Watch Out: Pitfalls to Avoid in the Food Truck Business

October 31, 2012

Do you make, rent or buy a truck? Do you tailor your menu to a specific segment or make it appealing to everyone? Do you remain static at one location throughout the week or do you move around?

These questions are overwhelming to consider when you’re first starting out in the food truck business. Nonetheless, the success of your food truck depends on the answers that you decide on. Unlike when pioneer food trucks – like Kogi BBQ – began rolling out, the mobile cuisine landscape has changed significantly. It’s becoming congested, more competitive and less unique. However, on the flip side, the growth of this industry is supplying confidence in the market; it’s ensuring the demise of the roach coach, and it’s instilling trust in customers towards food trucks. Word of mouth is spreading. The population is catching on. And there will be – if it’s not there already – a growing need for more food trucks. Now is the time to enter the business.

So what does your success depend on and what should you avoid?

Here are some pieces of advice to get you started:

  • Find a way to differentiate your truck, your menu and your sales locations.
  • Have a strong media presence online, and on local and national television stations. Get your name out there! Take parts in community events, competitions and outings. It’s easier to get people talking than it once was. News spreads at the click of a button.
  • Be patient when it comes to growth. It may happen “overnight,” but more realistically it will happen over a year or two. In that time, you’ll develop a presence in the market and enlist dedicated customers. We also suggest joining local food truck associations and teaming up with other food trucks in the community.
  • Develop a catering program. This will increase revenue-stream stability. Catering will pay the bills, and it will also offset the days of inclement weather and other business drawbacks.

Here are some pitfalls to avoid:

  • Don’t forget to take licensing requirements into consideration. These requirements change depending on the area you’re in, not necessarily the state, city or county.
  • Choose your menu wisely. It’s hard enough to find a menu that is suitable for mobile production. But a good menu? That’s a real challenge. Especially as the food truck industry heats up, it’s only going to get more and more imperative to have a diverse, compelling (and cheap) menu.
  • Don’t underestimate the fees of opening up shop. It’s easy to create a budget that considers all costs associated with this business – and that’s exactly what I suggest you do. Listing all of the expenses in your mind will not suffice. You’ll be more than likely to forget a few. Here are some costs to keep at the top of your list after you have a truck and kitchen/food supplies: licensing, food safety certification, fees to set up events, inspections, travel expenses (gas, tolls, etc.), and signage.

How can you better avoid these pitfalls? Talk with food truck owners about their daily schedules, expenses, and the how-to’s of their businesses. From promoters, you can learn how events operate. But, most importantly, talk to potential customers to get their feedback on what they want, how they want it, and where they want it. After all, your food truck will exist to meet their needs.

With all of these questions on starting a food truck business, don’t forget to ask the most important one: How can I attract, retain and serve my customers better? All of the other decisions you make should be based around the answer to this question.