How to Start a Food Truck 25: Order and Stock Supplies

There are just six lessons left in the “How to Start a Food Truck” series, which means that you’re almost ready to open your very own food truck!

In last week’s post, we helped you get involved in the food truck community and build relationships with other FoodTruckrs. Now, we’re moving on to a lesson that’s a little more hands-on and action-oriented to get you ready to hit the road on opening day.

Since we’ve already covered ingredients and equipment, we’ll be spending today’s lesson talking about some of the additional supplies you’ll need on board. These essentials fall into three main categories: 1.) cooking tools, 2.) dishes and utensils, and 3.) cleaning products. We’ll cover what you need, how to get it, and where to keep your supplies in this brand new lesson. Ready to get started? Order up!

Determine What You Need

Before you can officially open for business, you need to make sure your truck is fully stocked and equipped to handle the needs of scores of hungry customers—so today, you’re going to spend time working inside your food truck and getting everything set up to begin selling.

Note: If your truck will be using a commissary to prepare or store food, you should find out which of these items the facility has before you start stocking your own truck. Many commercial kitchen spaces will have a lot of the following supplies in-house, so you can make do with a pared down set of essentials on your truck. However, we’ve written the following sections with truck owners who are doing everything on their vehicles in mind.

First up on the list? An arsenal of cooking tools you can use to construct mouthwatering meals.

1. Cooking Tools

Before you can start preparing perfect plates on the road, you’re going to need some cooking tools. Your selection can be as minimalistic or elaborate as your chef’s heart desires. Some kitchens function well on some basic spatulas and fry pans, while others require a suite of fancy gadgets to make their culinary magic happen.

To figure out what you really need (and to make sure you don’t miss anything), walk through the steps of preparing each recipe in your head and think about what utensils and dishes you would need. You may even want to write the steps down to be sure you don’t miss anything. Remember to account for every small dish that the food will touch at any point in time—including prep bowls, cutting boards, and containers to store leftover ingredients. List out each different type of knife and all of the pots and pans and corresponding lids you’ll need. Include food storage products like foil, saran wrap, and plastic bags. And of course, don’t forget the food-safe handling gloves!

Once you have everything itemized and listed out, be sure to consider if there are some items that you may want to stock in bulk. It could be useful to keep some extras of your most commonly used knives and stirring spoons on hand in case you drop one on the floor in the middle of a hectic lunch rush or in case something breaks in the middle of the day. You don’t need to double stock everything, but a backup kit can be a lifesaver when you’re serving a large crowd and you’re pressed for time.

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2. Dishes and Utensils

After you’ve cooked up a steaming hot dish of mac and cheese or put together a fresh, veggie-friendly lettuce wrap, you’ll need something to serve it on—and that’s where dishes and utensils come in.

There are dozens of ways you could choose to serve your food, so we won’t get into all of the options here. However, we do want to emphasize that the way you present your food can have a major impact on how people perceive you and your truck. Check out Lesson 20 on establishing your brand and the third section of Lesson 04 to learn more about how various presentation choices can affect your customer’s feelings on his or her meal.

As you start looking for the best ways to serve your food, remember that you’ll need:

  • Something to serve the food on
  • Plasticware for customers
  • Napkins
  • Containers customers can take to-go
  • Bags
  • Cups and lids
  • Straws

Whether you decide a plain white Styrofoam to-go box or a cardboard tray made from recycled materials with your logo printed on it is more your style, you need to make the decisions consciously and choose something that is an extension of your brand.

3. Cleaning Products

When the day is done and each customer’s hunger is satisfied, it’s time to do some heavy-duty cleanup on your truck. The specific cleaning products you choose will depend heavily on what your local health code laws require, as well as how much cooking and food prep you’re actually doing on the road.

We’ve put together a list of common cleaning products you may need to get you started:

  • Dish soap
  • Dish detergent
  • Paper towels
  • Sanitizer in spray bottles or aerosol cans
  • Broom and dustpan
  • Mop and mopbucket
  • Trashcans
  • Trashbags
  • Recycling bins
  • Floor mats
  • Sponges and brushes
  • Hoses
  • Stainless steel or metal polish
  • Glass cleaner
  • Degreasing products
  • Oven cleaner
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Gloves

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Place Your Orders

Once you’ve come up with a comprehensive list of all the supplies you’re going to need to stock your food truck, it’s time to start researching prices and placing orders. Use this simple four-step process to make shopping simple.

1. Prepare a Storage Space

You might think you know exactly what you need—but before you can start buying, you have to make sure you’ll have somewhere to put everything. If you’ll be working in a commissary, find out how much storage space you’ll have available and what types of items you’ll be allowed to keep there. If you’re planning to keep everything on your truck, block out how much space you’ll need for food storage and prep in order to see how much room is left for other supplies. Though it’s usually easier (and cheaper) to buy things in bulk, you may be limited by the amount of available space you have.

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2. Create a Budget

Once you have an idea of how much storage space you’ll have, you can start budgeting and figuring out how much you can spend on each category of supplies. The key here is to make sure your truck is stocked while also taking advantage of items that are cheaper to buy in bulk. If there are any items or supplies that might take awhile to come in (such as specially printed to-go boxes or cups with your truck’s logo), you’ll need to make sure you always have plenty of backstock on hand—and you’ll also need to be diligent about reordering well in advance of running out.

3. Look for Deals

We covered some shopping tips and ways to get great deals in our lesson on sourcing ingredients, and the same principles apply to your food truck’s supplies. In general, bulk stores and warehouses will offer better deals on paper products and cleaning supplies than your regular local grocery store. Of course, you should also check out wholesale restaurant suppliers, online supply depots, and even places like Amazon for low prices on everyday products. Your local commissary may also have a wide selection of supplies from cooking equipment to cleaning products available.

4. Start Shopping

After researching prices and finding the best places to stock up, you can start shopping! Be sure to order all of your supplies well before your opening day—shipments can easily get delayed and a distributor may run out of a particular product that you need without enough time for you to order a replacement. You should never leave your food truck’s success in someone else’s hands, so it’s important to make sure there’s as little room for error as possible.

Set Up Your Truck

When your items begin arriving, make sure to store everything according to your local health code laws right away. You may need to take your items directly to your commissary or put them on your truck immediately rather than opening and unboxing them in your home.

As you unpack, you can’t just set everything out or stuff the packages into a closet—instead, you’ll need to think carefully about where everything should go and what the best layout for your cooking style is.

Here’s a few tips to set your truck up for success:

Create the Right Layout

When you’ve got a bunch of hamburger patties on the grill, some fries that need to come out of the fryer, and a line that’s 12 people deep, you don’t want to be running back and forth across the length of your truck and searching through drawers and cabinets to grab a knife or a plate. With a little careful planning, you can arrange all of your supplies in a manner that flows together and allows you to run a well-oiled and seamless food truck service.

Think about what you’ll be doing during each step of the cooking and serving process and arrange your supplies so that they’ll always be within easy reach. For example, if you’re right-handed, your cooking utensils should be easily accessible on the right side of your grill. Plates and serving dishes should be located somewhere near where the finished meal will come out (either by the stove or by the end of an assembly line). The register and any extras you’ll need to give the customer (such as napkins and silverware) should all be near the ordering window.

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Test It Out

Once you’ve set everything up in the way that seems to make the most sense, test it out. Prepare a couple sample meals on your truck and time yourself to see how quickly you can get them out and to the ordering window. Doing a couple trial runs will allow you to see which parts of the process have you tripping over your own feet and where there may be a more efficient way to store your supplies. Once you’ve made adjustments, test it again to make sure everything is running smoothly.

Make a List

Finally, no matter how much time you spend planning your food truck’s layout, you’re still bound to forget where something is when you’re under the stress of opening day jitters. Make a list or draw a map with the location of each of your supplies and post it somewhere that’s easy to see inside your truck. We recommend going over this several times (and double-checking it for accuracy) before your opening day—and if you’ll have anyone else working alongside you on the truck, make sure they’ve gone over it, too.

Get Ready to Sell

Got your supplies ordered, your truck stocked, and feeling ready to go? We’re almost there! You’re getting really close to opening day and the opportunity to finally unleash your culinary wizardry on all the lucky citizens in your area. In next week’s lesson, we’ll move another step closer by helping you set up your register system so that you can take payments. We’ll cover point-of-sale hardware and software options and go over some different features that are important for your system to have—so stay tuned!

In the meantime, we’re here to help you get your truck stocked, set up, and ready to hit the streets. Need help finding the best place to buy paper towels and dish detergent in bulk? Looking for a particular cooking tool that will take your meal prep to the next level? Let us know how we can help in the comments below or on our Facebook or Twitter pages!

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About the Author

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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