Gone are the days when food carts were all about hot dogs and pretzels. From souvlaki to dim sum, BC’s streets are filled with vendors waiting to expand your palette. Thanks to the growing foodie culture and the desire for quick, affordable and delicious food, food trucks have become a hot business option for savvy culinary entrepreneurs. And launching a restaurant on four wheels, without the need for a permanent bricks and mortar location, can be a more affordable and more viable path for many entrepreneurs. But just because you can cook, doesn’t mean you should operate a food truck. Like any small business – it’s not just about grilling kebabs and wrapping burritos – there is the marketing, bookkeeping and managing employees to be considered.
So before you take the plunge and try becoming the next culinary feat on four wheels, here are the nine key things you need to consider, in addition to local municipal laws and regulations:
1) Develop a Strong Brand
With so much competition out there, not only from other food trucks but other restaurants, the one thing that will put you ahead of the game is a strong brand your customers can identify with. Aside from your menu, think of what sets you apart from your competition and sell it.
If you ever visit Tofino, you’ll quickly discover a local secret: a small food truck just off the highway that sells amazing fresh fish tacos. The company, Tacofino, has now expanded their business to the streets of Vancouver and the truck painted with the Virgin de Guadelupe holding a taco is easily identifiable to all those who have visited the original truck in Tofino.
Your plans may be small now, but should you have the opportunity to franchise or expand your business in the future, it is important that everything from the truck design, to your logo, to your social media pages has a strong and cohesive brand.
2) It’s the Little Things That Count
Every little thing helps. The dͩcor, the menus,, the uniforms and the signage: it all contributes to your enjoyment of a restaurant and the same applies to a food truck. You want to make your customers experience memorable and exciting. No matter how good your food is, if you are not memorable, your customers will not return.[c1]
Look at the Juice Truck in the Gastown area of Vancouver. Everything from the aprons to the cups to the napkins and even the pumpkins at Halloween have their iconic branding on it.
3) Embrace Social Media
Social media is becoming increasingly important to food cart vendors since it is often the main way that customers can track your location on any given day. Apps like Eat St. and the Street Food App provides you the ability to check-in to a location and share customer reviews with the world. Many food cart businesses have taken it one step further and developed their own App, enabling customers to order their food for pick up.
Like any other business, it is also a way to interact with your customers and advertise daily specials. And the best thing about this kind of interaction is that it’s free.
4) Find an Angle
Find something unique that sets your business apart from the rest and your customers will follow you anywhere. A classic example is Mom’s Grilled Cheese Truck in Vancouver. The simple grilled cheese sandwich can now be ordered on sour dough, marbled rye, with Havarati cheese or lactose free cheese, with meatloaf or with caramelised apple. Who’d have thought grilled cheese could be so interesting?
When you find an angle no one else has covered, you can add statements like ‘one and only’ and ‘best selling’ to your marketing, to attract more attention.
5) Your Truck is not a Hobby
You still need to manage your business like a regular restaurant. Make sure you manage the size of the portions you are serving and the cost of the food you are sourcing. Even though your margins may be better than a permanent bricks and mortar location, you still need to keep control of your costs. Like any start-up business, it is important to build a strong foundation for your business in the beginning, from which to develop your customer base and build your reputation.
6) Keep it Simple
Keep your ingredients simple so you can buy in large quantities and menu items can be easily assembled. And offer variations on your menu items. Selling a burrito? Sell it with the same tortillas, salsa, beans etc. and offer different varieties of meat. It will not only sell you time in creating the dishes but will save you money as well.
7) Prepare for Malfunctions
Not being in a permanent location can cause challenges in keep food fresh or maintaining heat levels with cooking devices. If it’s a busy Wednesday at lunchtime and you have a line-up waiting for your delicious food and the generator fails – how will you avert a customer service disaster?
Disaster planning doesn’t have to be about earthquakes and snowstorms. Go through possible scenarios like losing power, having a gas leak, running out of produce, or engine failure and put back-up procedures in place.
8) Budget for Bad Weather
We are in BC after all. Rain, wind, and snow can all spell a drop in foot traffic on a normally busy street. It is important to budget for these slow days in your forecasting. You know your local area and it’s they type of weather it’s prone to, use this knowledge to forecast how many slow days a year you expect to have and account for these in your business plan.
9) Think Beyond the Truck
To help combat the impact that slow days have on your revenue, think outside the truck. Could you provide office or party catering? Could you offer gift cards or branded merchandise? These are not only extra revenue streams but are excellent advertising opportunities for your business.
Want to Know More About Starting a Food Cart Business?
Join Small Business BC, the City of Vancouver and Vancity to find out more about the process of applying for a street food vending permit and kick starting your food cart business.