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How to Start Your Own Mobile Food Truck Business

How to Start Your Own Mobile Food Truck Business

A mobile food truck business has lower chances of incurring losses as compared to a restaurant, because a food truck can go to the customers instead of waiting for them to walk in. To know more, keep reading the following BusinessZeal write-up...
Meghna Wani
A real entrepreneur is somebody who has no safety net underneath them.

—Henry Kravis

"A real entrepreneur is somebody who has no safety net underneath them, that is why he holds on very tightly to whatever he is holding and succeeds". I've added a few words to the above-mentioned adage, because when you know you cannot look back is when you put in all your efforts to keep moving ahead. In the same way, when you decide to start a new business, you have to realize that many hurdles will come your way, but if you are ready to overcome them, nobody can stop your success. And if you think that starting a mobile food truck business is your launchpad to success, then BusinessZeal will guide you with some tricks of the trade.

Food trucks are everywhere. Nowadays, it is almost impossible to drive on a road and not locate a food truck. Secondly, this are not a new concept. While previously they were thought of as dirty vans that delivered junk food loaded with calories, these days things have changed, and so have food trucks. Eager twenty-something entrepreneurs are giving these trucks a new face, and making the mobile food business an inspiring trend.

Basics of Starting a Mobile Food Truck Business

Are Food Trucks Permitted?

This is the first step you need to take before you could even think of buying a truck. You have to start by finding out if food trucks are allowed in the area where you are planning to park it. Different cities have different rules. In some cities, food trucks are completely banned, while some cities like to limit them. The next step is to check if the parking area is open for legal trading or not. You don't want to start at the wrong place, and at the wrong time, and end up in a soup. These steps are very essential, and if you try to skip any of these, then you may end up losing your hard-earned permit.

Get a Permit

To start a food truck business, you have to get a 'mobile food vending license'. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, if the truck intends to manufacture and sell frozen desserts, then they need to apply for an additional permit, and its fee is $25.00. This is not all, you also have to clear a 'Food Protection Course for Mobile Vendors', which is an eight-hour course conducted over two days. The cost of the course is $53.00, and you get a license only after successfully clearing the exam.

A payment of $50 for a two-year license, or $10 for a seasonal license valid from April 1 through October 31, must be made. The applicant gets a Photo ID badge and the license document in the mail; till then he/she is not allowed to start the business. This rule is applicable in New York City, but can vary in other cities and states. Therefore, you have to research and find out the correct way of getting a permit in your area.

Find Your Niche

This section is really important, because the competition is tough, and it's not only other food trucks, but also brick and mortar restaurants that are competing with you for customers. Therefore, before you take the plunge, you have to find your USP.

The first thing that you need to think about is the food. Usually, a food truck has 8-10 items on the menu. It is advised that you should try to think out of the box when designing the menu. But do not go too far and come up with an exotic recipe with super specialty ingredients that are not only difficult to source, but also expensive. Keep the dishes simple, but with a twist. Just try to bring in some change in the pizza topping or add your secret ingredient in the wrapped burrito. You should strike a proper balance between serving the same thing, but still being different.

Next, you need to develop a strong brand. For branding, you need a logo. After you finalize a striking brand name for your truck, you need to design a logo. To do this, you have to tap the power of the Internet. Some websites can help you design logos for free, use those! Once a logo is in place, the next thing is to develop a menu card and think of a truck design with your logo on it. All the elements of the truck should be cohesive with the brand. If it is possible, you could get the logo printed on the cups, napkins, and aprons of the employees. Select an unusual color scheme, or an unusual name. Just do whatever it takes to grab the attention of people.

Third is location. If you are unable to find a good location, you are stuck. Think cleverly and look out for crowded places. A busy street outside a college campus or an office building, subway stations, concert venues, movie halls, or any place where you find the streets bustling with people can be a good location. But do not forget work ethics and step on anyone's toes. Find a unique place for yourself.

The main idea is not only to get 'customers' but 'repeat customers', and to get those, you have to make their experience memorable.

After you have the menu sorted out, approach local offices in the neighborhood, and ask if they can keep your food for sale in their canteens during lunch hours. If your food is able to generate some cash, and people are getting to like it, then build from there. Inform them about your new venture and invite them to give it a try. You could also start with some discount coupons for first-timers.

Purchasing a Truck and Equipment

After you have tested the waters and are ready to get your feet wet, you should think of purchasing a truck. You will not only need a truck, but also the equipment in it. If you have to prepare the product on the truck, then you will need a large truck, called the Mobile Food Preparation Vehicle (MFPV). On the other hand, if you are going to prepare food at home, then perhaps a smaller truck to just keep the food warm will be sufficient. This is known as an Industrial Catering Vehicle (ICV).

You can buy a new, as well as a used truck. A new food truck will usually run into six figures. If you are new to the business, you better bootstrap rather than go into debt. Search for a fully-done used truck. Checking the online sites can help you find a good deal. A fully-equipped food truck may cost you around $20,000 - $40,000. If you opt for a basic truck with minimum equipment and lots of miles, then you could crack a deal as low as $10,000.

It is usually wiser to compare online and offline prices, have a thorough look at your needs, and inquire with several people before finalizing the truck. After all, you should not end up paying $30,000 when you could do equally well with a $10,000 truck.

Be Prepared With a Back-up Plan

You have to think of all the things that could go wrong. Can't think of any? I'll give you list of malfunctions that could occur while you are doling out delicacies. Your truck has wheels and that means you will not be in a permanent location. You have to be prepared to cope with the changes in the environmental temperature, and your equipment's ability to keep the food warm. Second, your generator fails and refuses to restart on a busy afternoon, and you have a line of people waiting for your scrumptious food. To face such emergencies, you need to have a plan-B.

Seasonal changes, like winter, rain, or wind can drop foot traffic substantially. You have to think and forecast the budget for such slow days. Ideally, you should research about the duration of bad-weather days and make an account of those before preparing your budget plan.

A customer-service disaster will harm your reputation. So, think of all the possible mishaps that could happen, like running out of gas, equipment failure, insufficient produce, or being understaffed in case the chef goes down with flu. You need to think of everything that can possibly ruin your first impression, because second impressions are difficult to build.

Use the Power of Social Media

Social media can take your business one step further into the virtual world. It can take your business to millions of people. Your truck can be only at one place at a time, but your website can be all over the world. You can either start with a free website, or a blog. Keep the content upbeat and authentic. On the website, make a dedicated column for people to post their suggestions and feedback. Link your website to social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

Keep your website smartphone-friendly. Visit your website regularly, don't let it lose the spark. If creating your own website is not feasible for the moment, consider social networking sites. Sign up for a Twitter account and announce your route to your followers, so that they know at what locations you will be. Click photographs of your truck in the rush-hours and upload them. Strong branding is the key.

In summation, I would like to reiterate that start small. When things gather momentum, then you can think of adding all the bells and whistles.