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How to Start a Food Truck Business
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1. Plan your costs and find a truck
2. get approved by the board of health, 3. get permits and licenses, 4. decide how you’re going to prepare your food, 5. hire employees and get mobile food vendor badges, 6. figure out where to park, 7. start marketing and promoting your food truck, 8. consider using a point-of-sale system, 9. perfect your day-to-day plan, the bottom line.
Lining the streets and sidewalks of every corner with cheap, tasty eats, food trucks — once thought to be just a fad — have proven they’re here to stay. In the past several years, the multi-billion-dollar food truck industry has become increasingly popular as sidewalk chefs reinvent street food, launching the gourmet food truck craze. From 2016 to 2021, the industry saw a 7.5% growth rate, according to Los Angeles-based industry-research firm IBISWorld — and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
However, starting a food truck business is not as simple as buying a truck and cooking up some food. With any new entrepreneurial endeavor, and particularly food businesses , there is a lot of planning and preparation required even before you get into the details of the actual operation.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through, step by step, how to start a food truck. Plus, we’ll include tips from Debbie and Derek Kaye — who run the booming tri-state food truck business, Eddies Pizza Truck & Cart.
Before we break down our steps on how to start a food truck business specifically, let’s briefly discuss some of the actions you’ll want to take first — when you start a food truck, or any other business:
Write a business plan: Although you may want to get your food truck up and running as soon as possible, a well-thought-out business plan will certainly help you in the long run. By thinking out your long-term plan ahead of time, you’ll have a guide to follow as you continue through the process of starting your food truck.
Choose your business legal structure: Before you start thinking about trucks, cooking and where to park, you’ll need to decide how your business will legally be structured. Will you operate as a sole proprietorship or maybe a partnership? A business attorney or online legal service may be useful in helping you make this decision.
Register your business: Once you’ve determined your legal structure, you’ll want to register your business name, if necessary, as well as register for federal, state and local taxes. You’ll more than likely need to get an employee identification number, or EIN, from the IRS.
Open a business bank account: After you’ve registered for your taxes, you’ll want to open a business bank account as the first crucial step in separating your business and personal finances. This account will be the base for you to manage and organize your funds as you go through the process of starting a food truck.
At this point, you’ll be in good shape to actually get your business off the ground. Let’s break down how to start a food truck:
First, you’ll need to think about costs.
How much does it cost to start a food truck? It’s hard to give an accurate estimate for startup costs because there are so many possibilities in what you’ll need to get started. First, you’ll have to find the right truck for your business and you’ll likely have to get it custom made to fit your needs, which can cost anywhere from $20,000 and $40,000. You’ll also want to consider costs such as:
Ingredients and food.
Salary and benefits for employees.
Technology to operate your truck.
Marketing, advertising and more.
Your actual truck will be the largest and most pressing expense you’ll need to pay for. Before settling on a truck, you’ll want to have a few layout options, keeping in mind what specifically you’ll need for your food truck business.
You might consult various food truck vendors or other business owners to get a sense of what different layouts look like and which one might work best for you. It’s important to also keep in mind that things tend to break a lot more on a truck, cautioned Debbie Kaye, so you’ll want to make sure you consider this in your planning process and have enough finances on hand in case the inevitable happens.
“Appliances weren’t meant to be on wheels, so they frequently need repairing,” she tells us.
With this in mind, you might also think about your various food truck financing options — such as different loans and business credit cards — to cover many of your startup costs.
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Once we uncover your personalized matches, our team will consult you on the process moving forward.
Next, you’ll have to sort through the rules and regulations you’ll need to abide by. As a food-based business, there will definitely be more considerations to take within this regard.
Therefore, you’ll likely want to first determine what Board of Health regulations you need to follow. It probably isn’t surprising to learn that just like health department inspectors check food at restaurants, the same goes for food trucks. Most inspections are conducted to at least verify the following:
Proof of ownership, identification and license of the vehicle.
Proof of District-issued Food Manager Identification Card.
Food is stored and kept at proper temperature.
Records of food purchase.
Health and fire codes are met.
After figuring out your health requirements, the next step involved in how to start a food truck is getting the necessary permits and business licenses. Once again, because starting a food truck business means handling food and serving it to customers, there will likely be a variety of regulations and permit requirements to sort through. Additionally, the specific licenses and permits you need will depend largely on your state and city.
In fact, some cities, including New York City, have limits on the number of truck permits issued at a time. You’ll want to visit your city’s website to find out exactly what you need to do to get the proper documentation. Keep in mind that this process may take time and will also likely include fees and proof of a Health Department permit, tax certification and liability coverage.
Once you’ve figured out the behind-the-scenes details and decided on your truck, it’s time to think about your product.
After all, a crucial part of learning how to start a food truck business is deciding what kind of food you’re going to make and sell, how that process will work, what you’ll need and what your menu will look like. As you think about these things and start making decisions, you’ll want to remember that unlike starting a restaurant with a brick-and-mortar location, a food truck has limited space — so it can be difficult to prepare food inside.
Therefore, you’ll want to decide whether it’s best for your business to prepare food ahead of time before heading out for the day’s work or if you can feasibly prepare everything on-site. Additionally, when perfecting your recipes, you’ll want to make sure the food on your menu can be repeated in large quantities, taste consistently good, is easy to serve, is easy to eat and can travel well.
With a food plan in mind, the next thing you’ll need to do when starting a food truck is think about hiring staff. In a small environment like a food truck, you obviously won’t be able to have too many employees, but depending on your food, process and the demand you may face, you’ll want to consider hiring help.
When you first start out, you may be able to work with friends, family or a partner, but if your food truck grows quickly, some part-time or full-time employees will likely be helpful. Plus, when it comes to food truck employees, you’ll need to go beyond the typical process of hiring and onboarding a team member.
To explain, aside from all the licenses and permits you need to get as a business owner, each of your employees needs to have a mobile food vendor badge in order to legally work and serve food in your truck. And, unfortunately, it takes about four months to get this badge.
“It is really frustrating to hire someone and tell them they can’t begin working for four months,” says Kaye. “It is quite the backward system that the food truck association has been trying to work on getting fixed, but no luck so far. If [you’re] caught without the badge, it is a $1,000 fine.”
If you anticipate you’ll need staff for your food truck, you’ll want to get this process out of the way and hire your first employee from the get-go. “It’s even more frustrating,” says Kaye, “because if your business loses an employee, you have to wait four months for a new employee to obtain their badge, which means that you might not have enough employees to work lunch and dinner services.”
One of the benefits (and also challenges) of starting a food truck business is the mobile element. While you have the ability to go (to a certain extent) where your customers are, you’ll also need to figure out where the best places are to attract customers, and perhaps just as importantly where you can and cannot park your truck.
Just as is the case with licenses and permits, the restrictions around parking for your food truck are going to be specific to your city; therefore, you’ll want to consult your local regulations to determine what your options are.
It’s very likely that if you’re in a larger location, like New York City, this process will be all the more difficult.
“Technically there is a book that lists where you can and can’t park,” says Kaye. “However, there is a loophole in the system and trucks can be moved by the police at any time from any spot. It is quite frustrating.”
These strict rules and regulations on New York City’s streets had the Kayes paying fines up to $1,000 a month at one time. According to Kaye, finding parking has only become more complicated as more gourmet food trucks are appearing around the city.
With this in mind, you’ll want to take extra care to determine the rules (and any possible loopholes) for your particular location.
First, you’ll need to plan and execute some marketing tactics to inform the local community of your food truck’s existence.
You might plan a “grand opening,” or see if you can take part in a local event to draw up attention and customers. You’ll also want to consider starting a website and social media presence, as well as advertising around town.
Moreover, as a mobile business, whose location can change on a daily basis, it’s important to keep your customers aware of where you’ll be. Whether this means making an established schedule on a weekly basis or simply keeping your customers up to date on your website or social media accounts, you’ll need to keep this in mind.
Although you may very well be able to run your food truck with a paper-based order system and a cash drawer, you might consider investing in a point-of-sale system to automate the process. With your food truck POS system , you’ll be able to manage orders, accept payments (including credit cards), as well as track inventory, create loyalty programs and more.
In fact, there are a variety of POS systems on the market designed specifically for food trucks.
By using one of these systems, you’ll be able to manage everything in one place, speed up and simplify your processes, and therefore, better serve your customers. This is especially important for food trucks, which often experience a rush of customers for a few short hours a day — meaning customers can end up waiting in long lines. In this case, you might consider using a pre-order system to help your food truck handle this kind of rush in business.
According to Kaye, running a food truck business is much more difficult than people think because most people see food trucks only operating during lunch hours.
“What people don’t think about is that to get our spot, we arrive at 6 a.m.,” she explains. “That means we get to our kitchen by 4 a.m. to prep and drive to the spot. After lunch, we drive back to our kitchen and have to clean the truck and the dishes. So for just a few hours of service, we work a 12- to 15-hour day.”
Therefore, like the Kayes, you’ll want to think about how your day-to-day will look: how you’ll work with your employees, where you’ll be on a daily basis, which days will require more time or investment than others. By planning ahead of time, even if just at the beginning of every week, you’ll be able to maximize your time and hopefully, your business as well.
Along these lines, you might also want to think about if your strategy will simply consist of parking around town or if you’ll consider taking part in local events, or even start catering .
Start Your Dream Business
Ultimately, learning how to start a food truck is going to take significant time, effort and investment.
Athough the competition has gotten tougher, if you’re able to carve out a niche, you have a great chance of success without the high costs of opening up a restaurant.
Moreover, if your plans are to open a restaurant eventually, a food truck can be a great starting point. For instance, Laura O’Neill and her co-founders, Ben and Pete Van Leeuwen, started the Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream truck in the spring of 2008. Since then, the trio has received so much success, their business now includes over 20 locations, including both storefronts and trucks in New York and LA.
According to O’Neill, the food trucks allowed the co-founders to explore different locations to figure out who the customers were and what kind of food they liked to eat. Therefore, in a way, it allows you to test out your food creations before having to commit to a costly lease and other high overheads.
Plus, as you figure out how to start a food truck and get your business up and running, you might ultimately decide the mobile business life is the way to go and continue to invest in different trucks around your city or state — the possibilities are endless.
This article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.
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How to Write a Food Truck Business Plan – Download Template
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Want to look inside the business plan of a real food truck business? We’ve organized detailed business plan templates from successful food trucks and made them available to you in PDF and Word doc in this post. In addition to offer templates, we give you detailed instruction how to complete each section of the plan using this guide.
Before we dive in, keep in mind that it could take weeks if not months of planning to develop a business plan that’s helpful. Whatever time takes for you to write the business plan will be well spent. When researched correctly this document serves as the “game plan” for operating your entire mobile food business and sets the direction of your company.
Approach this document seriously because it can become the roadmap to operate your business and ensure you’re set up for success. When you’ve finished writing your plan, you should know where you plan to vend, estimated food costs, the marketing plan, and how you’ll raise money for the food truck. Pretty important stuff right? Let’s dig in.
Food Truck Business Plan Guide
- Download Templates
- Components of a Food Truck Business Plan
- Executive Summary
- Mission Statement
- Company Concept
- Market Analysis
- Management Structure
- Product Line and Services
- Sales and Marketing
- Funding Request
- Financial Projections
- Serious about Starting a Food Truck? Click Here To Get Our Free Food Truck Business Kit.
Download Business Plan Templates
Components of a business plan, executive summary:, food truck mission statement:, company concept and description:, market analysis:, management structure:, product line:, sales and marketing:, funding request:, financial projections:, bonus tips when creating your building plan, is creating a business plan a total waste of time.
I want you to get the most value possible out of your business planning process. Why? I believe having an accurate business plan gives you the best odds of success for operating a profitable food truck.
And if you’re going to be investing tens of thousands of dollars into a food truck or trailer, cooking equipment, and permits, why not invest a few days creating a detailed plan for how to run the business.
Here’s one example why going through this process can be helpful from our Annual Food Truck Academy class, where train future food truck owners how to start a food truck. One student completed her research estimating food cost, overhead, and anticipated sales as part of her business plan. Then she came back and revealed that based on her current plan, the food truck wouldn’t be profitable. After factoring in tax, labor, and food costs there were no profits left over.
Our student was initially discouraged by the numbers, but I was happy. It’s much better to identify a revenue short-fall before you start the business than months after when you see sales coming in, but can’t figure out why there’s nothing left in the bank account. As a result of the work invested on the front end through planning, she was able to evaluate her ingredient cost and pricing to create a business plan that set herself up for success.
Still, many first time food vendors don’t take the time to put in this work. It’s a shame because it’s so easily avoidable.
One more tip before we get into researching and writing the business plan, don’t get overly hung-up on the structure of the document. Unless you plan to apply for a small business loan (then you will need to be more concerned about formatting, but let’s worry about that later), you’re not going to be graded on how pretty the document looks or how nice the nice fonts and illustrations. This isn’t an assignment for school where you’re going through the motions to get a B.
Instead focus your energy on making this plan useful for your business. Find specific locations that you plan to sell food. Get the contact information for these venues to learn how you can get into them. Figure out your exact food cost and how much it’s going to cost to get permits in your area. Putting ink to paper or word document is going to make the operations of your business real.
Now let’s get on with making your game plan!
Note to Reader: This is part of a series of posts following the process of starting a food truck with Anthony Salvagno (featured in the image below) as he writes a business plan, seeks funding, develops a concept, builds a menu, and ultimately launches his first food truck. Listen to the audio lesson inside this post to learn more about writing a winning food truck business plan.
The person that doesn’t have one [a business plan] sets themselves up for failure. – Anthony Salvagno on the importance of thinking before leaping into a business.
Serious about Starting a Food Truck? Click Here To Get Our Free Food Truck Business Kit.
In my opinion, this case study is most effective when listening to the audio and downloading the example that Salvagno was kind enough to provide for this post. I’ve also linked to other resources that can help you write your own business plan.
Download Business Plan – Yes, this is the PDF business plan used to acquire $5,000 for a food truck during a business pitch competition. This document is referenced in the companion podcast.
Download Business Plan Template – Here’s a sample template you can use and edit for your own truck.
SBA – Create Your Business Plan – The Small Business Administration (SBA) does an excellent job outlining the steps needed to create a business plan. It’s not food truck specific, but it gives you what you need and there’s plenty of valuable information here.
You can learn a lot by reading business plans for other food businesses like restaurants as well. Operating a profitable restaurant is similar to operating a successful mobile food business. The main different is that a trailer is that it’s mobile.
Below is an outline of the key sections you’ll need to complete for a standard business plan with a description of how each section applies to a food truck or trailer business. Complete each section and you’ve got yourself a real plan for your business my friend.
Keep in mind that if you’re creating this document for yourself and not a banker you don’t need to get fancy with the formatting. The important thing is to have a detailed plan for the business before you open. If you feel the burning desire to make this look nice, you can make formatting updates after the
This is an overview of the information contained in the business plan and should introduce the name of your food truck and the food you plan to serve. This section should only be one page in length. Give readers the high-level overview of what the plan. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to dive into the nitty gritty in the next sections of the document.
The purpose of this section in most business plans is to give prospective investors information about your startup. Lenders reviewing a small business loan might be another audience, although they will be much more focused on financial side of things. But for most of our readers this section is for you, a business partner, and potentially a spouse.
For our Executive Summary we included 2 – 3 sentences describing these important aspects of the business. The provides anyone reading this document with a general understanding of what the business is and how it expects to make money:
- The food item we plan to sell and specialize in.
- The key people that will manage the business. In this case, the food truck will be owned and operated by two partners.
- The business entity we plan to form. We formed an LLC.
- Where you plan to operate the business and hours of operation. Our initial plan had us operating 5 days per week for lunch and dinner.
- The basic marketing plan. Again you’ll dive into the details in the marketing and sales portion of the document.
- Projected cost to fund the business and anticipated revenue.
- Future goals. How will you know you’ve won? For some this will be a specific revenue number and for others this could be opening up a franchise with 100s of locations.
Again, unless you plan to bring on outside investors don’t worry too much about perfect formatting in the executive summary. This is to ensure you and your partners are clear on the high-level plan for the business.
The mission statement for a food truck can be as short as a sentence or as long as a paragraph. This statement should define what you plan to serve, who you will serve, and the ultimate vision for the business. When done right the mission statement should guide every major decision you make for the business.
Here’s the mission statement from our business plan as an example:
To provide the residents of our city, young and old, an out of this world gourmet peanut butter and jelly inspired sandwich experience. We use local ingredients and provide gluten-free, contaminant-free products for those with special dietary needs.
When a mission statement is done right it should actually influence how you operate and run your business day to day. For example, since the utilization of local ingredients is part of our mission statement, we’ve got to actively be looking for local suppliers to buy inventory. If we don’t, we’ve failed.
We also need to consider the dietary needs of different groups of people. This impacts the sandwiches we put on our menu every day. Again, if we don’t do this, won’t reach the goal we’ve set out to achieve.
A mission statement can be the most influential part of the business plan when it’s used the right way. On the other hand, this guide can be forgotten when it’s not used to guide decisions. To learn more about making impactful mission statements, watch this interview to go deeper on the subject.
This is the fun part. Here you will describe what you hope the food truck will become, the food you plan to serve, and why you believe it will be a successful business. For most food trucks this section only needs to be a few paragraphs in length.
Make sure to include information on why your food is both desirable and unique to customers in the area. Also, if you have some type of theme, like an island theme for example, include little details like this in the description.
If you plan to operate something more mainstream like taco truck, take the time to express what it is that makes you different in your market. A common way food trucks differentiate themselves is through their ingredients or style. For example, you could be the only taco truck in town that uses organic, locally raised meats. Or you might be the only one in town that specializes in making fish tacos. Find a way to standout and offer something that isn’t available elsewhere.
You want folks that read this section to be able to clearly envision the kind of overall experience they’ll enjoy when visiting your food truck. Here are a few guidelines for writing this section:
- What food will you serve?
- How is your food different than other vendors in the area?
- Is there a specific type of consumer you want to attract?
As you can see from our own business plan, we differentiated ourselves through seasonal menu changes all the time and have menu options that cater to people that require a gluten-free diet. It’s also worth noting that our core product of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is unique to the market.
Understand the players in your market before starting a business.
For smaller markets with a couple hundred thousand people living nearby this section might be short and include just 4 – 5 other trucks. However, if you’re entering a market like Los Angeles this section will be larger and more in-depth.
If you’re planning to enter a market that has 10 traditional taco trucks and you plan to start a traditional taco truck too, it will be to differentiate yourself from other vendors in the area.
Consider adding a spin to your own food concept like serving Asian tacos instead to provide local consumers will more variety and fill a potential need. If you’re not sure about the type of truck you want to create yet, looking at the market and seeing what type of food is missing can be a smart way to approach this.
In this area you’ll also want to identify the type of customer that will frequent your establishment. Any data about local trends that you can find will be useful to include as well like this report from IBIS World that forecasts growth in the United States food truck industry for the next 5 years. Google can be a good friend in locating the data to include in the document.
Most food truck owners start with a management structure of one.
This section is straightforward for most food vendors. You can list yourself as the owner and operator if that applies. But don’t forget about key employees or partners too. Many food trucks need a team of 3 – 5 employees to operate successfully during a lunch rush. Make sure these long-term players are accounted for.
In our business plan, it’s a partnership between brothers. The work load is split up between one brother operating the front of the house and marketing: accepting orders, booking new business and events, emailing and calling catering leads. The other brother focuses more on the chef duties including sourcing ingredients, cooking food, working with suppliers, and ensuring food quality.
Industry Survey Results: What is the Average Income of a Food Truck Vendor?
If you have more than one owner of the business this is where you want to take the opportunity to clearly define roles. This is an extremely important section of the document when multiple parties and their money are involved. By outlining everyones responsibilities in this document, it serves as a record of who was in responsible for certain aspects of the business. The more people involved, the more diligent you need to be with assigning tasks.
If it’s not written down, it’s easy for partners to recall things differently. This will help avoid conflict in the future for all parties involved. You need this.
The more stakeholders involved, the more complicated this section will be. You should also include investors and advisors in this section even when people aren’t excepted to help with the daily business operations. Outline what value these people have delivered to the business and what return they can expect in the future.
Ready-made meals can be a great way to diversify your product line.
Finally… This is the section you finally get to describe your food. I recommend outlining the main menu items and any signature dishes that you have in this section. But don’t stop at just the food that you plan to serve.
Other products and services that you plan to offer could include corporate catering gigs or weddings. These can be the biggest money makers for a mobile food vendor.
It pays to think outside the box too in this section. Some vendors that started out by serving food out the window of a truck exclusively have now begun to sell their trademark dishes in stores, online, or at restaurant. Don’t forget to think about possible paths for growth in the business.
- Previous guest of the show Martie Richie of Motley Crews is an excellent example of someone that is doing just that. They’ve expanded to selling snacks online through their e-commerce website and at local gas stations.
- Malcolm decided to open a restaurant to attain more consistent sales, especially through the slow winter months.
A food truck can serve as a mobile promotional platform.
How do you plan to market your business and get sales? One of the biggest factors that determine the success / failure of a lunch truck is location. Will you be able to get into major events or areas with a lot of potential customers?
One of the biggest favors you can do for yourself to input into your sales and marketing plan is to create a tentative list of places you might be able to vend. Get extremely granular with this task. In fact, it might even help to print out a map to evaluate where the best potential vending locations are in your area.
Here’s the information you should gather as part of this process. You can add this information inside the sales and marketing section of the business plan as you gather it.
- Name of the vending location and cost details.
- Contact information including telephone, email, and address. Ideally a dedicated point of contact in charge of booking vendors.
Here are some locations that work well for food trucks:
- Farmer’s markets: You can usually find vendor information listed on the website.
- Annual events: Browse your cities website for a list of upcoming events like car shows, fairs, or parades.
- Social Media: One of the easiest ways to find good vending locations is to monitor the social media accounts of popular food trucks in your city. If they are vending somewhere, it’s probably a lucrative location that you might be able to vend at as well.
- Corporate Workplaces: Big corporate employers with a few thousand employees working at a single location can be a good option for generating consistent lunch sales.
- Breweries and Wineries: Places like this often don’t want to build in a restaurant into their operations and partner with mobile food vendors to supply food to guests.
Pro Tip: Make sure to have a a lot of different parking location options before getting started. Not every location you try is going to be profitable. By developing a big list of opportunities upfront, you won’t feel stressed about vending options because your dream vending location didn’t work out.
There are an endless number of tactics you can use to attempt to drum up business in the early days, but for most successful food business getting into events with big hungry crowds is the first step to building a brand locally and gaining traction. Learn more about finding profitable vending locations here.
Just another day on the food truck.
The key to a good funding request is knowing exactly how much money you need and having a detailed plan explaining how you plan to use it. For food truck owners, the biggest early expense will be in buying a food truck and the kitchen equipment installed onboard.
You should also account for the amount of money you’ve raised or have on hand in this section. In our business plan for example, we were looking at $55,000 all-in to start the business. This would include the purchase of a food truck, our initial inventory of food, and permits. Be extremely diligent in outlining how you intend to spend every dollar in this section. It will safe you time late in the process and lenders will appreciate your attention to detail.
We were able to bring $14,850 or 27% of that total investment to the table that was raised mostly through personal savings, a small crowd funding campaign, and winning a business plan contest. The remaining 73% was acquired through the help of a small business loan. Being able to start a real food business like this for below $15,000 out of pocket is pretty cool.
Reader’s Note: If you’re not planning to seek funding through a traditional bank (or are simply planning to take out a personal loan based on your credit history) you can technically disregard this section, although you should still analyze closely how you intend to spend your money.
If you plan on asking for friends and family for money this attention to detail can help too. Even if they’re not in the food industry, it’s easy to understand that a commercial oven or fridge could cost a few thousand dollars. If you have a specific use for funds that makes sense, it increases the likelihood of obtaining a loan with friendly terms amongst family.
This is an extremely important area to spend time on before starting a food truck. I’d argue this section is as important as the product, sales and marketing plan of the business plan. This section will offer your first insight into whether or not the business idea you have is going to work or not in its present form.
From a practical standpoint, the main thing you want to figure out is what your break-even point for the business is. In other words, how much food do you need to sell in order to pay all of your monthly expenses? This is a simple, but critical question you must find the answer to before getting started.
You can determine the break-even point for a food truck business with this formula:
Fixed Costs / (Price – Variable Costs) = Bread Even Point
Here’s the due diligence you’ll need to complete to find the break-even point for your food truck:
- Add up the total monthly expenses you expect for the food truck to find your fixed cost number. This number will include loan payments, insurance, cell phone, and everything else you need to pay on a monthly. Use our guide to create a quick estimate of monthly costs.
- The price refers to how much you plan to charge customers and how many sales you anticipate in a given month. From your perspective the less sales you need to break even the better as it will.
- The variable costs is the expenses you put into cost of goods sold. In your case this if the food you’re selling. As you sell more, your variable cost will also increase because you need to buy more product. This is a good thing!
Based on your current fixed cost and variable cost estimates, find out how many total sales of your food total you would need to generate to pay all your bills. Does that number seem seem attainable based on the frequency you plan to vend each month?
Figuring out what your sales is going to be in the future will be the biggest leap of faith you make in the business plan. I always urge people to be being super conservative with sales estimates. You are going to have slow days and extremely busy days when you get out into the real world. Being financially ready for challenging times will make your business more resilient.
Forecasting Financial Projections:
In the financial projections, focus on estimating how much money you will make in the first year of the business. Investing too much time on longterm projections 5-years out doesn’t make any sense since you haven’t actually started the business yet. After the business has been operating for about a month, you’ll want to go back and review the previous estimates to ensure everything is making sense.
While estimating the projected revenue will require some guessing, figuring out startup and monthly operating expenses once the business gets going is much simpler. While there might be unexpected expenses that pop up before opening the business, you already know the monthly bills like insurance, phone, inventory, loan payments (if you have one), commissary. Read our post that includes a spreadsheet on the Complete Breakdown of Food Truck Operation Costs for help researching this section.
Here are a few other quick tips for the financial projections section:
- Always start a business with some extra capital on hand and establish an emergency business fund. We suggest $3,000 – $5,000 minimum. You don’t want to find yourself underfunded going into the second week so and not be able to purchase supplies. Unfortunately, break downs also happen in this business so you want to be ready for them.
- You’ll need to be comfortable making a few “educated guesses” in this section especially when it comes to revenue projections. Always be conservative with sales estimates. If you do end of exceeding expectations then that’s fantastic.
- The primary goal of completing this process is to understand how much money you’ll require to operate the business and break even on a monthly basis. After determining a break-even, find out how much it will require to pay yourself a comfortable wage after taxes.
This is the place to include your permit from the health department, photos of the vehicle, and other legal documents needed to operate a mobile food business. This is a good spot to add photos of food or people smiling and enjoying your meals at events (if you’ve vended at an event already). Add in anything else you feel could be helpful too.
Here are a few key concepts pulled straight from the audio companion of this guide.
- Don’t be afraid to ask current food truck owners for help when writing a plan. They have the best understanding of what the market looks like and may even help you to create more accurate market projections. Not everyone will be willing to lend a hand, but some might.
- The financial projections section is the most important and practical element of the business plan. You need this to be able to evaluate how much money you’ll to start the business and what prices you’ll need to charge for longterm success.
- Don’t invest a ton of your time into longterm projections especially years 3, 4, and 5 of the food truck. Restaurants come and go. You won’t be able to make accurate projections out that far anyway.
- You should be extremely detailed when estimating expenses. Including often overlooked items like sandwich wrappers, napkins, mops, buckets, and cleaning supplies. Knowing how much cash you need for day one of starting the truck right is critical.
Good question. That really depends on who you ask.
There’s a whole group of like savvy entrepreneurs and business people who don’t believe in the business plan at all. They’re like okay, you have this written document that you never ever use again. But then there’s this whole other group of people that actually believe in the business plan.
If you’re planning to try to get a traditional bank loan you will need to create a business plan. Having a written plan does not guarantee you will be approved for a loan. In fact, you might get turned down even with an okay credit history.
While it’s not perfect, I firmly believe going through the process of writing a business plan, when taken seriously improves your chances of success. You want to understand your competition. You want to understand where you plan to park. You want to have a few ideas about how you might market your business and what your overhead is going to be before starting the business. This document helps you make more educated decisions based on the work you’ve put in.
The Bottom Line: Will drafting a detailed business plan like this one take a long time? You bet it will. If you do it right, it could easily take a month or two to complete. But the benefits of doing so can be worth it and pay dividends for the life of your business.
So what’s the next step? I suggest enrolling in our free food truck business kit to learn more about the startup process.
Want to start your own food business?
Hey! 👋I’m Brett Lindenberg, the founder of Food Truck Empire.
We interview successful founders and share the stories behind their food trucks, restaurants, food and beverage brands. By sharing these stories, I want to help others get started.
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About the Author: Brett Lindenberg
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How to Write a Food Truck Business Plan (2024 + Template)
12 min. read
Updated February 7, 2024
Free Download: Food Truck Business Plan Template
Starting a food truck business is an attractive alternative to opening a restaurant .
The initial costs are significantly lower than opening a traditional restaurant and the popularity of food trucks only continues to grow. This doesn’t mean that food trucks are cheap, though. It can cost anywhere from $5,000 to over $100,000 to open a new truck, so you’ll want to make sure you understand the risks.
Want some extra guidance as you read through this article? Download our free food truck business plan template .
- What makes a good food truck business plan?
A business plan is a critical part of opening a food truck. A good plan is like having a recipe for your business and gives you the best chance of success. It will guide you through the process of getting up and running and make sure that you plan for all of the expenses and risks that will be involved. It’s worth the time and will greatly increase your chances of success.
After all, if you’re going to invest tens of thousands of dollars in a food truck, kitchen equipment, labor, and permits, why not spend a little time creating a solid business plan that will be your guide to launching a successful food truck business.
A well thought out business plan can be the difference between success and failure. For example, you might create an initial financial plan and discover that your idea simply isn’t profitable.
It’s so much better to make this discovery when all you’ve invested is a few hours of your time in front of the computer. Instead of scrambling to figure things out when you’re already up and running and you’ve got no money in the bank, you can take the time during the planning phase to go back to the drawing board and rework your concept until you have a business that is profitable. You can use the time before you invest your (or other people’s) money to figure out where you can cut costs so that your business can be a success out of the gate rather than a struggle.
As you write your food truck business plan, remember that you’re doing this for you, not for anyone else. You aren’t going to get graded on what the plan looks like so don’t worry about that. Make your plan work for you so you and your business can be successful.To start on yours, download our free food truck business plan template.
One caveat: If you are going to be raising money from investors or going to the bank for a loan, you may need to dress up your business plan a little. But, to get going, focus on the content, not how it looks.
- Food truck business plan template
A food truck business plan follows the same general format as a traditional business plan but has a few differences that you’ll want to pay close attention to. Here are the sections that you’ll want to include in your business plan for your food truck:
What’s your biggest business challenge right now?
1. executive summary.
Your executive summary is a very brief overview of your business. Try and keep it to just one or two pages. Anything more than that just isn’t useful.
Food Truck Business Executive Summary Tips
This is an overview of your business that you’ll share with your business partners and your family. It’s a summary that describes, very briefly, the concept for your food truck, your core hours of operation, your locations, a summary of your marketing plan, and the amount of money you’ll need to get up and running.
Write your executive summary last after you’ve written your complete plan. Because the executive summary is an overview of all the work that you’ve put into your plan, spend the time on the rest of the plan first and then come back and summarize everything on one page.
A good rule of thumb is that someone should be able to just read your executive summary and get a solid overview of your business.
This is the fun part of your business plan. Use this section to describe the general concept or company description for your food truck. What kind of food will you serve? What makes you stand out?
Food Truck Business Concept Tips
It’s important to think about your key differentiators and write those down here. If you’re opening a taco truck, what makes your tacos special? Why will people choose your taco truck instead of going to all the other taco trucks? Or, perhaps there are no taco trucks in your area. That’s a “gap in the market” that your food truck concept will fill.
It’s also worth discussing why you want to open a food truck instead of a traditional restaurant. Does your food lend itself to a food-truck experience?
3. Menu & Costs
Following up on your concept, you need to think through your menu. What items will you sell and how much will you sell them for? How much will it cost you to produce each item? How much time will it take you to prep and cook each item? You can look through some food truck menu examples to get an idea of how you might want to structure yours.
Food Truck Menu and Costs Tips
Thinking through these questions and writing down the answers is a critical step in the planning process. You’ll want to make sure that the food you plan on serving can be served quickly enough and that your prices are set so that you cover food costs. Of course, you’ll have to cover other costs as well, but you’ll explore that more when you do your financial plan.
Once you have explored what your menu and pricing looks like, it’s worth sharing your menu with friends and family to get input. Ideally, you should also try and share your menu with strangers as well to get their input. What do they think about your prices? Do your item descriptions make sense?
4. Target Market
Your target market section of your business plan describes who your key customers will be. What age group are they part of? What are their demographics? Where do they live and work
Food Truck Business Target Market Tips
You’ll use this information to determine the size of your target market. This is the total number of potential customers that you could have.
You’ll also use this information to inform your branding and marketing strategy. If your target market is millennials, then your branding and marketing may lean towards the values of healthy eating, for example.
Just because your business is mobile doesn’t mean that every day will be a new adventure to find “the best spot”. You’ll want to have a plan ahead of time so you don’t waste time every day finding the right location .
Food Truck Business Location Tips
First, you’ll want to consider locations where your target market is going to be. If you’re going after the “working lunch” crowd who’s looking for a quick lunch near their offices, you’ll want to have a location that’s convenient for them.
Customers also value consistency. They’ll want to know where you’re going to be and when you’re going to be there. If you’re in one location one day and gone the next, you might lose out on repeat customers who think that you’re inconsistent.
If you’re going to be part of a more established food cart “pod”, what does it take to get a spot? What is the cost and what permits are required? Figure this out now so you can factor parking and permitting costs into your overall expense plan.
If you’re planning and serving from multiple locations during any given day, think through and write down your schedule. How often will you move? How long does it take you to break down one location and set up at a new location?
6. Branding, Marketing, and PR
With the explosion of food trucks, figuring out how you’re going to attract an audience is critical. Thankfully, you’ll be driving a mobile billboard, so you can leverage that to your advantage and use that for marketing and advertising.
Food Truck Business Branding, Marketing, and PR Tips
It’s important to ensure that your social media handles are part of your branding and marketing strategy so that people can easily find you online and know where you are. Equally important is that you religiously update your social media profiles. There’s nothing worse than a profile that hasn’t been updated in days or weeks. Many customers will think that you’re closed if you don’t appear to be active online.
Beyond social media, you’ll want to make sure that you’re listed in Yelp and any other local food truck directories and apps. Getting a presence in these apps and getting positive reviews is critical, especially in the early days.
If you can get local press, that’s worth chasing down as well. Often, the weekly arts and culture papers will review food trucks, so it’s worth announcing your presence to them. When you do, think about your story – what makes you unique? What’s special about your food? What pushed you to start a food truck business in the first place? Everyone has a story to tell, so tell yours and try and get some coverage that will drive customers to your truck.
7. Company and Management
Food truck businesses are usually structured fairly simply. There’s usually just one or two owners and the business is usually an LLC.
Food Truck Business Company and Management Tips
Even if things are fairly simple, it’s always worth writing things down, especially if you have business partners. You’ll want to have agreements about who owns what, what stake in the business each person has, and what happens if one of the partners wants to walk away.
While everything is always optimistic and positive in the beginning, the hard work of running a food truck business can put a strain on any relationship and you’ll want to have a plan in place in case things don’t go exactly the way you think they will. Even the best of friends sometimes have to deal with difficult business situations and it’s always much easier if everything is written down and agreed upon before the business is actually up and running.
8. Financial Plan
The financial plan is potentially the most important part of your business plan. Here’s where you’ll figure out exactly what it will take to make your business work so that you can make a living.
Forecasting Sales for Your Food Truck Business
First, you’ll want to forecast your sales . How many meals do you think you can serve on an average day? On average how much will each customer spend? What about seasonality? When the weather is bad, will you sell as much as when it’s warm and sunny?
Next, you’ll want to look at your “cost of goods”. This is how much it costs you in food and supplies to serve the food that you are serving. Subtract your Cost of Goods from your Sales and you’ll get what’s called your Gross Margin. Of course, you’ll want this to be a positive number, but that’s just the beginning.
Food Truck Business Expenses
Next, you’ll need to look at your expenses. In addition to food costs, you’ll have labor costs including your own salary as well as any additional help you need. You’ll also need to consider insurance, licensing from the city and county, as well as fuel and commissions to event hosts. It’s fairly common for food trucks to pay a flat fee plus a percentage of revenue to event hosts, so if you’re going to consider taking your truck to events you’ll need to factor those costs in as well.
Other expenses can include access to a shared kitchen space. As a food business, you won’t be legally allowed to prep food in your home, so food prep will have to be done either in your truck or in rented kitchen space.
With your sales forecast and expense budget, you’ll be able to calculate your profitability. If your business isn’t looking profitable to start, you can make adjustments to expenses, potentially increase the price of your food, or explore how you can serve more meals.
Food Truck Business Startup Costs
Of course, you’ll also have to consider your startup costs. It’s not at all unusual for a food truck and equipment to cost north of $50,000 and can easily extend beyond $100,000 depending on how custom of a setup you need. Of course, there’s a healthy market for used food trucks, so that’s worth exploring as well.
In terms of startup costs, $100,000 is relatively modest compared to many other businesses and certainly substantially less expensive than opening a restaurant. Many food truck entrepreneurs may find that they can fund their startup with savings and loans from friends and family. Bank business loans for food trucks are also a possibility since most of your startup costs are going towards a physical asset that the bank can reclaim if things go horribly south.
Food Truck Business Cash Flow and Profit and Loss Forecasts
With all of these numbers, you’ll be able to assemble a Profit and Loss forecast and Cash Flow forecast . These two financial forecasts will help you determine exactly what your funding needs will be to get your business off the ground.
If you’re struggling with the financials, it’s worth investing a small amount in a business planning tool to help you get your plan done without having to worry about learning the details of financial forecasting in Excel.
With your food truck business plan in hand and a financial forecast that shows that you can indeed run a profitable business, the next step is to actually get started building your business.
For further reading, check out these articles:
- How to start a food truck business
- 10 strategies to increase your food truck revenue
- Keeping your food truck business rolling
See why 1.2 million entrepreneurs have written their business plans with LivePlan
Noah is the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan. He started his career at Yahoo! and then helped start the user review site Epinions.com. From there he started a software distribution business in the UK before coming to Palo Alto Software to run the marketing and product teams.
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