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Eric Silverstein: Is Food The Most Important Factor in Starting a Food Truck?

When first time restauranteurs or food truck owners are just starting out it’s logical to think that perfecting the food is the best use of their limited time. After all if you don’t make a good impression to first time customers, you might never get the opportunity to serve them a second time.

In this Q/A interview with Eric Silverstein, owner of the massively popular Austin-based restaurant  The Peached Tortilla shares why food is actually not the most important factor in determining whether or not a food business will be successful. Eric knows what he’s talking about too. Just a few years ago Eric launched The Peached Tortilla concept from a single food truck. Today Eric’s brand has grown to four food trucks, a restaurant location, and is regarded as a visionary restauranteur in the Austin area.

In this interview Eric sits down with a brand new co-founder, Quentin Cantu of Ranch Hand Food Truck to discuss some of the misconceptions about food startups and what to expect if you’re thinking about embarking on your own food startup journey. Click play on the video below to watch the full 3 minute and 12 second interview.

Interview Highlights

Question: What are the biggest misconceptions about food start-ups? What do you wish you would have known when you got started?

Answer: Your investment in human capital is extremely important. Your team will make or break you in this industry. Also, if you’re goal is to grow, you simply won’t be able to work every shift. You can’t prep and chop everything. How you cultivate and manage your team will dictate your level of success in the restaurant industry. If you’re starting a food truck, you may not realize that you will become a manager of people by embarking on this business. How you treat and lead people is a big component.

You need to have a system for operating your business. You need to have a system for ordering more product, cooking food, serving customers. When you just start out, obviously you won’t have everything figured out immediately. It will take some time to get this part right, continue to evolve and be a process that you optimize over time.

Eric points out at the conclusion of the conversation that how to cook food or what you’re serving never came up as part of this section of the interview. That’s not to say that having terrific food isn’t important. But if you want to start and grow a successful business, your energy as the owner of that business needs to be on other areas.

If you enjoyed this video Eric Silverstein is regularly publishing videos like this weekly on his YouTube Channel. Eric’s goal is to document what it takes to succeed in today’s hyper competitive restaurant industry. Whether you’re thinking about getting started or looking for ways to make your current restaurant more efficient this will be a hugely valuable behind the scenes series. Check out the series intro video below:

How Much Does a BBQ Concession Business Cost to Start?

For the purposes of this particular blog post we will be focusing on the costs to start a BBQ concession, catering, or vending business using a mobile unit like a trailer or truck. At M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks one of our specialties is manufacturing BBQ trailers, trucks, and smokers built to our customers needs and desires. Not only do we understand the cost to operate this type of business, but understand the different goals people have when investing in a BBQ trailer. Some of our customers like Wade, an active service member of the United States military, invested in a trailer to start a catering business on weekends and participate in a few competitive events each year. Others like Smokin’ Bull Shack (shown in the video bel0w) purchased a full-fledged 22 foot trailer to be able to serve smoked meats at the largest events and travel across the state to major events. We’ve included videos of both these examples inside this post.

rib customer

Another satisfied customer.

The Biggest Investment

The largest one-time investment you’ll make in your BBQ business is with equipment. If you purchase a well-built machine that meets your current needs and offers you some room to grow this equipment could serve you well for decades. If you purchase something the is low-quality or hasn’t been maintained, it can become extremely frustrating. The good news is that if you already own a reliable vehicle to pull a trailer, you can get a structurally sound smoker trailer at a price regular folks can afford.

Small Trailer – If you’re on a budget and want to start small, the Model NS 60 SWT  is a great option at $3,550. The trailer boasts sliding shelves that can be pulled out of the trailer for cleaning or serving and a warmer box that can serve as a cooker box as well. Check the link for full specs on this trailer. If you want to go a little bit larger, the Model NS 70 SWT gives you even more cooking space for a slight bump in cost $3,750. Both of these trailers have everything you need to get started with catering gigs, participating in BBQ competitions or serving at events. If you want some different add-ons like a roof or 3-compartment sink for health code requirements those can be easily added on to your unit. With a total investment of under $5,000 to purchase your most expensive piece of equipment is not a bad way to start a business and allows you to quickly get to profitability or start the business in your spare-time on the weekends.

Large Trailer / Truck – Ready to go a bit more aggressive? Have you already been running a successful catering business for a number of years, but want to make a step up and get into some of the bigger events in your area.

Depending on what equipment and features you would like installed on the vehicle a BBQ truck will cost between $50,000 -$100,000 all in. You can purchase full-equipment BBQ trailer for under $50,000. Why so much less expensive? You don’t have an engine and a mode of transportation built in. If you already own a reliable truck you can cut your start up costs significantly. In the event your truck breaks down, you can get a loaner through a local Lowe’s or Home Depot for under $50 bucks a day so you won’t miss out on any lucrative events.

Licensing Costs and Insurance

Each of these costs is variable and will depend on where you live.

Permits: Every city, county, and state will have different rules of the road so to speak for your BBQ business. We won’t get into an exhaustive list here, but a safe bet is that you can expect to pay anywhere from $200 – $500 annually to get all the appropriate inspections for your BBQ business. If you happen to live in a major metropolitan area such as New York City these fee’s could balloon into the thousands of dollars per year.

Business Entity: If you’re just starting out starting your business as a “cottage food” business can be an affordable way to goal. In a nutshell, the cottage food laws were put in place over the past 10 years to loosen the prohibitive food laws that were a challenge for small food businesses to overcome. There annual income sales limits of $54,000 with this business entity so as you grow you will need to consider transitioning the business to an LLC.

Insurance: This is another cost that will vary depending on your location. Noticing a trend in this section? Using back of the napkin math you should budget around $1,000 – $3,000 annually for this.

Supplies and Recurring Monthly Costs

Although every business is different. Here are a few typical monthly expenses you can use as a guide. We hope this article has helped to make you aware of the different costs associated with starting up your very own concession business.

Commissary $0 – $1,200
Phone / Internet $75
Fuel $200
Point-of-Sale Software $20
Emergency Expenses / Other $200
Food (Meats, Seasoning, Breads) / Beverage Restock Depends on sales.
Napkins, Paper Plates, Plastic Forks and Spoons $100 – $300

What is a Roach Coach? Where Did the Term Come From?

Before the rise of gourmet food trucks there was the “roach coach.” In fact, a small number of people (generally over the age of 60) still refer to mobile food units by the name roach coach. Fortunately, over the past 20 years the perception of the quality of food that can be served from a truck has been completely transformed and flipped on its head thanks to the innovative chefs that operate food trucks in the 21st century. In today’s post, we discuss how that name came to be and dive into the history of the food truck so you understand where this term came from.

What is a Roach Coach?

The term roach coach was used to describe white and grey food trucks that frequented construction and other worksites during the 70s and 80s. These vehicles got their name by due to their questionable sanitation practices. These vehicles would serve basic convenience food that you would be familiar seeing at a gas station or convenience store. Basic hot dogs, bags of chips, pre-made sandwiches and burgers were the expected fair at these mobile establishments. Although it seems almost incomprehensible now, some trucks would even sell packs of cigarettes from the serving window.

If you were to eat at one of these roach coaches, sometimes called snack trucks, it was purely out of convenience. Construction sites are often located in parts of the city where there is not access to other eating alternatives. If you didn’t bring your lunch in a pail, you literally had no dining alternatives.

You will still find food trucks actively serving blue and white collar workers at different job sites or corporate parks, but the term roach coach is a thing of the past. While getting the appropriate health and licensing requirements may have been less stringent in the past, the process of starting a food truck isn’t much different than starting a restaurant from a health perspective. All food trucks are expected to operate and maintain clean kitchens at the same level you would expect any other food establishment to operate. In most cities, food trucks will undergo numerous inspections throughout the year by government employees to ensure health requirements are maintained.

What Does a Roach Coach Look Like?

Most of the food trucks you see on the road today are state-of-the-art rolling restaurants. They have efficient and clean kitchen layouts, dynamic logos, mouthwatering menu options with the goal of winning you over as a longterm repeat customer and fan. The goal of the roach coach is simpler and much more transactional. Serve food in places where there aren’t other options available. There’s no goal to gain a repeat customer or advocate for the business.

The lack of branding on these roach-coach style food trucks is the most obvious differentiators. The image featured below is a classic example of the old school type of mobile food unit. This plain gray style of vehicle would have been extremely common site to see at construction sites 20 – 30 years ago. You can still find trucks like this on the road today and you shouldn’t be concerned for your health when eating at these mobile established.  Although they aren’t branded in the same way as gourmet trucks, they must adhere to all of the same health code requirements to legally operate.

This is what a “roach coach” typically looks like.

A Bite of Food Truck History

You can think of the roach coach as a time period of the larger mobile food industry that got it’s beginnings back in the Wild West. In the mid-1800s the original chuck wagon became popular feeding hungry cowboys out on the open plains.

As mobile refrigeration became an option, mobile food made enormous leaps forward and the variety of food that could be safely served in a mobile setting increased. Before refrigeration,  salted or smoked meats were the only kind of protein that could travel.

In the 1950s, mobile canteens like the one shown below were authorized by the United States Military. These canteen’s became a familiar site offering enlisted men hot meals in bases around the country.

Mobile canteen’s like this were used by the U.S. Army in the 1950s.

As you can see, people’s perceptions of what mobile food is has continued to evolve over the past 50 years. Although we can’t predict with certainty what the future of mobile vending will look like in the next 50 years, we are confident it won’t look the same as it does today.

What Are The 20 Most Popular Food Truck Menu Concepts?

Thinking about getting into the food truck business, but struggling to find your perfect menu? In today’s post our goal is to help solve this problem by organizing a list of the most popular menu concepts we’ve seen executed well on food trucks in recent years.

In our 15+ years in business, we’ve had the opportunity to help hundreds of food entrepreneurs launch their own mobile businesses each of these concepts on our list have produced numerous successful businesses for our customers. Often, if you want to be successful in the food industry you don’t need to have the most creative menu in town. You simply need to execute on serving consistently good food that people crave paired with exceptional customer service.

Finding Your Gourmet Twist

Before you go out and open a taco trailer because it’s popular there’s one important factor among each of these menu concepts that you need to keep in mind. The most successful food truck (or restaurant) owners are able to put their own unique spin when cooking up menu items. That means you’ll have to use a small amount of creativity to specialize to make your food unique to consumers.

For example even with hot dogs being a very popular concept you wouldn’t want to serve an ordinary hot dog with ketchup and mustard from your truck. You can get that at any 7-11 for $2.00. Instead try serving a bacon wrapped, cheddar cheese dog to differentiate your menu.

Bobo’s BBQ Concession Trailer built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks

Another common way to differentiate your food is to serve a specific style that is unique to a geographic region. One menu concept this is popular is with barbecue. There are many different barbecue cooking and flavor styles including Kansas City, Memphis, sweet and others.

You can find plenty of ways to differentiate a coffee truck too. One option is that you could specialize in serving coffees made only with organic beans. Alternatively, you could feature coffees that are grown in different parts of the world including South America, Africa, or North America. The opportunity to take a well-known menu and adapt it to become totally exclusive you is not difficult.

Top 20 Food Truck Menus

  • Barbecue
  • Amped-up Hamburgers
  • Reinvented Hot dogs
  • Coffee Trucks
  • Smoothie / Healthy Drink Trucks
  • “Grown-up” grilled cheese sandwiches
  • Beef Sliders (Variation on hamburgers.)
  • Cupcakes and desserts
  • Street tacos and burritos
  • Sushi
  • Lobster rolls
  • Mediterranean menus / Gyros
  • Crepes with special toppings
  • Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches
  • Pizza
  • Ice cream and soft serve
  • Shaved ice / Italian ice
  • Indian food
  • Hawaiian food
  • Chicken wings

***Top menu concepts are organized in no particular order of popularity. 

Combining Main-Stream Concepts to Create Something New

If you’re still having trouble coming up with a unique food truck menu, we have saved one last chef’s secret for creating a unique menu. This is one that has been fully embraced by the mobile food industry. The concept is taking two popular food items and merging them together into something new. This melting pot of flavors is called fusion cuisine.

You’ve probably had some type of fusion cuisine already even if you didn’t know it. One fusion concept that has gained a lot of popularity over the last 10 years is merging a variety of ethnic foods and flavors with the taco. BBQ, Korean, Indian, and even vegetarian food has collided with the hard or soft shell of Mexican food in most cities. And guess what… Most of these flavors work really well together!

We hope today’s post has given you some new ideas that have a proven track record of success being cooked and served from a mobile food unit. Are there any well-knonwn concepts that we’ve missed? We would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below. 

Three Types of Food Truck Blueprints with Examples

There’s a lot more that goes into the planning and manufacturing a food truck than most people think. Take for example the layout and installation of the cooking equipment inside the truck. As a straight-forward example, a tater tot truck would need to make sure they had deep fryers, a fridge to keep product cool, and a prep station to add all the yummy toppings like sour cream or chives.

rib customer

Another satisfied customer of Smokin’ Bull Shack. Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

But having the tater tot equipment is installed in the food truck is not enough. You also need to make sure each piece is laid out in a way that will be efficient for chefs cooking onboard. To accomplish this goal, a blueprint or written plan for each food truck design is critical.  You do not want the chef (or yourself) to be forced to zig-zag across your trailer like a pinball to cook a single menu item. You might be able to serve food this way during slow time periods on the truck, but during a lunch rush with multiple workers onboard an inefficient setup can be both frustrating and hurt profits if can’t serve food fast enough.

Ideally you want to design the layout or blueprint that allows you to cook food on an assembly line from start to finish. When you think about some of the most profitable restaurants in history like McDonalds or Chipotle, they assemble their food in the this way. When you go to Chipotle, you start by selecting your wrap, then decide on beans, rice, meats, and continue on down a straight line until your perfect burrito is crafted. Can you imagine how inefficient and unorganized these restaurants would become if employees needed to walk to different parts of the kitchen to make a burrito? And yet, this is exactly how many mobile kitchens are laid out.

At M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks, we work with our customers to design a kitchen layout that’s optimized to serve their menu items.  After developing a blueprint, we walk each customer through the recommendations to ensure that the layout will meets their needs.  If you’re going to make an investment in a food truck or trailer, we want to be confident it’s built to last and manufactured in a way that will help your business operate profitably.

Three Types of Food Truck Blueprints

Although kitchen layout is important for the operations of a food truck it’s not the only blueprint that is developed. We create a total of three blue-prints for each build we produce to ensure your truck is ready to roll:

Kitchen Blueprint: The kitchen blue-print is what we’ve been highlighting so far within this post. The goal of this document is to demonstrate where each piece of equipment will be installed within the trailer. This allows us to demonstrate how much space is available on the truck in addition to walking through how food will be cooked on the concession trailer.

bedroom concession

Example 1: Concession Trailer Kitchen Blueprint

 

pizza trailer blueprint

Example 2: Pizza Trailer Kitchen Blueprint

 

Electrical Blueprint: The electrical blueprint is another important piece of planning a food truck build. Without planning correctly for electrical needs you could find yourself out of power in the worst possible time: Usually when you’ve got a lot of customers and all the kitchen equipment is in use. Our electrical blueprints ensure that your vehicle will have power when you need it. As food trucks become more complex with exterior lighting, televisions or digital menus, you want to be confident your food truck build is sound from an electrical perspective. Often, we need to produce two separate electrical blueprints, one for the ceiling, one for the rest of the vehicle as demonstrated below.

electrical ceiling blueprint

Example 1: Electrical Ceiling Blueprint

 

electrical blueprint

Example 2: Electrical Blueprint

 

Plumbing Blueprint: Finally, there’s the the plumbing blue-print. This section ensures that you’re waste water is going to a tank. But also ensures that you’ll have plenty of hot and cold water on demand from your sinks. One of the challenging aspects of building a food truck is that you’ve got to understand mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and the operational side of a food truck business. At M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks we’ve been in business for over 15 years and understand each step of the food truck build process in depth.

plumbing blueprint

Plumbing blueprint.

 

As you can see there’s a lot more that goes into the planning stages of a food truck build than meets the eye. We hope this gives you a better understanding of everything it takes to manufacture a quality concession truck or trailer.

What are the Most Common Food Truck Floor Plan Sizes?

What floor plan is right size for you? In this guide our goal is to outline the most commonly used food truck floor plan sizes and demonstrate the pros and cons of each. The ideal floor plan for you will depend largely on a combination of these three factors including: local laws, menu, and personal needs. Ready to find the right layout for your unique situation? Read on.

Local Legal Requirements

If you’re just beginning the food truck research process, you may soon discover that your local health code requires your truck to be a certain size. One example is in the city of Madison, Wisconsin, where a food vendors trailer is not allowed to exceed 10 feet by 12 feet (10′ X 12′). If you purchased a 20 footer and hoped you vend in Downtown Madison, you would not be allowed no matter how well your food trailer was built. This is why it’s so important to look into the health requirements for any new city or county you plan to operate in. An experienced food truck builder will also be able to help you identify the health code in your city and may already be familiar with the unique requirements there.

Taste of Jamaica Trailer in Madison, WI. Photo Credit: PublicHealthMDC.com

To learn more about the special requirements needed to operate a food trailer in Madison, Wisconsin, view their Guide for New Mobile Food Operators. While you probably don’t intend to operate a food unit there, the guide provides some good examples of things you’ll need to consider when starting your own food truck, including how you will deal with waste water, getting licensed, and if you will need to rent commissary space.

Menu

What you plan to serve is going to have a major influence on the size of your mobile food unit. Some concepts like shaved ice, coffee, or tacos don’t require much space at all to operate and a 14′ foot trailer or Sprinter Van will work well. If you’re serving more complex dishes, plan to do a lot of prep work on the vehicle, or want to have a larger variety of menu items than the 18′ footer may be the appropriate choice for you. BBQ is a specific food concept that will requires more space to pull off since you’ve got to have space to keep meats cool, prep, chop, and smoke. You can also invest in an open-air BBQ smoker trailer if you don’t necessarily need a truck.

18′ Foot New South Smoker Trailer. Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

The 16′ foot food truck floor plan is the most common size you may be familiar seeing on the road. The 16′ footer is a versatile size that will allow you to execute the majority of popular concepts out there including hamburgers, sandwiches, Mexican food, and even sushi. This layout offers a nice combination of size without being so large that you feel like you’re driving an 18-wheeler for a living.

Personal Needs and Goals

Finally, there are a lot of personal preferences and goals that should be considered when starting a food truck. For some startups, you may need to keep costs low so you’ll opt for a smaller floor plan. For others having a bathroom installed inside the trailer is a requirement. Keep in mind that you will spend a lot of time inside your vehicle so you’ll want something that meets your needs and is comfortable.

Employees: Do you plan to operate with other people on board? Whether you’ll be hiring staff or working with family members you’ll need space to work and move inside the kitchen. For most people, we find that if you have a two person operation a Sprinter Van or 14′ foot layout works well. Once you get three people inside of a Sprinter Van things start to get pretty tight and the quarters may be closer than you would like.

Efficiency and Volume: Restaurants with some of the fastest serving times and highest volume of sales include Chipotle and McDonald’s. These establishments are able to be super efficient in part because there is a team that cooks and assembles your meal. Each team member has a specific role in putting together your meal and usually work together in a line.

These teams of employees can also crank out meals super fast. Some reports state that Chipotle is able to serve 120 burritos per hour on average and they continue to look for ways to improve that metric because time is money in the restaurant industry. If you hope to duplicate some of the success attributes of these restaurants you will want to look into a bigger vehicle.

Cooking Equipment and Other Features: Need more than just two burners? Want a smoothie machine installed for custom drinks to be added as a menu item? Need a bathroom installed so you aren’t forced to use public restrooms at events? If this sounds like you a 18′ or 20′ floor plan layout is likely the best choice. If you have a lot of cooking equipment you need installed or other special add-ons like a porch, you will need one of the larger layout options.

The Most Common Food Truck Floor Plan Sizes

  • 14′ Foot: Small entry level truck or trailer size. This is about the size of a Sprinter Van as well.
  • 16′ Foot: This is the most popular food truck size. Very versatile.
  • 18′ Foot: Great size if you plan to have more than two vendors onboard a truck or large menu.
  • 20′ Foot: If you plan on doing a lot of volume at major events and want room to grow this is a great option.

If you have more questions about what floor plan would work best for your situation, send us an email or call us at 904-397-0246.

Does Attending Craft Shows Make Sense For Your Concession Business?

Searching for new ways to increase revenue for your concession business? The often-forgotten craft show could be the answer to unlocking consistent profits in your area. In today’s post we show you where to find these craft shows and things to look for when determining whether or not you want to test these events for your existing food business. Enjoy!

food booth

Food vendors at a local craft show. Photo Credit: Pinterest

Advantages of Art Shows

From an economic standpoint, people at craft fairs are an ideal customer for a concession vendor. People that can purchase hand-made necklaces or custom paintings have expendable income. There are cheaper ways to buy similar products so being able to afford to enjoy lunch at your truck, trailer, or cart won’t be an issue from a financial perspective.

In addition to the socio-economic factors, many art shows don’t have much in terms of ready-to-eat foods. There will usually be some take-home products like jelly, honey, or beef jerky. But as far as something hot and ready to eat on-site, the options are often limited.

A lot of food truck owners have seen success by vending at well attended food truck rally’s in their area. Don’t get us wrong, these are terrific events that can attract large crowds and be extremely lucrative. But there is also something to be said of being one of maybe two dining options around lunch time. The crowds may not be as big, but if you can get a large percentage of attendees to give your food a try this can work.

Finally, art shows are usually cheap to vend at. A vendor’s fee of between $15 – $45 will apply depending on popularity. A big reason for the low-cost is that artists couldn’t afford to pay the fees if they were any higher than this. This is an advantage to you as a concession vendor because you can usually break-even after just a few sales. If you discover that an event is not profitable you can quickly move on.

Challenges of Craft Fairs

Naturally there are some hurdles to overcome within this type of event too. The first is timing. A lot of craft fairs are not held during lunch or dinner time hours when you’ll generate the most sales. If a certain craft fair only runs from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m. and you serve hot dogs, you may want to continue to look elsewhere.

Other craft fairs, especially those held in-doors, will have a strong self-interest to keep food vendors out. It’s no secret that selling food and beverages through a snack bar can be lucrative endeavor for the owners and management of the event. Before you pay any event fee’s, be sure to confirm with the promoter that selling ready-to-eat food is acceptable.

Where To Find Local or National Craft Shows

Ready to explore the art scene for your own business? Here are some of the best resources we know to source these events in your area:

https://www.sunshineartist.com – From their home-base in Wisconsin, this companies mission is to serve the arts and crafts industry. One of the nice features of this website is that there is a search engine that allows you to look up events by keyword and date.

http://festivalnet.com – Website with a list of 26,000+ art fairs and craft shows happening across the United States and Canada.

http://artandcrafts.com – Based out of Edgewater, Florida, this is your professional guide to art and craft shows. At the time of writing there is a fee of $49.95 per year to access the information in this guide. You can also enroll for a 10-day free trail to check out there system. This sounds like a square deal if you want to make a serious attempt at vending at these kinds of events.

http://craftshowyellowpages.com – This is the art and craft show yellow pages. You can browse descriptions of different events across all 50 states here. If you really want to take your knowledge to the next level, you can also sign up for their magazine to be shipped to your house.

http://www.craftmasternews.com – This website includes listing for art and craft shows, but also home improvement, garden shows, farmer’s markets and more!

http://www.eventlister.com – At the time of writing, this website had over 130,000 upcoming events published online. This is an enormous U.S. Searchable database for art shows. You can also shop for thousands of hand-made products from local artists online through their website.

http://www.localharvest.org – This is a website that provides farmers market listings. Not quite the same thing as a craft fair, but there is some overlap here. We were able to find dozens of markets within a 25 mile radius of us that we  never knew existed. This is a very powerful resource.

How Much Do Food Truck Vendors Make at Fairs & Festivals on Average?

Yummy Fried Fish.

Ever been waiting in line at a fair or festival and wonder how much those food trucks or concession stands are making? Well, there’s actually a pretty simple formula you can use to estimate the sales a food truck will make at per event. If you’re considering this as serious business venture, you can also use this estimate when conducting the financial planning for your business.

Fried Fish.

Yummy Fried Fish.

The short answer, of course, is that each festival is different and will yield different sales numbers. Bigger events that attract more potential customers will generate more sales for a truck. A vendor that sells deep-fried pickles may have a more in-demand product than the soft-pretzel guy. Rain might discourage an otherwise large crowd from attending. These are just a handful of variables to keep in mind when estimating sales per event. Now that we’ve got out disclaimers out of the way on to the good stuff!

How to Estimate Food Truck Income at a Festival or Fair?

According to many food truck vendors we’ve spoke asked, they estimate that you will sell meals to about 5% of the size the total number of people at an event. So on average one in every twenty people that attend an event will placed an order with you. Now let’s make a couple back-of-the-napkin financial projects with these estimates!

Event #1: Local Strawberry Festival

Expected Attendance: 1,000 people

Expected Sales (5% of Expected Attendance): 50 Transactions

Gross Sales Estimate (Assuming $8 Average Transaction): $400

Cost of Goods Sold AKA Food Costs (Assuming 33% Food Cost):  $132

Net Income After Food Costs for Strawberry Festival: $268

 

Event #2: Tri-City Music Blues Festival

Expected Attendance: 5,000 people

Expected Sales (5% of Expected Attendance): 250 Transactions

Gross Sales Estimate (Assuming $8 Average Transaction): $2000

Cost of Goods Sold AKA Food Costs (Assuming 33% Food Cost):  $660

Net Income After Food Costs for Strawberry Festival: $1,340

 

Event #3: Weekly Music at the Park

Expected Attendance: 200 people

Expected Sales (5% of Expected Attendance): 10 Transactions

Gross Sales Estimate (Assuming $8 Average Transaction): $80

Cost of Goods Sold AKA Food Costs (Assuming 33% Food Cost):  $26.40

Net Income After Food Costs for Strawberry Festival: $53.60

 

Selecting the Right Events

As you can see from the three simple examples listed above, the size of the crowd will make a huge difference in the amount of money you can expect to make per day at each festival. This also segways into the next point that there are some events you will need to say “no thanks” to if you want to operate a healthy business.

As a food truck owner, you will be asked to serve at all kinds of places. Corporate office parks, small-town parades, charity events, fairs and more. Your ability to be able to sort out the good financial opportunities from the bad ones is a skill you’ll need to hone. As noted in the Weekly Music at the Park example above, if you happen to be vending at an event with just a couple hundred people the income simply won’t be there for you. You can still vend at these smaller events, but if you do make sure it is a catering event where you are pre-paid for your services and know what your profit will be up front.

One final point to watch out for when selecting events. If you are speaking to a promoter or owner of an event, it’s natural for those individuals to inflate the estimated number of attendees at an event. It’s these peoples jobs to make the event seem exciting and like a great opportunity, especially if you are required to pay a free to vend there. Paying a fee to vend can make sense in instances you know there will be an enormous crowd like at a state or county fair. But if you’ve never heard of the event and the promoter wants a couple hundred bucks for an entry fee, feel free to pass and move on to the next opportunity.

We hope this post has given you some additional insight into how much a food truck will make at a festival. If you’re looking for more information on this topic or are looking for lists of potential places to vend in your area, check out the additional resources below.

Food Truck Owners Annual Salary? – Find out how much revenue you could expect to generate in a year.

FairsandFestivals.net – Awesome resource for locating craft fairs, music festivals, and other events across the United States. Great resource for finding well attended vending locations nationwide.

FestivalNet.com – Another resources for finding art fairs and other events happening in the United States and Canada.

How to Schedule Catering and Special Events for Food Trucks

bobo's que

Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

Event sales are pretty similar to your daily sales but, to me, are much more of a gamble. Some events will be a home run where you have access to thousands of people willing to spend top dollar (think theme park prices) and you’re expecting to make over $1000 for the day. Some events will have only about 100 people who aren’t hungry and don’t want to spend money and you end up making $100 or less.

It will be up to you to figure out which events are worth the risk, and in some cases the only way of knowing is to participate. With that being said here are a few tips we’ve picked up along the way that will help you with the process of identifying if a catering or special event is worth your time.

How to Estimate the Value of a Special Event

It is very difficult to plan for events since many of them come up almost last minute. But every city should have a yearly schedule of major events. So here’s how you can plan for a few events in the financials of your business plan (but definitely include that you plan to vend at special events):

  1. Target around 4 major events that are held locally.
  2. Contact the event organizers to determine event costs or special requirements.
    1. You will also want to know expected attendance, number of vendors, number of food purveyors, and the type of event
  3. Contact city officials to determine special permit needs.
  4. Based on event attendance projections, assume 1-10% of total attendance conversion at your truck.
    1. The timing of the event directly affects sales. Events held from 10-3pm will generate good sales, but events held from 2-6pm will not. Attendance is slow to build in the beginning and drops off before ending, and you want peak times to coincide with normal eating times.
  5. Project sales for that day based on your conversion and your menu prices.
  6. Add that day’s sales to your monthly tally (but subtract the difference in revenue between that and a normal vending day if you will lose a normal day of service).

For example, there is an event here in ABQ that is expected to hit over 10,000 people. I assume that 3% of the attendees can eat at my truck. That’s 300 people, which believe it or not is a conservative estimate for this event. I will have a special $10 menu that day.

Recall in our earlier example that the avg monthly sales was $8,000. In this month, our total sales would be $10,500 since we are adding the difference of $2500 for the special event to our normal rotation in place of the the normal day of service.

Sprinter Van built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

Now recall that special events are a huge question mark. If you see events as poorly attended in your area, you may opt out of participating in them. If that is the case, you may want to build your own event. If you go this path, remember that initially your event will be low in attendance, but over time you can build it up to be great. Plan for it in your business plan and show it in the financials. Then document that in your assumption to make it clear the fluctuations in your plan.

Some regional events in your area, you will know up front will be a hit based on your experiences living in your community. We knew that the C&C fest would be a hit. I had been the two years prior and knew what to expect. The event was a smashing success for us, as we sold out of food and made a statement in ABQ as a food truck.

We had no idea what to expect at National Train Day, and it was also a trial-by-fire opening day. Luckily this had also turned out to be a huge success for us as we made over $500 serving $4-6 sandwiches. Looking back, had we had our current menu prices we would have easily topped $1000.

But with those successes, we also faced great gambling failures. One of our bigger failures was the 75th anniversary of the SunPort, which I have previously mentioned. The city had big plans for the day, but got a lackluster response from the community. Participants in the headlining plane pull, did not eat at all. Looking around, we noticed none of the trucks were selling food (and asking them about how they did resulted in blatant lies). I think we did about 10 sales that day resulting in slightly less than $100 in sales.

The only benefit to having participated in the event was that I arranged a photo of the truck pulling the plane. From a marketing standpoint that was great, but otherwise not worth our effort.

Even if you complete all of your due diligence, you’re going to run into some events that are duds. Sometimes these low attendance events aren’t the fault of anyone other than Mother Nature bringing along some rain clouds on the day of your event. This is simply part of the ups-and-downs of running this type of business. You will, however, overtime begin to figure out when the best events happen and weed out the ones you know will not be profitable after you’ve been operating for a few years.

Custom Built Soft-Pretzel Concession Trailer Business Overview

pretzel wagon

Pretzel Wagon. Photo Credit: Pinterest

Some concession owners know the exact type of food they plan to serve from their vending unit before they ever start a business. There is a group of food vendors that invested years perfecting the perfect BBQ through years of testing and know exactly what they plan to serve before they ever turn their passion into a business. Another category of vendors have been handed down a specific style of food that represents their family like grandma’s secret meat ball recipe that they plan to share with the world from their concession trailer.  The passion driven way of identifying a menu is a terrific way to start a business that serves food customers will love and crave.

There is third way to approach the concession business, however, if you weren’t blessed with a secret family recipe to help guide your way. Some vendors take a more business minded approach to their concession trailer by evaluating what concepts could be the most profitable. After they’ve discovered a food concept that works, they evaluate at what models have the best margins and revenue potential when selecting a concept. If you identify with this third type of food vendor, consider looking at the soft pretzel concession trailer business. The are terrific margins and proven demand for this product making it a good business opportunity for the right individual. In today’s blog post, we will evaluate this business model further to see if it’s the right business for you to evaluate further.

Profits & Ease of Operation

When evaluating a concession business, it’s always a good idea to not just look at the profit potential, but how challenging it will be to operate. As with any kind of real vending business, you will need to invest a lot of time up front booking your first events and traveling to different locations to vend. This type of business is no different from that aspect, however, from an operations standpoint at an event this is much easier to manage than others.

With a pretzel business, you are essentially serving one product (the pretzel) with a variety of toppings. You can also provide a few low effort add-ons to boost revenue by using your pretzel dough to serve breadsticks, fried dough, or pretzel rolls if you want to get creative. Drinks can be a nice revenue supplement to this business too by selling cans of soda, water or fountain soda that don’t take much time or effort for an employee to hand out.

The advantage to having only one product is that it makes it easier to become an expert in a creating a single food item efficiently and serving that product fast. In addition to making this easier to serve you reduce the amount of overall spoilage that could take place by expanding your menu. Things like meats or baked goods have a limited shelf life and you will need to build in a certain amount of margin to account for the inevitable spoilage of some product. With pretzels there is still spoilage, but as you’ll see below, most of the raw ingredients will keep for months as long as they are stored at room temperature in a dry room. As result your product spoilage should be limited as long as you don’t produce too many pretzels at once. Second, you can even store the dough with pretzels in a freezer and thaw them out when demand requires it. According to Kitchn.com, dough can be frozen and remain high quality for around 3 months.

Ingredients 

Here is a list of ingredients you will need to create a basic pretzel. Some examples of toppings are also provided below to help stimulate ideas for your own soft-pretzel concession trailer business.


 

Main Ingredients Needed to Make a Simple Soft Pretzel

  • Milk
  • Sugar
  • Yeast
  • Butter
  • All-purpose flour
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Baking Soda
  • Pretzel salt or course grind salt

Note: As you can see above, all the the core ingredients are very affordable and can keep for many months. 

Additional Toppings 

  • Chocolate syrup
  • Cinnamon
  • Frosting
  • Sprinkles
  • Nacho Cheese
  • Marinara Sauce

Franchise Opportunity Examples 

stanley-pretzel

Photo Credit: Pinterest

If you have a food concept in mind, one good step of your due diligence should be to check out if there are franchise opportunities for this type of food. Although it’s natural to be concerned about competition, this is actually a good sign. For a franchisee to be able to pay the franchise their annual fee’s or buy product direct through the company there must be the opportunity to earn a net profit after all the expenses. And with the typical franchise opportunity the expenses for getting started are significant.

Take for example the pretzel franchise Auntie Annes that currently has over 1,600 locations according to their website. Many of the locations can be found in food court shopping malls, but they also have a branded concession trailer. According to AuntieAnnesFranchising.com, the average initial investment is $196,475 – $380,100 to get started. Of that total startup cost about $30,000 goes toward the initial franchise fee. There are also additional royalties that need to be paid annually to the company that you can read about on the official website, but at the end of the day that’s a lot of soft-pretzels that you need to sell to make the business work. And at the end of the day, all of these expenses can be 100% worthwhile if you’re able to create a long-term business that supports your family.

The point with the figures above isn’t to convince you that a franchise opportunity is the right or wrong decision for you personally. The whole point is to say that there is significant profit potential by starting a pretzel business. If there wasn’t major revenue potential there’s no way the company could sustain over 1,600 locations that are owned and operated by franchisee’s. There’s no way they could stay in business!

We would also be remiss if we didn’t mention some of the benefits of a franchise opportunity like the one listed above. First, one of the benefits of enrolling in a franchise is that you get to take advantage of an existing recognizable brand name, processes, and infrastructure of the franchise. You don’t need to spend time coming up with an employee handbook, researching what products you serve or anything else. Your job is to follow the instructions and marketing plan of the franchise opportunity to the best of your ability and make money.

According to FrachiseHelp.com, you will need $1 – $2 million to invest in the McDonald’s franchise. As you know, you could easily create your own burger joint for well under $1 million dollars. But you wouldn’t have the marketing arm or instantly recognizable brand to leverage. McDonald’s is also a company that has been able to adjust with the times and stay relevant for decades, which is something that can’t be said for many burger joints.

In addition to the example above, here are a few other pretzel based businesses to check out: Ben’s Soft Pretzels, Wetzel’s Pretzels, and PretzelMaker. Again, each of these links is provided as a resource to learn more. We do not have an opinion positive or negative about any of the franchise opportunities listed. Complete your own due diligence before joining any franchise opportunity.

At M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks, we are able to build you a custom made pretzel trailer or truck that’s meets your exact needs. For most concepts, we can produce a high-quality pretzel truck / trailer with all the equipment for between $50,000 – $100,000. Contact us here to reach us by email or call 904-397-0246 for immediate help. 

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