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National Restaurant Association - 9 tips for opening a food truck

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9 tips for opening a food truck

From big cities to small towns and burgers to bánh mì, food trucks are becoming mainstream. According to National Restaurant Association's 2017 State of the Industry Report, more than four in 10 casual-dining, quickservice and fast-casual operators believe food trucks will become more popular.

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 for as much as $125,000. But don’t cut corners on your build, says Chris Johnston, owner and founder of Cheesie's Pub & Grub and food truck in Chicago. It’s the only chance you have to create an efficient mobile unit 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. A diesel truck may save on gas prices, so familiarize yourself with its engine and parts so you can save money by fixing small problems yourself.
  • Secure a commissary. State and local health jurisdictions require that food truck operators use commercial kitchens known as commissaries to prepare their food. Commissaries can be catering kitchens or brick-and-mortar restaurant kitchens. In addition to prepping food here, you can dump dirty water, wash the truck and load food without exposing it to the elements. Finding a commissary can be one of most significant challenges to opening a food truck. Try connecting with your local food truck community for recommendations.
  • Be creative. Many food trucks have succeeded by offering innovative food. Craft a simple yet interesting menu that customers will crave.
  • Consider catering for private events and festivals. Food trucks do especially well from May through October, says Che Ruddell-Tabisola, executive director of the DMV Food Truck Association and owner of the BBQ Bus in Washington, D.C. To supplement income throughout the year, consider private party catering and festivals in addition to lunchtime street vending. While people may be willing to pay more for your products at events, hiring additional employees to properly staff the truck is an expense. Customers may ask to hire food trucks as catering options for house parties and weddings. For this reason, 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, Ruddell-Tabisola says. You can provide digital coupons to social media followers and respond to reviews.
  • 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, Ruddell-Tabisola says. Consider training your employees in safe food handling with ServSafe, and post the ServSafe certificate in your window.
  • 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, says Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. For example, don’t park in front of a restaurant that serves similar food.
  • Know the laws. Familiarize yourself with food truck laws in your area. Cities regulate truck size, vending locations and hours, 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, said Johnston.
  • 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.

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