From Kitchen to Curb: How to Start a Food Truck for Your Restaurant

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Phil Sykora
April 22, 2024
A food truck operator is handing two women a bowl of food.

The food truck business is booming! According to Grand View Research, the food truck services market in the US is growing at a rate of 6.4% every year, with the total market cap expected to almost double by 2030.

And it isn’t very difficult to see why: Food trucks often offer culinary creations that other street food just can’t compete with. If you’re an overworked young professional walking around the city looking for a bite to eat, are you going to order a “dirty water” hot dog or a bulgogi taco? By and large, it seems that most people are leaning toward the more unique offerings of food trucks.

Furthermore, the restaurant economy is increasingly becoming more mobile and tech-oriented. Food trucks offer a flexible approach to running your business and engaging with your community, both face-to-face and online.

Why Should Your Restaurant Start a Food Truck Business?

In addition to the reasons listed above, here are three major reasons why your restaurant should start a food truck business.

1. It has relatively low start-up costs. 

According to most industry experts, opening a food truck business can cost anywhere from $60,000 to more than $150,000, depending on the permits required in your area. If you’re really on a budget, you can get the costs down as low as $30,000 – and we’re sure that some have even managed to do it for less. Opening another restaurant, however, usually costs about four times as much, with many estimates ranging from $200,000 to $750,000 (or more).

2. It opens the door to catering opportunities, such as weddings. 

It’s a point that hardly requires an explanation. If you have a food truck, you can cater weddings and other events. According to Forbes, the average cost of a wedding is now a little over $33,000, which – funny enough – is actually more than the average down payment on a new house in most states. Food trucks allow restaurant owners to cater to the growth in the wedding industry.

3. It allows you to stay mobile and learn about new locations.

If you’re interested in opening another restaurant location, a food truck allows you to test that market. You can collect a lot of market data by parking your food truck near the area where you’re thinking about opening your next location. You can figure out who knows about your business, what people have been saying, and if there’s truly enough interest to sustain another location.

A food truck operator is helping a woman and preparing her order.

What’s Required to Start a Food Truck Business?

Launching a food truck business requires preparation. First, you’ll need to identify a niche. Since you already own a restaurant, this isn’t as hard as it would be if you were starting from scratch.

However, your food truck is obviously going to be limited by inventory in a way that your restaurant isn’t. As the owner, you probably have a very good idea of what foods people like best on your menu and which foods best represent your brand. You can consider these to be must-haves for your food truck. If Outback started a food truck, for example, they’d be sure to have their “Bloomin’ Onion.” Burger King would have Whoppers, and McDonald’s would have ice cream machines that don’t work.

Next up is the business plan. It will detail your concept, financial projections, marketing strategies, and day-to-day operations. It can also help to have the business plan professionally reviewed by a business manager or consultant, to make sure that there aren’t any glaring issues in your budget or revenue projections.

How Can You Get a Food Truck License?

Running a legal operation is, of course, the primary factor in starting a successful food truck business.

You should research and obtain all necessary licenses and permits required by your local city, county, and state to operate a mobile food vendor. This could include health department inspections, business licenses, and vendor permits. Remember that these requirements will vary depending on your location, so be sure to check official state websites or reliable sources to get the most accurate and up-to-date information. 

One thing to note is that most food trucks cannot qualify for a full liquor license. If you’re planning on serving your tacos alongside your award-winning margaritas, that might not be possible. For special events, it’s possible to obtain a temporary permit. If selling alcohol is your long-term plan, that probably won’t work.

At an absolute minimum, you’ll be required to apply for the following licenses and/or permits – some of which you undoubtedly already have as a restaurant owner:

  • Business license
  • Health license
  • Food handler's permit
  • Seller's permit
A female food truck operator is preparing a dish for a customer.

How Much Does It Cost to Start a Food Truck?

Although the list of regulations and required licenses seems long, the start-up costs associated with starting a food truck are nowhere near as bad as they are for starting a restaurant. Opening a food truck business can cost anywhere from $60,000 to more than $150,000 – although many food truck operators claim to have started their business with as little as $30,000.

The biggest expense is the truck itself, which needs to be outfitted with commercial kitchen equipment. New trucks cost anywhere from $45,000 to $100,000 while used trucks (in working condition) range from $25,000 to $60,000

Permits and licenses vary by area. Exact figures are hard to pin down and these are often recurring costs, so they aren’t just one-time expenses like the food truck purchase itself. In New York City, for example, the cost of food truck permits and licenses ranges from $15,000 to $30,000. In Columbus, Ohio, the costs range from $250 to $1,000.

When Is the Best Time to Operate a Food Truck?

There isn't a single "best" time to operate a food truck, but there are definitely factors to consider that can influence your success.

The most important time, though, is probably the lunch rush. This occurs between 11 AM and 2 PM, and it’s when food trucks tend to be busiest during the week. 

Next up is the evening – and not necessarily the typical dinner rush, either. Food trucks are notorious for serving the late-night crowd. Depending on the location, setting up near nightlife or entertainment districts can attract party-goers in search of snacks or meals.

Finally, although this is more of a seasonal answer, food trucks can also set up shop near any major event that’s coming to town. Festivals, concerts, and other special events can be a goldmine for food trucks, with a captive audience ready to spend.

Three young adults are lining up at a food truck.

What Are the Best Food Truck Locations?

Any area with high foot traffic is a good food truck location. You wouldn’t want to start a skiing business in the desert, and the same rings true for any food truck business that doesn’t have a lot of people walking around.

Ideally, you want to be in a location with a steady stream of potential customers who are hungry and ready to spend. This could include areas near office buildings, universities, hospitals, busy streets, or shopping centers.

Areas with a high concentration of offices and workplaces, especially during lunch hours, attract hungry professionals seeking quick and convenient meals. They want something that’s a step up from fast food but not as time-consuming as a sit-down restaurant. Setting up near office buildings or business parks can be lucrative during weekdays – which can otherwise be a slow period for many food truck operators.

How to Design a Food Truck Menu

Your food truck menu is a powerful tool. It's not just a list of dishes; it's a conversation starter, a mouthwatering advertisement, and a roadmap for your customers' delicious journey.

Keep it concise. A concise menu allows you to focus on quality and efficiency, crucial for a fast-paced food truck operation. Your truck won’t have a lot of space for ingredients, so getting granular on exactly what you offer can allow you to optimize storage space.

Go beyond just listing ingredients. Use descriptive language to make your dishes sound mouthwatering. Highlight unique flavors, cooking methods, and fresh ingredients.

Consider your target audience and competition. Price your dishes competitively while ensuring profitability. Don't use dollar signs; focus on the value proposition of your food.

A crowd of five people are gathering around a food truck to order food.

Final Thoughts: Starting a Food Truck for Your Restaurant

All in all, transitioning from a traditional restaurant setup to a food truck requires some upfront investment and work, but it can be a journey filled with unique opportunities. With careful planning and dedication, you can extend your restaurant brand’s reach and tap into a whole new customer base. So, put the pedal to the metal and get ready to take your culinary creations from kitchen to curb. 

Ready to streamline HR for both your restaurant and your new food truck? Push can help with our all-in-one people management solution that’s been designed with restaurants in mind. Book a demo to see what Push can do for your restaurant.

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April 2024


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