this?

    • Brett@FoodTruckEmpire.com

      Hi Stephen – In regards to the vending permits that statement only applied to a certain city. In most towns you will be able to get a permit without any major issue due to a limit in the number of permits. Hope that helps!

      • That helps a lot because, it had me worried because I had not budgeted for that. I am planning to establish the food truck in Austin.

        Do you have any advice on where i can find reliable information with regards to what a FIRE MARSHALL is looking for when inspecting a new food truck in this new year?

        • Hey Stephen, Looks like the Austin Fire Marshall only looks for a fire extinguisher. Their main focus is on the fuel you’ll be using to cook food and the system that delivers the fuel. This application packet, page 7 has information on what they’re looking for. Good luck!

          Mobile Food Vender Application – City of Austin

        • Clay Carlson

          Hey Stephen, I do consulting on food truck permitting and licensing. Happy to chat if you need assistance. http://www.claytonhcarlson.com

  • jess

    what’s the rate of investment for an average food truck and when do you start making a profit

  • BigEddieHall 8

    where to fine a company that lease equipment, for food truck

  • Sanchez Luis

    I had work in this before for my father and this is not all correct you will quickly make profit we were making 500 dollars a day profit when we started then after that it was getting a lot more.

    • scotty501

      You’re an idiot.

  • Akira

    I’m just curious… If someone were to have a permit in one area mainly, and wanted to get a limited day or weekend permit for a different city, how much would it cost or how would one find out how much?

  • caitlin

    HI, I was just going to inquire about insurance, have you calculated that with licenses and permits, or are you dipping into your misc?

  • Pimplestiltskin

    If I want to cook naked in my food truck, is that ok?

    • Brett@FoodTruckEmpire.com

      Probably not. Also, you may burn yourself.

  • Shiva Anthati

    A nice article all together!

    And can you please let me know how to find out a Food Truck Leasing near by in San Francisco area? Like any legitimate website?

    And does the Food Truck lease comes up with the required licenses and permit.. Appreciate your help!!

    • Brett@FoodTruckEmpire.com

      Hi Shiva – I would check out MobiMunch.com in your area. I know they offer leases in the SF area and also I believe they are approved from a legal standpoint in the area.

  • J.r. Hazeleyedone Hammonds-Edw

    Hello i was wondering if you knew of any lease options for a food truck in the hampton roads, virginia area. just looking for something to use until i can afford my own food truck.

    • Young HardTimes Marley

      i’d say put together a power point and present it to some owners of business

  • Johnathan Hoch

    How do you figure the number of meals to serve? Is there a link I missed connecting to that blog post??

    • Brett@FoodTruckEmpire.com
    • It’s called counting. If you spend 100,000 to start up and your meals cost $10, that means you need to sell 10,000 meals just to break even with the initial investment. Of course there would be the recurring costs of using product you’d have to pay to restock that would add to that.

      • Michael Johnson

        @anotherdesade:disqus – dont be so god damn prude. And yes, while that is a basic way of looking at meals, it is wholly incorrect in the grand scheme of things. There are several scenarios that cause your math to be fuzzy and illogical.

  • Robert Zamora

    What if I’ll be needing a large bbq pit behind the food truck?

    • 1stWorldProblem

      I guess you’ll need a separate truck for that lol

    • Young HardTimes Marley

      a pull behind trailer

  • Ayaz

    I am looking to lease a food truck in Schaumburg, IL if you know any companies

  • ZoarMann

    I think your estimate for the Food truck itself is LOW. Most other articles on this same tipic say the AVERAGE cost for a food truck in the US is $148,000… That is AVERAGE. I do know that a new truck, empty without any food making items in it can easily run $60,000 to $70,000. That seems to be missing from this analysis in this article. Indeed many people buy a used truck and add what they need from here but still I cannot see how this article’s estimates of Food Trucks WITH all the items in the truck for making the food costing $25,000 to a high of $100,000 is accurate.

    • Brett@FoodTruckEmpire.com

      Where are you finding average quotes for $148,000 per truck in the U.S.? You could pay that much, but it would be for a brand new, very high-end truck. Not an average price. Alternatively, what specific articles are you reading that say the average is that high?

      • ZoarMann

        That is 3 years of research and reading many analysis on food trucks. I also have talked to many companies that custom build food trucks. The number of about $150K for the food truck is pretty consistent… I just googled and here is one that says cost of the truck is $50,000 to $200,000.
        http://www.forbes.com/sites/investopedia/2012/09/27/the-cost-of-starting-a-food-truck/#4eb0ace72930 And yes just a new truck without any outfitting or any items to make it a “food truck” will cost about $70,000 or more. I do think your estimate is low. I built my own food truck 2 years ago using a rather old used truck and it cost me about $100K and I did a lot of the work myself. If I had used a newer or new truck or if I did NOT do most of the work, the cost would have easily been $150K or a bit more.