Running a Food Truck For Dummies
Running a successful food truck is tougher than it may appear. You must plan and prepare everything that a fine dining establishment does (except the china and linen napkins), such as concept development, menu planning, and hiring and keeping a great staff, but then you have to take your kitchen on the road and provide your customers with out-of-this-world food and service. You need to have special traits to run a successful food truck operation, promote your business, and communicate with your customers, especially via social media.
Business to Take Care of Before You Open Your Food Truck
Your food truck is a business, so you need to get the necessary forms filled out and filed before you hit the streets and open your service window. Use the following list to ensure that you have the accounts and paperwork you need before your food truck’s opening day:
Business checking accounts
Business name and/or Doing Business As (DBA) registration
Federal Employer Identification Number and State Tax ID
Health department inspection
Insurance (business, automotive, and liability)
Lease agreements (for your commercial kitchen and office space)
Local vendor permits (if required)
Merchant account (to process credit cards)
Sales tax account (seller’s permit)
ServSafe food certification (for you and your staff)
Trademark Registration (business name and logo)
What to Consider When Selecting a Mobile Food Platform
Determining what platform, or vehicle — food truck, trailer, or cart — to use to present your menu to your customers requires that you consider the following factors:
What equipment will your menu require? If your menu requires that you need a flat-top grill, fryers, and other assorted kitchen equipment, you may want to use a food truck or full-sized trailer.
How many sales a day are you planning? The more sales you intend to make on a daily basis, the more storage space you need. Smaller platforms, such as food carts, can sell as much as a food truck or trailer; however, you may need to make multiple trips to your kitchen to keep yourself stocked to meet your sales needs.
What are the local parking restrictions? Every city has its own set of parking restrictions related to the mobile food industry. Some allow for trucks to stay in one location for a brief period of time, and others keep vendors from parking near brick-and-mortar food establishments. Check with your local municipality to find out what applies to you. If you can park only in certain areas for limited times, look at food truck options that allow you to quickly pick up and move to another location without the need of another vehicle to tow your establishment to your next stop.
What type of atmosphere does your concept require? Does your concept include being part of a stationary group of food carts (also known as cart pods as found in Portland, Oregon, or Ann Arbor, Michigan) or trailers (as in Austin, Texas), or do you need to be on the road, moving from location to location throughout the day? If you need to be more mobile, a food truck is a great option.
What are the local commercial truck restrictions? If you plan to use a food truck, you need to know the vehicle restrictions for your area. Some cities have limits on the length of commercial trucks, so you have to consider the length of vehicle you use. How big are the parking spots you plan to sell from? Food trucks can vary in length from 10 to 26 feet long, and a 16-foot trailer being towed by a pickup truck can extend even longer.
How many staff members will you need to operate? If you determine that you need more than two or three employees to operate your mobile business, you may not be interested in operating a food cart with only 120 square feet of floor space. Food trucks and trailers have much more room for equipment, storage, and staff members. The advantage of a smaller staff allows you to get a much smaller platform, which makes it easier to fit into tighter parking spaces and even save money on the fuel you need to keep it moving.
Social Media Guidelines for Food Truck Owners
Food truck owners have discovered that using social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, to spread the word to their customers is an inexpensive and effective way to advertise and to keep people interested and informed about their business. To maximize the usefulness of social media for your food truck, keep the following tips in mind:
Fill in your bio so people searching for food trucks in your area can find you.
Act the same on social media sites as you would in person. (In other words, use the same tone online as you would if you were speaking with these individuals face to face. Don’t be someone you aren’t, because a good chance exists that you’ll meet your local followers when they visit your truck.)
Listen to what your followers are saying, and then respond to both good and bad comments to increase your customer interaction.
Update your status at least once a day with information that doesn’t include your truck location to allow your followers to get to know you better.
If you’re tweeting or posting your schedule on Twitter or Facebook, also tweet or update your status after you get to each location.
Post last-minute schedule changes, especially if you’re packing up early.