Whether it’s a stand, a truck, or a pop-up shop, the street food business is rolling. Whether as a side hobby or a full time job, there’s no reason you can’t get in on the action. And it can all be done in three easy steps. Yes, really!
You will need to know what’s what when it comes to financing your operation, getting the proper permits and choosing the right location. Keep the following information in mind when getting your business started:
- Financing: Though a food truck business will be significantly easier to finance than a brick-and-mortar establishment, you will still need to invest a good chunk of change into your food truck. Consider what kind of equipment you’ll need, and whether you’ll be able to make everything on-site or if you will need use of a kitchen. A great option for cash-strapped entrepreneurs is to rent or buy a used truck.
- Permits: Sometimes you’ll need them, sometimes you won’t. It depends on what city you choose, and you will have to make sure that you aren’t breaking any rules or you could get slapped with a hefty fine. Here are the types of permits/licenses that you might need:
- Vending license: Most cities require that you obtain a vending or business license in order to start your business. There are some rare exceptions, such as in Florida where you do not need a license to sell pre-packaged food.
- Zoning permit: A zoning permit may be necessary depending on your location and how long you plan to be parked. If you plan to park with a group of trucks, sometimes a special zoning permit is needed for this as well.
- Health inspection: You will need to have your truck inspected by the health department to ensure that you are in compliance with local health laws.
- Location: You’ll want to look into the existing market research on your city to find whether it is a good idea to open up a food truck business there. Cities like Los Angeles and New York are already fairly saturated with food trucks, so if possible it might be a better strategy to choose a mid-sized city where there is not as much competition. If you do decide to brave the streets of the big cities, make sure that your menu offers something unique and exciting to attract customers.
- Parking: Most cities will have regulations that prevent parking in certain commercial districts or within a certain distance from brick-and-mortar establishments. Check the rules regarding parking near public parks and in residential districts in order to avoid tickets and run-ins with law enforcement. Choose a parking spot that works for your demographic. You might want to set up shop in a fixed location or, as is popular, let your Twitter followers know where you’ll be from day to day. It is also a good idea to talk to local business owners about setting up shop in their parking lots, which could help draw a decent lunch crowd and introduce your product to new customers.
Step Two: Make it a snack-tivity
Food isn’t just something to eat, it’s something to do. This is a tenet to keep in mind, especially if you want to appeal to millennials, who can get bored easily. This demographic is accustomed to a constant flux of information and when that flow stops they look around and ask, “Now what?” Tap into that sentiment, provide a few moments of entertainment for your customers and you’ll hit gold. How? Here are a few ideas:
- Offer something fresh and new: You should have an original or specialized menu idea that sets you apart and draws attention. This is especially important if you are in a city that already has a number of other mobile vendors. Trucks that use organic, locally-sourced ingredients are popular, as are trucks that cater to the multi-ethnic sensibilities of the millennial generation. This is the recipe for success for Kogi, the Los Angeles-based Korean barbecue taco truck. Kogi has almost 150,000 followers on Twitter and attracts customers willing to wait in line for 45 minutes before getting their food. You can also post a special online daily, weekly, or however often your menu choices change. Keep it fresh and you’ll keep them coming back for more.
- Change your location: Your customers, once they know how delicious your unique menu offerings are, will be excited to see what exotic new location you’ll be parking in each day. Utilize Facebook and Twitter to let them know where to find you. Perhaps you’ll bring them to a part of town they’ve never been to before, and perhaps they will discover something else that’s new and exciting while they’re trying out your new daily special.
- Make friends with other food trucks: If you can arrange to park together, you will find that you can draw quite a crowd. Play music, hand out blankets for picnics, put your laptop on a chair and play episodes of a popular show that your target audience likes every Wednesday. Be creative! If you are less like a food court and more like a travelling party, customers will be more than willing to line up and wait.
Step Three: Branch out
No one says the only way to make money with a food truck is by selling food out of it. If you have a brick-and-mortar establishment, adding a food truck can help boost sales and increase visibility. Whatever your situation, there are plenty of profitable ways to use your food truck:
- Bring your product to events: Many food truck businesses see increased sales by catering office lunches, bar/bat mitzvahs and even weddings. Heck, you can even stage your own events. How about a scavenger hunt that leads your customers to the truck’s latest location? Food truck patrons have shown that they are willing to put in the extra effort if there is an exciting reward waiting for them.
- Sell more than just lunch: Have a special sauce that your customers just can’t get enough of? Try selling it online or at a local grocery store. Loyal patrons also might enjoy a t-shirt or a tote bag, especially if your truck sports a snazzy design.
When it comes to the modern food truck, the sky really is the limit. With some delicious food and little creativity you are sure to draw a crowd and see your profits soar.