How to Start a Food Truck 15B: Choose the Right Truck for Your Business

We know how serious you are about starting a food truck—but are you ready to show the rest of the world? If so, there’s one decisive action you can take that makes your commitment to this dream evident: buying or leasing your very first truck.

In last week’s post, we showed you where to find food trucks for sale and explained the differences between new trucks, used trucks, and leased trucks. It’s so important to choose a food truck that will support your business goals and allow you to make progress toward achieving your dreams—and last week’s lesson and today’s lesson are designed to help you find the absolute best food truck for your business. Today, we’ll cover more information on the equipment and essentials you need to get out on the road.

Ready to get cooking? Let’s fire up the food truck search grill by exploring the different types of vehicles you can choose!

Trucks, Carts, and Trailers

Though we usually talk about food trucks specifically here on FoodTruckr, our site is really a resource for everyone in the mobile food industry. Many of our favorite FoodTruckrs don’t even own food trucks—they’re operating from carts or trailers.

Which type of street food vehicle is the most effective way to sell your famous Philly cheesesteaks or organic hummus? While the vehicle you choose will be largely dependent on the local laws in your city, it’s still helpful to understand the benefits that trucks, carts, and trailers have to offer.

  • Food Trucks: If you find someone selling gourmet burgers and brats or fresh salads with fruit-inspired dressings on the side of the road, chances are good that the vendor is working out of a food truck. Many mobile restaurant owners go for food trucks because trucks offer plenty of space and lots of flexibility. Typically ranging in size from 14 feet to 34 feet, food trucks have room for the operators to cook and serve onboard the vehicle itself. Though you may still be required to prepare and store your food at a commissary, food trucks offer many aspiring street food vendors the perfect way to serve their tastiest creations.
  • Food Carts: If you’re interested in something a little smaller and easier to manage, a food cart could be right for you. Food carts are small and simple—just attach the cart to another vehicle and tow it to your selling destination. Some FoodTruckrs start out with food carts because they cost less and may be easier to manage. However, you should be sure that you’ll be comfortable serving from a small space. Food carts also cost less to maintain and may require less cleaning and care, but they don’t allow you to serve as much food at once and may not be as noticeable as a larger vehicle to people passing by on the street.
  • Food Trailers: In some ways, food trailers are similar to food carts—they don’t move on their own, so you’ll need to tow them with another, larger vehicle. However, food trailers are more comparable in size to food trucks. A food trailer generally has plenty of room inside for a good-sized kitchen and storage space for ingredients. With a food trailer, you’ll be capable of serving large crowds of hungry fans. Keep in mind that if you opt for a food cart or food trailer, you’ll need to ensure that your vehicle has sufficient towing capacity. Simply adding a trailer hitch to your two-door coupe won’t cut it. Ask your dealer what your car or truck can handle.
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Basic Considerations

Once you’ve chosen a food truck, food cart, or food trailer, you’re ready to move on to the next step of buying a street food vehicle: selecting a model with the right equipment. Ask yourself these four questions to determine what type of equipment you’ll need to have on your food truck, cart, or trailer:

1. “What’s on the Menu?”

You figured out some general ideas about what you’ll be serving way back in Lesson 04 and in Lesson 09. Now you’re ready to put those plans to the test by figuring out the specific equipment you’ll need to create each menu item. Think about the preparation method for every single dish and list out the tools and supplies you’ll need to make them happen (including small details like prep bowls, tin foil, and spatulas). Then, think about how you can store every item (again, including everything from the actual ingredients to the tools and equipment you’ll need to cook with).

Did you decide to start out with a simple menu during the early days of your truck in order to make things a little easier? That’s great—but if you’re planning to expand to new offerings any time in the near future, be sure to also include the equipment and additional storage space you’ll need to your truck plan now. Upgrading the equipment and kitchen space on your truck can be costly, so it’s best to plan ahead to avoid making changes down the line.

2. “Will I Work From a Commissary?”

Before you begin shopping for a food truck, you need to know whether or not you’ll be required to use a commissary. Many cities have health code laws that prevent FoodTruckrs from preparing and storing food on their trucks. Fortunately, if you’ll be working out of a commercial kitchen, you won’t need as much kitchen prep space and cooking equipment on the truck itself.

However, if your city does allow you to prepare food from the truck, you need to make sure that every piece of equipment onboard adheres to the local health code. Check your local laws to learn what kind of equipment your truck should include. Your city may also have laws about how much prep space you need and how large your sink should be, so be sure to read each policy carefully and to call your local health department representative if you have a question.

3. “How Many People Will I Serve Each Day?”

It’s a simple fact: when you’re serving lots of customers in a single day, you’re going to need more ingredients—and more room to store them. If you’re planning to work frequently at large events or if you’re interested in offering catering services, you need to plan ahead to operate from a large truck with lots of storage room. Though you could certainly take a hot dog cart to a major festival with tens of thousands of people, it wouldn’t be long before you ran out and had to head back to your commissary or to the grocery store for a refill. When you have enough storage space on your truck to meet the demands of your customers, you can keep on selling through rush hour without worrying about running low.

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4. “How Many People Will Work on the Truck?”

Are you planning to man the truck primarily on your own, with only the help of a trusted partner? Or are you aiming to eventually have a full team with three chefs and a cashier or two? Your truck’s kitchen space needs to have enough room for every team member to work comfortably without rubbing elbows all day long. When you look at potential trucks, think about the layout of the space and how well people will be able to move around and work—especially when they’re trying to wash dishes, prepare chopped veggies, or use a scalding hot grill.

You also need to have a seat with a seatbelt for every single member of your team. If the food truck you’re looking at doesn’t have enough seats and seatbelts, you’re going to need to plan to have someone also drive a car with extra passengers to every stop you make. This is one point that is non-negotiable, so make sure to keep it in mind while you’re looking at your food truck options.

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A Guide to Standard Food Truck Equipment

Once you’ve figured out how much space you need and what you’ll be cooking, you’re ready to start looking at food truck listings. To help you in your search, we’ve put together a list of the standard equipment you’ll find in many food trucks. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but it can help you get a head start as you figure out what you’re really looking for. If you see an item on this list that you’re not familiar with, make sure to look it up.

Here are some of the most common pieces of equipment that food trucks include:

  • Plumbing System
  • Compartment Sink for Dishes
  • Hand Sink
  • Drain Boards
  • Grease Trap
  • Disposal System
  • Water Heater
  • Freshwater Tank
  • Greywater Tank
  • Exhaust Hood
  • Fan Motor
  • Interior Lighting
  • Electrical Outlets
  • Fire Suppression System and Sprinklers
  • Awning or Ordering Window
  • Glass or Screen for Ordering Window
  • Interior Covering for Walls and Ceilings
  • Non-Slip Flooring
  • Generator
  • Air Conditioning and Heating
  • Storage for Utensils, Tools, Paper Products, and Cleaning Supplies
  • Storage for Food and Ingredients
  • Refrigeration System
  • Freezer Space
  • Stoves, Grills, Fryers
  • Warmer and/or Cooler
  • Food-Safe Prep Space
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Many of these pieces of equipment will come standard in the food trucks you’re looking at, though you may need to install some on your own or pick and choose between the pieces of equipment that are most relevant to your business. Keep your ultimate goals and your city’s local laws in mind before committing to any one food truck design and before replacing any equipment.

Choosing the Best Truck

As we mentioned last week, you should take your time choosing the best food truck for your business. If you’re looking at food trucks and not getting that special feeling that you’ve found “the one,” hold off a little longer until you find a vehicle that fits both the needs of your business and the dream you’ve been envisioning along the way.

Having trouble imagining what it will really be like to work on the truck? Try connecting with a local food truck owner and ask if you can see the inside of his or her truck to inform your purchasing decision. You can also ask truck owners what features they like best about their trucks or how their layouts affect their teams’ daily routines. The answers to these questions will give you a better idea of what to look for when you buy your own truck.

Finally, you should also find out if you need to have the plans or equipment approved by anyone in your local city or state government offices. In addition to placing strict regulations on all aspects of food truck businesses, many local laws also dictate that food trucks and their equipment must be reviewed and approved by a knowledgeable representative before hitting the streets. This simple step can help you get your truck licensed the right way the first time and save you money on costly changes and renovations later on.

Think you’re finally ready to buy your very first food truck? Tell us where you’ve found food trucks for sale and let us know how we can help you choose the best vehicle for your business! Contact us on Facebook or Twitter to share your food truck buying experience with our team and with the rest of the FoodTruckr community.

Coming up next week: we’ve got another in-depth lesson on the way for you! We’ll kick off May’s month of “next steps” with a comprehensive guide to buying insurance for your food truck. It’s a super important lesson with very practical applications that you won’t want to miss—so stay tuned!

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image by Mike Linksvayer

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About the Author

FoodTruckr

FoodTruckr is the #1 online destination for current and aspiring food truck owners looking to succeed in the mobile food industry. Self described “food truck devotees,” the FoodTruckr team enjoys reading about successful entrepreneurs, salivating over photos of burritos on Twitter, and long walks through food truck parks. Chat with FoodTruckr on Facebook or check out the FoodTruckr School podcast for more awesome tips to level up your business.

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