Five Steps To Consider Before You Buy A Food Truck

old timey truck5 Steps To Buying A Food Truck

So, you wanna break into the food truck business.

Well, hold onto your seat and grab a towel because you’re about to get drenched in some knowledge.

We have a 5 step checklist that every potential food truck owner should go through before they make that important call to a food truck manufacturer and finally buy a food truck.

1) The number one thing first timers neglect to properly research are the labyrinthine laws governing local food and vending licenses, as well as food safety permits.

paperwork and books
Every town, city, and state can have vastly different local health codes and safety requirements. You will want to contact the local municipalities you plan to set up in and have them provide you with the exact health and safety codes that are required for those specific locations.  You can also research the laws for some major cities and areas here as well.

Every town’s ordinances are different, so don’t give up if yours doesn’t allow it. Check the surrounding areas to see if they foster food trucks.

As an example, the town we’re located in does not allow for food trucks to cook on the street, but if you go to the next town over, New Brunswick, the home of Rutgers, you’ll see that they have a burgeoning food truck scene!

When you provide your food truck manufacturer with the correct codes to build to your truck will have no problems being street legal to sell.

Be sure to investigate local street vending laws as well so that you’ll be able to park in the street. This is also the time to check in with private locations to see if they would be interested in having a food truck visit their premises.

2) The next step you will want to consider is getting your finances in order.

Food Truck Empire has a wonderful spreadsheet that you can check out here and use to plan accordingly.

You will also have to figure out how you’re paying for the thing – are you financing it through a bank loan or other private lender? Do you have savings already built up that can bear the cost of a business start-up? There are even crowd funding solutions you can explore, such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo.
stacks of cash
The truck itself is going to be your biggest up-front cost, as they range from $55,000 to over $100,000 for a top of the line, completely customized food truck. This includes the vehicle, serving window cut-out, electrical wiring, generator, plumbing, appliance installation, and graphic vinyl wrap. This is the portion of the process that a food truck manufacturer will handle for you.
You’re not done yet, though. After that you’re going to need to allocate funding for many things such as smallwares (utensils, pots, pans, etc.), for your initial product inventory, and for the various permits, licenses, and insurances.

You must also consider the commissary. If you do not own a restaurant you will need to rent kitchen space in a commissary to prepare your food for the day. Be sure to check out all the options in your area, as some commissaries offer different services at different price points – this way you choose the one that’s a good fit for your business.

Lastly, don’t forget your Point of Sale system, as you’ll need a way to account for the cash and electronic payments you’ll be receiving for your food. Good POS systems will also help you keep track of inventory and provide receipts.

3) Now that you’ve researched how you’re going to sell food in your area and made sure you can afford the whole shindig it’s time to plan your menu.

I’m going to fire off a lot of hypothetical questions to help you determine what you could be cooking for folks.

• What kind of food are you good at cooking?

• Are there any other trucks already selling similar fare?

• Let’s say you make excellent tacos and know your way around a BBQ smoker. Your town already has a taco truck, but nobody with a BBQ food truck.

• What do you do in this situation?

• You could try your hand at tacos and compete for hungry stomachs, or you can give BBQ a spin.

There are going to be many questions like this before you decide on what you’re going to cook. Once you’ve sorted that out you need to plan how many products you intend to offer.

Simple is best when you have limited space. If you check out the best food trucks you will see that they only offer a small selection of dishes, and the ones they do can be prepped together very easily. You want to maintain consistency with your food as well – people don’t want surprises when they order the same dish from you every week!

4) Let’s talk branding. You’re going to need a well-designed logo and graphic wrap if you want to stand out in a sea of food trucks.

We covered this topic in one of our recent Truckformation podcasts – check it out for a quick comparison between a wrapped and unwrapped food truck.

The only question I have for you is why would anyone step up to a blank truck?

You have no idea what kind of food is being sold there. You have no idea about the quality of the food. That’s the answer, though. You have no idea. It’s crucial to make yourself unique and instantly identifiable as a purveyor of fine cuisine that not only meets and exceeds safety regulations, but also injects a little fun into eating.

Proper brand management is very important to building and maintaining a loyal following of customers. Just make sure your food is as good as the hype or you’ll be wondering where all the customers went!

5) For our last step I recommend you go out to local food trucks and talk to the owners and operators (after buying something from them!) about what it’s like to run a food truck in your town.


You have the chance to pick the brain of someone who’s already successful – or well on their way – in this fun and exciting industry.

Don’t expect it be all sunshine and flowers, though. Food trucking is hard and demanding work. If you do everything right and persevere you may just be the next big thing in food trucks!

6) Bonus Step Six!

Download our brand new white paper chock full of information on the next steps in your food truck journey.