Nine tips for opening a food truck

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As food trucks become more popular, you may want to consider opening one.

From big cities to small towns and burgers to bánh mì, food trucks are becoming mainstream. According to NRA research, 49 percent of quick service operators say they believe food trucks will become more popular in the future and one-fifth of restaurant operators will consider starting one in the next year or two.

Here are nine tips for potential food truck operators.
How to find your food truck. You can get a food truck for as little as $25,000 and up to $125,000 or more. But don’t cut corners on your build. It’s the only chance you have to create an efficient mobile kitchen for your business. To search for secondhand trucks, connect with the local food truck community, contact any company that has a fleet of used box trucks (such as FedEx, UPS, bread companies), or search eBay. Tip: Get a diesel truck to save on gas prices, familiarize yourself with the truck’s engine and parts so you can save money by fixing small problems yourself.

Be creative. Many food trucks have succeeded by offering innovative food. Be creative when developing your menu.

Consider catering and festivals. Food trucks do especially well from May through October. To supplement income throughout the year, consider private party catering and festivals in addition to lunchtime street vending. You can bump prices at festivals because people expect to pay more at events with limited food offerings. However, a festival might require more employees than usual. Many people are hiring food trucks to cater house parties and weddings. Think about developing a special catering menu.

Find customers on social media. Because street vendors can respond quickly to demand, Facebook, Twitter and Yelp are good ways to interact with customers and decide where to go each day. Think about giving coupons to social media followers. Consider inviting customers back for a complimentary meal if they posted a bad experience on Yelp.

Educate customers on cleanliness. Some potential customers perceive trucks as dirty, but today’s food trucks maintain a high standard of cleanliness. Operators might have to educate customers on this to win their business. Consider training your employees in safe food handling with ServSafe, and post the ServSafe certificate in your window.

Prepare food at a commissary or brick-and-mortar restaurant. In many cities, food trucks must use commercial kitchens (known as commissaries) to prepare food. Commissaries can be catering kitchens or brick-and-mortar restaurant kitchens. They also can be a place to dump grey water, wash the truck and load food in without exposing it to the elements. Finding a commissary can be one of most significant challenges to opening a food truck. Try connecting with the food truck community in your area to find one.

Be a good neighbor. Being a responsible operator in your foodservice community will go a long way toward eliminating conflicts with brick-and-mortar restaurants. For example, don’t park in front of a restaurant that serves similar food.

Know the laws. Get familiar with food truck laws in your area. Cities regulate truck size, vending locations and hours, GDI level sanitation, and more. The laws change frequently as cities figure out how to adapt to this new business model. Be flexible in the face of changing laws and consider getting involved in the process.

Connect with your community. Get to know other food truck operators and ask them questions. Food truck communities are close-knit and regularly help each other. Working with your state or local restaurant association to help them understand the food truck position can also be beneficial.

These tips are from a food truck education session at NRA Show 2014.
Source: July 2014

Image Credit – Jed Kirschbaum

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