4 Ways to Succeed in the Food Truck Business

Running a great food truck requires more than just good food. Here are four things that will help you succeed in this hyper-­competitive market.
Happy Belly Food Truck
A successful food truck business requires more than just good food. (Photo: NCR Silver)

Dawn Hall and her husband were living in Pennsylvania and wanted to move back home to Georgia. Having worked in the hospitality industry for 15 years, both knew they wanted to run their own food service business and, after watching “The Great Food Truck Race” on Food Network, Hall began researching the food truck market in Atlanta.

“Not many were started at that point and we took it and ran with it,” Hall told NCR Silver. That was four years ago, and Happy Belly has become a staple of the Atlanta food truck scene ever since.

Before you go out into the great wide (and competitive) world of food trucks, you need to do the work on the front and back end to run a seamless operation, Hall said.

“[Prospective owners] need to do their due diligence and their homework,” Hall said.

“A lot of people think that you can just buy a food truck, open and just start serving it everywhere. There’s a lot behind it and there’s definitely more than meets the eye.”

Operating a successful food truck starts with great food, but it requires being on top of many other aspects of your small business.

Here are four things you should do to run a successful food truck.

1. Embrace red tape

Just when you think you have all of the permits required to operate your food truck, new ones inevitably pop up. There are permits for where (and when) you can park and sell your food. There are also permits mandating the use of a commissary kitchen (or base of operations) for all of your prep work as well as health code permits and exams similar to that of brick and mortar restaurants. There are fees and permits needed to sell at certain events, some of which even charge a percentage of your sales.

Photo: NCR/Facebook

While the food is important, running a food truck requires skill and preparation like any other small business. (Photo: NCR Silver)

Make sure to do your due diligence on what you’ll need to ensure you can sell your product before hitting the road, as these costs can add up. “You have to have a commissary kitchen that you can pay upwards of $1,000 a month in rent,” Hall said

2. Become a social media maestro

“Social media is a great resource for us to market our daily locations and keep our customer base up to date,” Hall said.

Between the permits, truck maintenance, food costs and, you know, paying yourself, money is going to be tight – especially at the beginning.

One way to save some cash while growing your brand is to utilize Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and any other social media platform available.

Get the word out by targeting key influencers in your area, and get your best Ansel Adams impersonator to take cool shots of your food, truck and the vibe around it. Because these are mostly free (or very inexpensive considering other marketing options) you can get a good return on investment all the while keeping marketing costs low

3. Get a mobile point of sale (POS) system – but not just any POS system

Being a small business owner means needing to manage inventory, overhead, employee schedules and more. Not all POS systems can help track that, plus create customer rewards programs and employee incentive programs.

“We are very happy with our mobile system for POS and reporting purposes,” Hall said. There are several options out there, but make sure you find the one that best fits your needs.

4. Take a crash course in truck maintenance

If your truck breaks down, your business comes to a sudden stop. It’s as simple as that. You don’t need to know how to rebuild your entire engine or build a new flat top griddle, but knowing how to maintain and prevent major damage will save you time and money, both of which could be in limited supply as you get your business off the ground.

“We bought our food truck new, but you always have mechanical issues when having a mobile business,” said Hall. “Being knowledgeable in this area helps to save money, but if you’re not into DIY repairs, I suggest having a great network of people to call on a moment’s notice.”

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