Taking it to the Streets: Food Truck Trend Keeps on Truckin’

Though many food trends stick around about as long as a hot dog cart on a rainy day, food trucks continue to captivate the collective American food imagination. While there are plenty of examples of food trucks being parked permanently and no one has yet established reliable statistics on success rate, the lower operating costs, ease of getting into the business, and huge growth rates are attractive. And, given the explosion in the number of the operations on American streets over the last few years, it’s still a food trend that experts don’t see disappearing any time soon.

But, you don’t have to take our word for it. In addition to the piece above that details how some food truck owners are starting multiple mobile lunch counters, there are actually national chains stepping into the business. A number of quick service restaurants (QSRs in industry parlance) have launched their own food trucks, including Sizzler, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, and, most recently, White Castle announced food truck plans. The saga of Harold and Kumar would have been a lot shorter if the study snacks they craved simply came to them. Even casual dining restaurants like Applebee’s are getting in on movable munchies.

It’s relatively easy to get into the business, since you can outfit a used delivery truck with the equipment you need for about a quarter of the cheapest restaurant start-up. Given that and the fact that the trend has boomed so, you might be considering making the leap yourself. If you are, we’ve got some tips that, while not a guarantee of success, could help prepare you to peddle some literal fast food.

Food Truck Tips: The Road to Success is a Long and Winding One

Do some homework and really analyze if it makes sense for you to get in. With the costs of food, staffing, and fuel, the average food truck doesn’t start to make money until about $200,000 in annual sales. Check out the local market to see if it’s reasonable to expect that return and check your finances to ensure you can take a hit if the numbers don’t go your way. You may get good information from food truckers already in your area, who generally consider a new addition to the market added value for the trend, rather than competition.

Be in-the-know on permitting requirements, as well as local laws on food trucks. Many municipalities have been late-comers to regulating food trucks, so check for recently-enacted rules and keep an eye out for new ones. You can find some details on what licenses may be required for your business through the Small Business Administration website.

City Food Truck

Develop a (limited) menu. Once you have your concept, whether it’s Korean barbecue or gourmet grilled cheese, you’ll want to go ahead and develop your menu. As you do, remember that simplicity works best when you have to cart every ingredient in a limited space each day. If it’s an option in your area, you may consider renting a food truck to give your menu a test run.

Get social early and often. The food truck craze took off on the wings of social media and continues to thrive there. It’s the easiest way for folks to find out where your stand will be stationed on a given day and those who love food trucks are more than willing to offer raves that can help you recruit new fans.

Take gourmet on the road. While simple fare was OK for the chuckwagons that fed the wild west and for the “roach coaches” that supplied construction sites in days past, food truck aficionados demand a higher quality. Look for ways to give your menu a gourmet flare if you want to attract the modern foodie in its native habitat.

Remember that you’ll probably need more room and time than you might think. In order to be ready for the day’s orders, many food truck operators spend late nights and early mornings prepping for the day ahead. Much of that work is done in a commercial kitchen or commissary that allows rental cooking space. You should find one of those to work with before you get started because your state may not allow you to create your dishes in your home kitchen and, if it does, it can be costly to get it up to commercial codes.

Accept your limits. A rainy day cuts sales at the average food truck by half or more. Meanwhile, most trucks will make three-quarters or more of their annual haul in the stretch from April to October. Recognize those down times and consider whether it’s even worth it to you to get the truck out of the garage during slow times. Remember that just hitting the road costs money that you might not recoup on a bad day.

Design your truck and its kitchen to match your concept. Make sure your cooking space is equipped with everything you might need. We have another blog that offers more details on what that list might include and more tips on starting a food truck business.

(Image of Raw Squeeze food truck above from JoonBug blog.)

Derek Hodges
Derek Hodges

Derek Hodges is a proud North Carolinian who moved to Tennessee in 2006 to preach the gospel of Cheerwine and mix some Tar Heel blue in with all the orange. He has made wonderful friends who tolerate occasional remarks like those above. He and his wife Amanda enjoy spending weekends at Dollywood and trying to convince their dog Shiloh to get over his fear of swimming.

Connect with Derek Hodges on Google+