Business Overview

A food truck business is a restaurant on wheels. The owner prepares meals or snacks and serves customers from a truck, van or trailer. The business owner should have culinary talents and the ability to quickly and efficiently serve tasty meals from a contained space, attract hungry customers and to deal with the business obligations of obtaining all necessary licenses and permits.

Who is this business right for?

You should love food service and customer relations. It’s also a business that requires careful attention to details. It’s advantageous if you have work experience in food preparation in a commercial kitchen and know how to safely store ingredients and prepare tantalizing menu items. You’ll have to research business licenses and permits in the city and state in which you’ll do business and create a brand image that encourages first-time diners to try your offerings. The successful business owner in this category must know how to pick out where to park, the type of food that’s appropriate to that location and clientele and the prices you must charge to be competitive.

What happens during a typical day at a food truck business?

Here’s how your day might typically be spent:

  • Start early by picking up your vehicle and heading to the commercial kitchen space where you’ll prepare your menu items. Keep in mind the laws in your location. Some cities require that food preparation takes place in an inspected commercial kitchen rather than in a truck. Some commissaries provide space for your truck, which is a handy time-saver.
  • Head to your parking location as soon as possible. If you’re working in a city, your parking spot can’t be reserved, so you’ll want to get there as early as possible in your quest to set up business as close to where your customers expect to find you as possible.
  • Serve your customers as quickly and efficiently as possible, especially if you have a weekday lunchtime location. It’s still a novelty practice in many locations, so make it fun.
  • Take your truck back to the commissary or storage location where you can legally dispose of grease, wastewater and other cooking waste, and thoroughly clean your vehicle.
  • In your spare time, communicate to your market via social media, through the production of flyers and other means of marketing your business. Be sure to remind your loyal customers where and when they’ll next see you.
  • Gas up your vehicle and inspect it for any needed repairs.
  • Place and pick up your food ingredients order daily or every few days. Your storage space will be limited, so you’ll shop often.

What is the target market?

Defining your customers will be your first and perhaps most critical job. You can’t finalize your menu unless you can get inside their heads and understand their motivation for ordering from you. Workers in an industrial park on a half-hour break are looking for a quick lunchtime meal that won’t cost much. If you’re on the fairs and festivals circuit, they might be more in the market for elephant ears than a nutritious and costly dinner. Once you’ve identified your customers and understand their motivations, everything else springs from that, from designing your vehicle wrap to finalizing your location and developing your menu and pricing.

How does a food truck business make money?

You must draw customers who will love your menu offerings and spread the word. In addition to your culinary abilities, your profitability will be affected by your location or locations. If you have a taco truck in an area of overcapacity of Hispanic food trucks, you won’t stand out. Similarly, you might not do enough business to break even if you exhibit at under-attended festivals or events.

What is the growth potential for a food truck business?

One way to expand in this business category is to lease or buy additional food trucks. Another approach is to franchise your business. Either way will depend on the initial success of your first truck, and that will depend on your concept and location. This article points out that one business generated $300,000 in revenue from one truck its first year on just $60,000 in initial costs. Another massively successful operation made $800,000 annually before franchising and pulling in millions of dollars a year. But both of these are much more successful than typical single-truck returns—but they provide inspiration and show that it can be done.