10 Tips for Running a Successful Food Truck Business
Food trucks are more popular today than ever before. You’ve likely seen them at festivals, birthday parties, weddings, and other special events. In addition, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many patrons opt for grabbing meals from food trucks instead of visiting restaurants.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of running a food truck or already own one and want to learn how to grow a food truck business, keep reading this post!
The Food Truck Craze Continues
The idea of food trucks began in 1961 when street vendors sold food from push carts in New York. Construction workers, delivery personnel, and garment workers bought meat, sandwiches, and fruit from them. In 1974, the first taco truck, King Taco came to life and led to a successful brick-and-mortar restaurant chain in Southern California.
Since then, food trucks have evolved to feature brightly colored exteriors, often with unique branding. Many of them focus on specific food types such as hot dogs, pizza, tacos, grilled cheese, and cupcakes. For example, The French Quarter is a truck based in New Jersey that offers Cajun-style jambalaya, fried shrimp, and other New Orleans fare.
Food trucks have been growing at an exponential rate since the recession in 2008. As of 2019, there were more than 23,000 food trucks in the United States earning about $1 billion each year.
When they first started to appear in 2008, food trucks were “trendy.” Today, however, they’re a mainstream concept that are often preferred over restaurants and fast food.
Inside The Growth of the Food Truck Industry
While the restaurant industry has grown about 2 percent in recent years, food trucks have skyrocketed at an annual growth rate of 7.9 percent. The food truck craze shows no sign of slowing down as people view food trucks as a fun and affordable way to try new foods.
More and more people are realizing the growth of this industry and pursuing their own food truck ventures as a result. Here’s why: they require a much smaller initial investment than a restaurant. Startup costs will depend on the state you live in but are typically as little as $30,000 to $40,000. Since it can easily change its location or serve food while it’s on the go, it’s also more likely to earn profits faster.
Although food trucks are seen in most cities, they are particularly popular in places like Austin, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle. They are often successful business ventures as they are parked on streets, business districts, farmers market, bars, sports venues, gas stations, and just about anywhere that they’re legally allowed to be.
10 Tips For Food Truck Success:
While a food truck is typically easier and more affordable to start and operate than a restaurant, it does take time and effort to ensure success. There are certain strategies that can help you stand out from other food trucks, gain new customers, retain loyal ones, and maximize your profits.
Let’s dive deeper into some of the best tips for how to start and grow a successful business in this industry.
1. Perform Extensive Market Research
Before you buy a food truck, take time to conduct thorough market research.
Your research should help you uncover the answers to questions such as:
- “Is there an emerging food trend in your town or city?,”
- “Do certain areas need food trucks?”
- “Is there an abundance of a certain type of food truck?”
If you know the answers to these questions, you’ll find it easier to make strategic business decisions.
2. Choose Your Food Truck Wisely
When it comes to the type of food truck you can run, the options are endless. You can opt for pizza, barbeque, sliders, tacos, grilled cheese…the list goes on.
So, how do you choose the perfect food truck type? Your market research will steer you toward the right direction. If you discover that there are plenty of grilled cheese food trucks in your area but not enough pizza food trucks, you’ll know what to focus on. Try to choose a food truck that not only allows for less competition but is also affordable and suits your personal interests.
3. Make A List Of Necessary Supplies
You’ll need a variety of supplies to open and operate your mobile food business. Rather than just buying things whenever you see them, make a list of what you need. Your list will likely include items such as:
- Disposable gloves
- Aluminum foil
- Cleaning supplies
- Safety supplies.
Once you create a list, you can shop around to find the best deals. Most likely, this simple strategy can save you a great deal of time and money.
4. Buy The Right Truck
Not all food trucks are created equal. Believe it or not, food trucks range in price from $50,000 to $250,000. In addition, you can buy them new or used. While new trucks can be customized to meet your particular needs, they’re expensive.
Used trucks, on the other hand, are cheaper than new ones but come with a higher risk for expensive maintenance. Another option is to lease a truck so you can test out your venture and spend less cash each month.
When you figure out what type of food truck you want to buy or lease, go to a reputable food truck dealer like Prestige Food Trucks, Cruising Kitchens, or FoodTrucks.net.
Lastly, you’ll need to consider how to finance your food truck purchase. In this situation, many business owners pursue food truck business loans in order to purchase their vehicle. By having access to a food truck loan, you’ll have funds to purchase your truck without taking away cash flow from other areas of your business.
5. Incorporate To Protect Your Assets
You could start your food truck business as a sole proprietorship and incorporate it down the road. However, the wise move is to incorporate from the start. Since you’ll be selling food products, which can make people sick, incorporating can protect your assets in the event of a lawsuit.
First, decide on a name and register your business in your state. Then, obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.
6. Set A Budget and Pursue Financing
A solid budget is a vital part of any food truck business plan. To create one, write down the amount of money you want to spend for each component of your business. These components may include kitchen equipment, staffing, vehicle maintenance, and marketing.
Keep in mind that the food truck market and regulations will likely cause budget changes over time. Also, make sure your budget is realistic and allows you to take on as little debt as possible.
As previously mentioned food truck loans can be a great way to finance your business. So, after your budget is finished, research business financing options such as:
- Small Business Loans
- Equipment Financing (Equipment Loans or Leases)
- Business Line of Credit
- Business Credit Cards
- SBA Loans
7. Try Creative Marketing Tactics
Marketing is one of the keys to business success, so you should create a marketing strategy that involves multiple strategies. Here are a few top examples:
- Try digital marketing strategies such as Facebook ads and Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
- Create an email newsletter, informing nearby patrons of where your food truck is parked and what your menu includes
- Invest in traditional initiatives like direct mail marketing.
Your marketing efforts should be ongoing and will evolve over time as you learn what works and what doesn’t.
8. Park Your Truck at High Volume Locations
As a food truck owner, you have the freedom to take your business just about anywhere. Think about where your ideal customers hang out the most. Then, get clearance to park your truck there and see how much traction you get.
Typically, food trucks perform optimally at festivals, business districts, and food truck parks. However, since the COVID-19, food trucks have also become popular in residential areas, as patrons like being able to get food to go, and eat it safely in their own homes.
9. Monitor Your Food Truck’s Reviews
In present day, reviews can make or break your small business. For this reason, it’s in your best interest to monitor your reviews regularly.
If possible, respond to all reviews, good and bad. This way prospective customers who search for your business online will know that you value your customers and are always looking to improve.
To increase reviews, you may want to offer an incentive (such as a discount) so that customers review your food truck and you build trust online.
10. Leverage Social Media
Social media marketing can do wonders for your food truck business. Create compelling Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages and update them often. Share your hottest menu items, where your truck will be parked, deals, and giveaways.
Get people excited about your food truck so they become a follower; this could prompt them to share your content with their network.
Final Thoughts On Food Truck Success
A food truck business can be an exciting way to become an entrepreneur, earn a living, and make a positive difference in your community. However, just like with any business, it takes hard work, dedication, and patience. As long as you select the right financing option and follow these tips, your chances of success are very high.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a food truck?
A food truck is a large vehicle which prepares and serves food. Essentially, it’s a “restaurant on wheels.”
Why do people like food trucks?
Food trucks have increased in popularity in recent years because they allow people to try new foods in an easy and affordable way.
What are the advantages of opening a food truck?
If you open this type of business, you’ll have a much lower initial investment than you would if you start a restaurant. Also, you’ll likely profit much faster and be able to experiment with different locations.
Is the food truck industry popular?
While the food truck concept started in 1961, has skyrocketed in popularity over the past decade. It’s grown 7.9 percent as opposed to the 2 percent growth rate of restaurants.
Editor’s Note: This post was updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness in April 2021.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.