When I started a food truck business, I spent a year planning and researching everything I needed to know. You can read my entire case study and podcast episodes documenting the process right here if you’re interested.
Believe it or not, but back in the ancient time of 2012 there wasn’t that much information on the internet about how to start a food truck. I had to do all this research the hard way. But it really shouldn’t be so hard these days.
And that’s why I’m sharing these 9 or so steps to starting your own food truck. I want to help set you on the right track to creating your own food truck and sharing your love of food with the world. Let’s dive in.
Food Truck Startup Outline:
- Make your menu
- Write a food truck business plan
- Estimate total startup costs
- Food truck funding options
- Licenses, permits and insurance
- Find a Point-of-Sale System
- Register Social Media Accounts
- Open for business
- Frequently asked questions
Step 1: Make your menu
It all starts with your menu. Tacos. Sandwiches. Burgers. Pizza. Ice Cream. Every food truck has a specialty. And at this stage in the food truck game, customers expect you to excel in one type of food. There are a three reasons you should always determine your menu before tackling any other step in the startup process.
First, your menu determines the cooking equipment installed on your food truck. If you plan to start a taco truck then buying a mobile kitchen with a panini press won’t help. This advice seems basic, but I’ve seen a lot of people make this mistake.
One student in our annual food truck academy class found a “cheap” food truck online and purchased it. A couple months later, the student discovered the unit didn’t include the right equipment for their menu and couldn’t pass the local health requirements. The student was forced to buy a second food truck to meet his needs. That’s an expensive mistake!
Second, food trucks only have so much capacity to store ingredients. Creating streamlined menu allows you to carefully plan your ingredient purchases and run an efficient operation in the future. Be sure to select a cuisine that allows you the flexibility to remain creative for years, but also is specific enough so you don’t overstock your truck and create unnecessary food waste.
For example, let’s say you want to start a taco truck again. Tacos are a very specific type of food, but also has a ton of versatility. You can come up with thousands of combinations of tortillas, fillers, toppings, and sauces. And because most of your tacos will have some similarities (the tortillas and probably the toppings will be the same in all of your menu offerings) you won’t have to worry about keeping a fridge full of limited-use ingredients that take up space.
Your menu will have longer term marketing implications for the business that you need to consider too. If for example, you decide to start a Hawaiian food truck, it would only make sense that you vend at Hawaiian cultural events or festivals. You would also want to steer clear of St. Patrick’s Day events with this cuisine because it won’t match what people want to eat on that holiday.
Finally, you can’t even figure out where you’ll source ingredients and how much you’ll charge customers for a sandwich, hot dog, or pizza before figuring the exact menu. You can download our food cost spreadsheet to learn how to complete this step.
Step 2: Write a food truck business plan
That’s right… the dreaded business plan. If you follow the steps here, you’ll be able to build a pretty compelling plan that you can show to anyone. But even still a business plan feels like a really daunting task. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be.
In general, writing a business plan doesn’t have to be an exhaustive 100 page report. I’ve seen plans of all sizes, from one page on up.
The key is to make your plan specific to your business that you can write down and follow once you get started. The key is to focus on yourself and spend most of the effort figure out the operations, costs, and profitability estimates for your business. These are all important steps that will make a to your business.
One big thing people always get hung up on is the formatting of business plan. I’m here to tell you, don’t stress out about the format! Unless your goal is to bring investors into the business, you don’t need a perfectly designed plan. Most food trucks are independent small businesses that don’t bring on investors so you probably don’t need to worry.
There are even some circumstances where you may never even show another person your business plan. But you’ll be much more knowledgeable about the industry and your specific needs because you have considered all the options and have prepared yourself well. The business plan is the embodiment of that preparation.
For more details, check out my business plan and audio lesson where I walk though this step in much greater detail. I even share the exact business template I used for my food truck.
Here is the basic structure of a food truck business plan:
- Executive summary: Introduce the name of your food truck and what you plan to serve.
- Mission statement: This should be a short description of the mission of your business. A mission statement works best if you print a copy of it to keep inside your food truck. This statement should guide the decisions of your business.
- Company concept / description: Write what you hope the food truck will become, the food you plan to serve, and why you believe it will be a successful business.
- Market analysis: Get an understanding of your local competition. What other food trucks are successful in your town? How do you intend to create a unique offering in your market?
- Management structure: This is a brief section in for most food trucks. Write down who will be participating in the business and the specific responsibilities of each team member.
- Product line: In the case of a food truck, publish your menu here.
- Sales and marketing: Write down how you plan to market your business and generate sales. Figuring out specific places you plan to vend is really important for food trucks in this section.
- Funding request: Share how much money you’ll need to start the business and list out exactly how you plan to spend each dollar. Buying the food truck or trailer will be the biggest startup expense.
- Financial projections: Share how much you plan to make.
- Appendix: Include any supplemental information here. Ideas include a copy of your business and health department permits, photos of the truck, or anything else you think would be beneficial.
Step 3: Estimate total startup costs
As part of the business plan process, you’ll need to come up with your startup costs. It’s in your best interest to be as detailed as possible when figuring out your total costs by line item so you’re not surprised. In general, you can expect to pay between $28,100 – $114,100 to start a food truck. The startup cost could be even higher depending on the size of food truck and equipment you need.
Your startup cash is extremely valuable so you don’t want to overspend on equipment or anything else you don’t need. Eliminating unnecessary equipment gives you more space for storage, which is extremely valuable on a food truck.
We’ve created a detailed cost spreadsheet for starting a food truck business here. Below are some of the most common startup expenses for a food truck business:
|Food Truck Start-up Costs|
|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||$28,100|
|Total High End||$114,100|
|Food Truck On-Going Costs|
|Item||Monthly Estimated Cost||Notes|
|Commissary||$0 – $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||$1,000||Better to budget for it.|
|Food / Beverage Restock||???||Depends on food cost and frequency of operation.|