Starting a food truck business isn’t as simple as buying a truck and hitting the streets, but it can be a great way to achieve your entrepreneurial dreams and become a successful small business owner.
We’ve worked with food trucks for 10 years now, helping them grow their revenue through private catering and public events, helping them buy and sell food trucks, and consulting with owners who want to build a truck from the ground up about food truck costs, financing, and marketing. And we’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to be successful in this industry.
To teach others about how to start a food truck business, we decided to reach out to our network and get advice directly from the men and women owners we talk to every day. To arm newcomers with the best information possible, Roaming Hunger asked 61 food truck entrepreneurs about their experience starting a food truck business, and the advice they’d give to others.
These mobile masters of cuisine share business tips on everything from buying the perfect truck to hiring the right employees – and everything in between. Take a look at these valuable pieces of advice from experienced food truckers:
Your business starts and ends with the food truck itself. When it’s on the road and working great, you’re making money. When it’s in the shop for repairs or the generator gives out on you, you’re losing money. Consider the wise advice from the owners below on how to set yourself up for success from the get-go.
Ashley from Not As Famous Cookie Company
Get a truck that meets all of your needs. Research equipment and power needs to avoid taking losses.
Ken from Kebab Food Truck
Get the right size food truck. My current truck has a 15′ cargo area. I would never have another one less than 18′ and I’d prefer 20′ or 22′. And I’d find a wider body than my current 80″.
Craig from Johnny Doughnuts
Our food truck was built 500 miles away, which made it difficult to manage [the build] daily. That is the biggest lesson we learned. Build in a hefty travel budget or find a local builder.
Dan from OMG Cheesecakery!
Although our food truck has a very nostalgic look (it’s a 1972 Cortez Motorhome), because of its age it comes with maintenance problems that can prevent the entire business from moving. We probably would have been better with a trailer rather than a truck.
Ben from Rocky Mountain Slices Truck
One thing I would change, which is a big thing, I would have built a trailer instead of a truck. The mechanical issues I have had over the past four years have made it difficult to build the business the way we planned.
Loretta from The Hungry Lumberjack
I would definitely make sure that you have the correct appliances and that the build-out has sufficient space and storage.
From FOOD DUDE
Invest in better equipment from the start, especially a generator.
Kyle from Aioli Gourmet Burgers Truck
Do not take short cuts. I have opened three food truck companies and the more you take care of in the beginning the easier your life will be.
Phil from Döner Men
I would start with a newer truck. If your food truck is off the road for repairs your business is closed and that will financially hurt you.
Patrick from Truck Meister
I spent two years planning my food truck. When I say planning, I mean I laid out my truck with life size cardboard cutouts, then I found out the weight of equipment I needed and how much food I wanted the truck to hold. I searched for a food truck to fit my needs. When it came to electrical, I made sure that I could run the refrigerators with 110 volts from one circuit when I was parked at the shop.
Jorge from La Chiva
I would have gotten a bigger food truck. Mine is only 15″ and I could have used a bigger one for more equipment and cold storage.
Julio and Kelly from 50 Shades of Green
If we were to start another food truck, we would look for a better base to start with. The truck is the heart of your business and buying a truck because it’s cheap is wishing for problems down the road. Very costly problems. I would take my time and find a mechanically stable truck with dimensions that will fit our needs.
Stefano from BrewWings
While you can save money and time going with a used food truck, in the long run it can give you more headaches and comes with many unknowns.
The best thing you can do is build your own truck and lay it out how you want it. If you aren’t sure what you need, you could rent a food truck and feel it out. Your menu will evolve a bit, especially in the beginning, so you may want to test the market with your foods and see what are the most popular food or types of food on your menu and structure your truck accordingly.
An extensive preventative maintenance plan is required to be successful and reliable too. This plan needs to cover everything from tires to transmission, and include daily, weekly and monthly checks. People overlook this far too often and pay for it.
Sean from Slider Provider
Be picky when buying your first truck. Have a mechanic or experienced food trucker look it over. When I bought one, it instantly needed bank-account-draining upgrades both mechanically and with regards to cooking equipment. Unplanned expenses almost sidelined me before I even got started.
Dom from Mac Truck NYC
Cutting corners to build your business to save a few bucks is penny wise and dollar foolish. At the suggestion of a “consultant,” I built my food truck through a fabricator very far from home because the price was right. I had no access to see the process or the build out. It was a disaster and a very expensive lesson. The truck is the whole business. Put your resources there. A lot of times it’s expensive to be cheap.
GET STARTED WITH YOUR FOOD TRUCK BUILD HERE.
Andrew from Em’s Ice Cream
We actually started with ice cream carts. They were much less expensive initially and allowed us to test our concept before making the larger investment into a truck.
Roger from The Steamin Burger
I had a solid business plan, I had my truck made to my specifications by a custom food truck manufacturer, I paid cash for the truck, I researched and practiced my menu with quality ingredients for months and had everyone I know eating it and giving their opinion. I would say that since we did all those things, we have been pretty successful from the get go.
Andrea from Pbon’s Fresh Phood
We’ve learned storage and organization is most important. In addition, the generator is the heart of your food truck, without it, the rest will not run properly.
Luis from Los Tacos Hermanos
Make sure you have a quality truck. I had a lot of engine problems at the beginning. If the truck can’t get to an event then there is no business.
A big takeaway from the advice given above is the concept of building a new truck, rather than trying to save money and buy a used one. Check out our “How Much Does A Food Truck Cost?” article to learn the pros and cons of buying a used trucks versus a new truck. As a newcomer, you can opt to save money and buy a used truck, only to be hit by costly repairs down the line that disrupt your business. A new build is more money upfront, but will be a safer bet overall.
Getting your food truck business started is one thing, surviving and growing is a whole other ball game. Whether it’s finding locations or making it in a small community, planning and research before you hit the road can make a huge difference. The owners below give some incredible insights into what to think about and do before starting your business.
Steve from Braizen Food Truck
Research the city you want to start in. We started in Calgary. The city offers little to no incentives to small business in general, and now with over 80 trucks in a small space with no parking it’s counterproductive. We’ve turned our focus to catering.
From Linkz Express
Do research on food trucks in your state. The whole food truck movement hasn’t been in Georgia very long, so being in the first stages has been difficult.
Sean from It’s Bao Time
It is a common mistake to try and learn the ropes by trial and error. Although you can’t be afraid to make mistakes, and mistakes will definitely happen, it is well worth it to nail down some fundamental processes that will eventually form the way you operate.
Take your time to learn your customers, your own weak points, and learn your strengths as well. There is always time for innovation, but if you rush into serving food, you might alienate initial customers and never get repeat business.
Freddie from The Green Olive Food Truck
If I was to do it differently, I would have scoped out food truck spots with a car and if there was a food truck working, I would ask the truck if the spot is worth it. We learned a lot from trial and error, but a little research could have helped.
Steve from The Happy Pita Truck
Consider working on a food truck first and foremost to make sure you enjoy the work.
Brian from FUEL Mobile Kitchen
Understand your demographic before opening. Knowing what you’re going to sell and to whom can help you determine whether your food truck is going to make it. We live in a small, rural farming town and thought since we source a lot of items from those farms, we would gather some of their customers as well as the farmers. Unfortunately, small towns tend to be cautious of new things. However, we were able to assess undervalued areas, like wineries and vineyards and are absolutely killing it now.
Steve from Sante Mobile Cafe
I would have lined up more locations in advance as it’s a lengthy sales cycle and something you don’t have much time for once the food truck is in operation.
Dom from Mac Truck NYC
I believe focusing on events, catering, and regular vending opportunities from the beginning will make all the difference as opposed to just hitting the streets and hoping for the best. The street business is just too unpredictable. The steady revenue of the three areas I mentioned will pay the bills.
Lisa from Best Bayou Bites
Talk to local food truck owners about the business, their trucks, and get their advice. We did not do this and we missed out on a great opportunity to learn from the people who could have given us great information. We thought that we would bother someone by asking questions or that they wouldn’t want to talk to a newbie, but in reality, most food truck owners are very friendly and love to talk about their business. I now reach out to new truckers and take them under my wing and guide them to resources that can help them.
The menu is often the most important aspect to a food truck owner starting out in the industry. After all, it is the passion for food that drives them to start a business in the first place. It is also a very personal thing for any chef to share with the world.
As outlined in the advice below, creating a menu is a balancing act between complexity and simplicity, between making amazing food and making food people will eat and share. A food truck is a great way to build a business and feed your fans, but it’s not always the best way to share exotic or hard to make foods.
Alexa from Meat on the Street
Keep it simple. In every aspect, keep it simple. You don’t need all the fancy bells and whistles. If your food is good, people will talk, they will eat, and word will spread.
Dan from Cool Beans
I would have had a focus group answer some questions to help us decide on menu ideas, and also on the truck’s exterior design.
Amber from Engine 1 Pizza
Find a popular food that food trucks don’t normally do.
Shayne from Grilled Cheese Bandits
Made to order food takes significantly more time to produce. I believe we could produce a lot more orders if we weren’t making each order at the time of ordering. However, this does personalize each meal more.
Alli and Jo from East Coast Joe’s Truck
One of the biggest things we learned was not to focus on one exotic menu item. When we started East Coast Joe’s, we wanted to focus strictly on lobster rolls. When the price of lobster went through the roof (hitting all-time highs), we had to adapt and change up our menu.
Make sure when serving high-priced or exotic commodities that you offer supplemental items to help balance your food cost. We featured our spin on an egg salad sandwich, and it became one of our biggest sellers.
Michael from Jamburritos Food Truck
My menu is very labor intensive and I only did it as a prerequisite to a fast casual brick and mortar. I would have offered a simpler menu.
Martz from MR Martz Central Coast BBQ
I would get to know my competition and do something that’s new or re-invents something old, but at a low cost. You want food that’s fast to put together and time effective for customers.
Marco from Marco Pollo Food Truck
Experiment more with menu ideas before opening because once you hit the streets it is hard to find the time to pioneer new menu ideas.
Cristina from Street Foods Co.
Define your menu carefully. Staying true to your style and who you are will be the signature of any dish you create. It’s like an art painting, you’ll know it’s Picasso or Monet.
While food trucks can be a low investment opportunity compared to brick and mortar restaurants, funding can be an issue for anyone who doesn’t plan accordingly. When it comes to starting your food truck business, cash is king.
Richard from Daddy’s Bonetown Burgers Truck
I probably would want more capital to begin with. We started on a shoestring budget and had nothing saved.
Herbert from Guacamoli Co.
I would have liked to have started my business with a lot more capital. I started with very little money and built our company from the ground up. It was a grind. Being undercapitalized is not a position you want to be in, but it is a reality for most people in any business and it contributes to many businesses failing.
Cristina from Street Foods Co.
Have a fat cash reserve to allow for any contingencies. There are so many uncertainties with a food truck, like breakdowns, repairs, weather, fees and permits.
Do not do business with your family members or cousins. If so, sign contracts in case they leave you with debts.
If you’re looking for more information about small business loans, this article from Money.com provides a detailed overview of loans available to small businesses. It goes over things like interest rates, general qualifications, and determining the right loan for your business. If you need to build up credit to get a loan, until April 2021 you can check your credit report for free at all three major credit bureaus to see where you stand.
The legal side of the food truck business is often out of the owner’s control and can be a great source of stress. Make sure you do the proper research on the city and state level. Although only two trucks that talked to us mentioned permits and regulations outright, we’ve worked with many food trucks that had to figure out how to overcome unfriendly mobile food regulations. Check out our article called “Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting A Food Truck”, where Mustache Pretzel owner Greg Golden goes into more detail about this.
From Mama’s Heros
NYC health dept food permits are done on a horrible system and it’s disgusting how much is charged to be able to get to work unlike other states that are more welcoming towards food trucks.
Jorge from Arepas House
Learn about all the regulations from the county and the fire department in order to get a food truck that’s well equipped with what you need to meet codes.
Most food truck owners believe that if the food is good, the marketing will take care of itself. While this may work sometimes, it’s not something you want to depend on when getting your business off the ground. Learn about and invest in marketing so you can jumpstart your business from the start. Just make sure your menu, staff, and kitchen are ready to handle the customers.
Eric from Not Just Q
I would have spent more money in marketing to get started. We had a slow start, which almost broke us.
Marc from Ninjas with Appetite
I would push social media harder.
Jeff from Phenomnom Truck
Hire a PR team to boost your following and exposure in all markets.
If you’re looking for some good digital marketing advice for your food truck, Pomelo has a good article called Food Truck Marketing.
You can also market your food truck on Roaming Hunger. Click the link to learn how to grow your catering business.
The people you work with can make all the difference. In the case of succeeding in the food truck industry, finding reliable and experienced employees will be a huge advantage. Take the time to build a team that will be passionate about building your business.
Calvin from Paddy Wagon Sliders
If I could start over. I wouldn’t have hired my close friends to work for me as it was hard to separate friendship and business.
Suzy from Stripchezze
Do not hire family. They take advantage of you.
Sean from It’s Bao Time
If I started again today, I would take the time and really find quality help. It makes a world of difference if you have a team that can be a foundation to build upon and truly grow the business with.
Ving from Road Dogs Food Truck
I would have a strong, motivated team and newer truck.
Siobhan from YellowBellies Truck
Over staff until you know what a lunch/dinner service looks like and always keep an open mind. It might be your business but if you surround yourself with the right people they might have better ideas than you.
Believe it or not some owners are told that starting a food truck business is not very hard. In our experience that is a great mindset if you want to be out of business in less than a year. If you’re serious about it, you’ve got to roll with the punches and keep solving the problems that inevitably come up.
Sharndell from Cupcake and a Smile
I wish I knew to plan for the worst, like situations that are not controllable. For example, people don’t tend to come out in Houston, TX when it is raining and 90+ degrees. Today, we offer a car service or make pre-orders to ensure that we sell our product when it’s hot. People love excellent customer service, and what better way to satisfy a customer than to deliver to them directly?
Christine from Toum Food Truck
The food truck industry is not as easy as it looks. It’s very cut throat and you need to constantly roll with the punches. You’ll make a lot of sacrifices just to keep afloat.
Pat from Empanadas Aqui
Don’t stress about getting lunches and events on the calendar, they will find you.
Daniel from The Lime Truck
Remember, a food truck is a business. I think most people get into food trucks because it’s a great chance to own a business with low startup costs, but you are running a true business and there is a lot to think about outside of making great food. I’ve just noticed a lot of people fizzle out due to that reality.
Shayne from Grilled Cheese Bandits
The worst information I received when starting my food truck was that it could be done as a hobby and it wouldn’t take up that much of my time.
To start a food truck you have to be a doer. Anyone who overthinks every single decision will get lost in all the meaningless details. As a small business owner, you have to plan, execute, and adjust. And no matter what, you have to believe in what you are doing.
Dennis from Big D’s Grub Truck
Go for your dreams, go big but do it right. Being your own boss is priceless. It’s also a lot of work!
Gilbert Villa from G’s Taco Spot On Wheels
Believe in yourself and your concept. Believe that although there are many food trucks in the area, there is only one you. Which means that the quality of your food, your customer service, and presentation is what separates you from the rest. Understand that your concept is truly up to you. There are no right or wrong ways to what you do.
Ving from Road Dogs
Don’t let anyone tell you to give up because it won’t be a stable career.
Gary from The Griddler Food Truck
I would jump right in and not overthink too much. Listen to customers rather than friends and family, since customers are your best critics.
Omar from Chix N Stix
If I could do it differently today, I would start sooner, try not to over-plan, but still be prepared. Paralysis of analysis is a killer, and I lost some optimal time trying to overthink things.
In conclusion, we hope that the advice above has given you some food for thought about what it takes to start a food truck business. No matter how good your food is, at the end of the day you’re running a small business. You have to get the right truck, build the right menu, find the right employees, scout great locations, learn the laws of the land, have enough cash to survive, and keep track of countless other important details.
Do you have questions or want to share your thoughts on the industry or how to start a food truck?
Please do so in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.