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What’s Financial Expert Dave Ramsey’s Opinion on the Food Truck Industry?

In a recent episode of The Dave Ramsey Show, the financial expert of the same name took a call from a prospective food truck business owner. True to form, Ramsey offered candid advice on the next steps the caller Isabelle in Houston should take to improve her personal finances and operate the food truck business profitably. Click the play button below to listen to the full 8-minute segment of the show.

If you’re unfamiliar with Dave Ramsey’s program, listeners call-in seeking advice on a variety of personal finance topics. Many of the callers to Dave’s program are looking for ways to get out of debt by reducing monthly expenses. Others folks call in with questions about retirement planning to dealing with finances in a relationship.

What’s Financial Expert Dave Ramsey’s Opinion on the Food Truck Industry?

Isabelle opens up the call by providing some details about her business planning process to give Dave some insight into the venture. Break even point is in 3 – 4 months after opening. This is the point where the business will begin covering all of it’s expenses. For a concession trailer this usually includes transportation, inventory (food), labor, permits, and other expenses. Once the business is up and running, Isabelle has estimated that she will have a take home or net profit of $70,000 annually for operating the business.

It should be mentioned that Dave Ramsey does not have experience operating a food truck business. That being said Dave is extremely knowledgeable about what it takes to operate a profitable business and understands the numbers. Dave begins by complimenting the caller on the initial forecasting of the business, but asks how Isabelle came to her conclusions for revenue estimates.

Isabelle shares that she surveyed what other food trucks where making in the area to estimate daily revenue. Based on Isabelle’s survey of local food trucks in her area she estimated that she could expect to generate $600 – $900 in daily sales.

Related Reading: What is the Average Food Truck Owner’s Annual Salary?

After learning that Isabelle had taken a logical approach to estimating her daily sales numbers, Dave inquired about the biggest recurring expense in the operations plan… Hiring an employee. Not only was Isabelle planning to hire an employee, but she had also planned to pay for some training and certifications.

As Dave points out in the program, hiring can quickly become the biggest recurring expense for a food business. And while it might make sense to hire in the future, if Isabella was able to operate the food truck on her own initially it would make getting in the black much easier. Isabella agrees she can operate the coffee truck business solo initially.

Finally, Isabelle asks if she should take a loan out to start the business. Dave explains that he never recommends taking out a loan to start a business in any situation. (Cutting up your credit cards and not having any debt is sort of Dave’s thing.) That being said, Dave suggests getting a sales job and living off beans and rice to cut expenses until she is able to purchase the trailer in full.

Overall Dave’s analysis of the food truck business is fascinating and after the hearing about the business model is noticeably excited for Isabelle. Dave even invites the Isabelle to return to the show after her business is launched. It’s great to see that with the appropriate business planning, research, and work ethic that a financial power house like Dave Ramsey sees the business opportunity that exist in mobile food vending.

Everything You Need to Know About Food Truck Water Tanks

One of the items that can be overlooked by first-time food truck vendors is figuring out the size and type of water tanks needed to install in a concession trailer. Not only will you need fresh and gray water tanks to operate efficiently, but you’ll need these to meet the specific permitting requirements of the city and state you plan to operate. In this post, we outline all the things you need to take into consideration before installing water tanks inside your food truck. Take notes on this one because this post can take you a lot of time, money, and frustration in the event you discover you don’t have the right water tanks to pass a local health inspection.

Find Out What’s Required in Your Area

Before you start looking into specific types of water tanks, you’ll need to find out what you need to operate legally in your area as step one. The minimum size requirements for food trucks are regulated by the city or county you plan to operate. Before thinking about your personal water system needs, find out what the local requirement.

As an example Los Angeles County does an excellent job of outlining their requirements for a water system of a mobile food cart in their plan check guidelines PDF here. You read about the water tank requirement specifically by scrolling down to page 6 and looking for the Plumbing Layout System heading.

Below are important details you would need to take into account before getting a food truck or concession trailer built in our example area Los Angeles County:

  • Minimum 5-gallons of water for hand washing is required.
  • Minimum 15-gallons of water for ware washing.
  • Stainless steel and aluminum potable water tanks are not allowed in Los Angeles County.
  • Water tank cannot be installed inside of the enclosure (inside the mobile kitchen), above cooking equipment, or under plumbing lines.
  • The water tank must be fully insulated.
  • Waste water tanks must have 50% more capacity than potable water tanks.
  • Minimum of 3-gallons of water must be heated to 120 degrees F. Must be able to dispense heated water into one of the 3-compartment sinks within 10 seconds.

There are other requirements outlined in the plan check guidelines too, but at this point you get the gist. There are numerous considerations and details that must be considered when selecting a water tank for a food truck. One item to keep in mind is that some cities have much more detailed requirements than others. Where you plan to operate may not have a requirement as many requirements as listed here.

At M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks, we’ve built hundreds of food trucks that operate throughout the United States and the world in our 15+ years in the industry. Part of our build process is to work with health departments to determine the laws and regulations to build a concession unit that meet the city or county requirements where you plan to operate. In short, we do all the work compiling the requirements in your area and submit build plans directly to health department so you can focus on other aspects of running your business.

What is a Potable Water System?

As you’re reading the build requirement documents from various counties for mobile food vendors, you may notice the phrase potable water system or simply potable water tank being referenced frequently inside these documents. Both refer to the tank that supplies the clean or fresh water for cooking needs. The explanation really is that simple, but the wording can cause confusion if you’re not familiar with the vernacular of these documents.

Related Reading: How to Legally Dispose of Gray Water for a Food Truck

Standard Water Tank Specs

Assuming you’re in the market for a water tank, we recommend going with a standard plastic tank to ensure approval from your health department. If you’re searching for these tanks online in specific sizes you can look up RV water tanks or recreational vehicle water tanks. The water tanks used in food trucks are the same as those installed in RVs, campers, and tiny houses. The only difference is you may have a specific size requirement based on your operational needs, permitting requirements, and vehicle requirements.

Two great online sources for high-quality water tanks is National Tank Outlet and Plastic-Mart. Both provide a long list of sizes that you can browse online. In most situations, you’ll be able to find a tank that meets your permitting needs and can be installed on your food truck or concession trailer.

Each of the example water tank specifications below are measured by length, width, and height. 

10 Gallon – 17″ x 14″ x 10″

16 Gallon – 24″ x 15″ x 10″

21 Gallon – 39″ x 16″ x 8″

30 Gallon – 34″ x 18″ x 12″

42 Gallon – 39″ x 18″ x 14″

65 Gallon – 37″ x 30″ x 15″

70 Gallon – 34″ x 23″ x 23″

The prices of these water tanks are determined mainly on size and shape of the equipment and are reasonable. For a 20 – 40 gallon tank you can expect to pay between $200 – $500. If you plan to operate something small like a hot dog stand or push cart, a small 7-gallon tank that you can purchase for under $100 might be all you need.

As a final point, while you don’t want to go too small with a water tank, make sure you don’t go too big either. For every gallon of water, you’ll be adding an extra 8.34 pounds of weight to your vehicle.  This water weight can add up fast as 5 gallons of water would be approximately 41.7 pounds. That’s a lot of weight sloshing around for smaller concession units, specifically. While there are always exceptions in custom manufacturing, for this reason we do not recommend installing 150 gallon and higher water tanks on mobile food units. Many food trucks operate just fine with nothing more than a 30-gallon fresh water tank installed.

The Easy Search-Engine Optimization Guide (SEO) For Food Truck Operators

Two slices of delicious New York style pizza.

Want to market your food truck on on major search engines like Google and Bing? Getting the major search engines to pay attention to your mobile food business is one of the easiest ways to generate new customers in addition to capturing lucrative catering opportunities that can really benefit the bottom line.

In order to get Google to take notice of your business, you’ll need to complete a little basic SEO or search-engine optimization. In layman’s terms, SEO is all about ensuring search engines find and display you prominently within results pages. You can get technical with it, but for this guide we want to give you a straight-forward trade manual you can use to improve the overall marketing of your business.

Many of the advice in this simple guide is requires minimal technical prowess or specialized knowledge. For the most part, all you need to do is set it up and enjoy the benefits.

Create a Google My Business Account

If you only take away a single tip from this guide… Do this one thing. Setup a Google My Business Account. If you’ve ever seen a bunch of listings in a map in the search results of Google like the image below, you’re seeing Google My Business listings displayed. If you don’t register for one of these free and easy to create accounts then you won’t be listed here. Instead one of your competitors will likely be displayed that is wiling to invest 30 minutes of personal time.

The process for registering a food truck on Google My Business is easy. Be as complete as possible when it comes to filling out your profile during the registration process. Questions that will be asked include asking your business name, telephone number, business address (you can note that you travel to customers by selecting a check box), and include a short description what your business does and a link to your official website or social media profile. After entering this information Google will verify your business account by phone call or postcard to ensure you’re a real person.

Although you aren’t required to add photos or video to a Google My Business listing you should to maximize the benefits of this tool. Google states that profiles that include more photos get more views than businesses without them. Plus in 2018 it’s really easy to get high-quality photos at no cost by using your phone. You can view a full list of image types that be added to Google My Business here.

As a food vendor, adding compelling photos to Google is really simple. Some good photo opportunities of your truck serving at an event is a quality option. Other opportunities are to take photographs of your food after it’s plated. Finally, be sure to take some action shots of food being created along with you and the staffs friendly faces. Customers like to see the people behind their favorite food trucks.

Finally, after your Google My Business profile is complete, be sure to encourage customers to leave honest reviews for your business on Google. Getting between 20 – 30 reviews for your business on Google will put you ahead of 95% of the competition in your area and help you secure more business.

Related Reading: Check out our post on marketing your food truck using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

A clear cab highlights the mobile kitchen interior of Triple J’s Pizzeria.

Optimize Your Website

After you’ve setup your Google My Business profile, the next step is to optimize your website for search. This section will only apply if you own a branded domain name like MR-Trailers.com for example. If you plan to use a Facebook page for the food trucks web presence you can skip this step.

In the spirit of keeping things simple, the goal of this step is the let search engines know what you are. In this case, you are a food truck that operates in a certain city.

Make sure to include the following type of statement within the text area of your homepage: Bob’s Rolling Pretzel Shop is a Food Truck Serving the Miami Area. 

This type of a statement helps search engines to understand what you are and where you serve customers. This basic statement should be included in the text area, title tag, and meta description fields of the website if you have access to all of them.

Another best practice is to include your telephone number, the name of your truck, and other contact information clearly on your website. This makes it easy for customers to get in contact you with catering opportunities or questions. Don’t make finding your contact information difficult!

Take Advantage of PR Opportunities

Without getting too far into the weeds, one way Google and other search engines algorithmically decide what results to show is by checking where are business has been referenced online. For example, if your food truck was quoted in a online news report about a fundraiser you participated in… This type of online reference would help your businesses placement in search.

Google views references or links to your food truck business sort of like a vote for your business and site. The more votes you get, the stronger signs of validation for search engines. Aside from press, other ways to further validate your business is to register with popular review websites like Yelp.

In conclusion, you could spend years mastering SEO for food trucks but as an operator you won’t have time. Fortunately, if you follow the advise outlined in this post, you’ll better positioned to compete in search compared to most other food vendors.

What Licenses or Permits Does a Catering Business Need?

Do you throw elaborate dinner parties for your friends, complete with multiple rounds of appetizers and perfectly paired after-dinner cheese plates? Do you look forward to minor social events as an opportunity to make little skewers festooned with carefully patterend baby buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil? Are you constantly being asked to “pitch in” with the cooking at other people’s events or functions? Do you find yourself entering local cooking competitions to try out new recipes and bask in the glory of having the best chili in town, WHILE raising money for muscular dystrophy? If so, you’ve probably considered turning your passion for cooking into a successful business, by launching your own local catering empire.

After all, you’ve probably already got the tools you need: Talent, interest, desire, maybe even a small group of potential customers, and perhaps a well-stocked home kitchen that you just KNOW could be used to mass-produce th

Catering is a major revenue source for many food trucks and concession trailers.

e kinds of food you love for an adoring public. Sooner or later, every serious home cook at least considers diving into the very lucrative and satisfying catering business, by leveraging the tools they already have. Turning these dreams into reality can prove a little more complex, however.

In addition to the cooking (that’s the fun part of running a catering business!) there are also other important considerations, including your plan for marketing your business, the logistics of preparing, delivering, and serving food in larger quantities than you may have done before, the mechanics of managing your accounting effectively, and most importantly, the legal considerations of starting your new business and running it safely and with protections you need.

Should You Incorporate Your Home Catering Business?

While it’s possible to get started in the catering business by legally operating as a sole proprietor, this typically isn’t a good idea, for a few reasons. When you incorporate as a limited liability company or partnership, this legal structure has built-in legal protections to protect you personally from legal liability. The food business can be prone to some legal risk; if you have employees, they may slip and fall, or if someone gets sick after eating food you’ve cooked, you can be held personally responsible for damages as a result of those accidents. Incorporating can protect your personal assets from potentially damaging claims by employees or clients. Talk to a lawyer before you get too far down the road in starting your business, or at the very least, consider an online document filing service for getting your corporate structure in place.

Can You Use Your Existing Home Kitchen for Cooking and Food Prep?

Though regulations vary from state-to-state, you probably won’t be able to use your existing home kitchen for your catering business, while your kids play in the next room and your golden retriever circles hungrily at your feet. While it seems simple enough (cook food in your kitchen, put it in your car, drive it to your event), most state health regulations prohibit this type of operation.

In many states, kitchens used for commercial food production need to conform to the same standards as a restaurant or other commercial kitchen. Where I live in Maine, for example, home caterers can apply with the state to have their home kitchens certified for commercial use, but the set of requirements that must be met is significant: The kitchen must be separated completely from the living space, there must be a separate hand wash sink, and the house’s plumbing and septic must be inspected to ensure they meet health code standards. The kitchen must also have regular health inspections, just like any other commercial kitchen.

Unless you’re planning a drastic remodel, your home kitchen will probably fall short of these standards in a few areas. This doesn’t mean that your dream of a small catering business has to die, however. Many towns and cities offer shared commercial kitchen space, which you can rent by the hour to prepare your food. If you live in a smaller town, check with area restaurants; many of them will be happy to supplement their income by sub-leasing their kitchen space to you and your new business during their off-hours.

What Kind of Catering License or Permit Do You Need?

If it were just as easy as throwing 100 chicken wings in a deep fryer, everyone would have a home catering business. In reality though, there are many more legal hoops that you will need to jump through. Though regulations vary from state-to-state, there are probably several licenses and permits that you will need. You’re probably going to need licensing at the state level, including a business license and tax registration for both employee tax withholding and the payment of sales tax. You’ll probably also need to obtain licensing at the local level for your city or town. You’ll also need certification from your state’s health department, which may also require a separate license or certificate for safe food handling. If you plan to make alcohol available at your catering events, you may need a liquor license. Finally, you may need city or town level permits for specific functions in public spaces, such as parks or at special events.

BBQ Meal

Nothing Beats BBQ catering services.

What Was That Thing You Said About Health Inspections?

Nothing will torpedo your business faster than giving an entire wedding party food poisoning on their big day, which makes food handling and safety a number one priority for any home caterer. Make a phone call to your state’s health department; they will provide you with the full requirements for your state, as well as a schedule of inspections and a list of what the health inspector will be looking for.

Remember that the health inspector works for you. Though they may seem strict and some of their requirements may seem to some to go overboard in their stringency, those regulations are in place to help ensure the safe operation of your business and the safety of your customers. In most locations, the health inspector wants to help you succeed and be safe, and they can help provide a blueprint for doing just that.

What About Insurance?

Remember that the food you are producing will eventually end up inside somebody’s body, and because of that, there are ample opportunities for legal problems. It seems obvious, but it’s worth reminding yourself every once in a while: That Gulf shrimp you painstakingly wrapped in bacon, fire-roasted, and drizzled in chimichurri will eventually be working its way through someone’s digestive system. You need a good general liability insurance policy in place to protect you not just from claims of potential food borne illness, but also from claims ranging from an employee slicing off a finger, to one of your event guests having one too many vodka-cranberries, falling headfirst into the hotel’s water fountain and breaking all of their teeth out of their face. It’s worth the time to find a capable insurance broker who specializes in commercial policies for food businesses, who can help you plan for every potential eventuality and prepare yourself legal for any liabilities.

Launching your own home catering business can be a very lucrative and satisfying way to turn your culinary dreams into a reality, with the ability to control and scale every step of the process. In your excitement to get going, however, don’t skip any of the legal steps required. Establishing a solid legal foundation for your business now will provide the base you need for your business to continue to grow and thrive.

Two Ways Gourmet Food Trucks Can Better Serve Construction Sites

Mobile vendors and construction sites go together like peanut butter and jelly, ketchup and mustard, donuts and coffee… Well you get the idea. The pairing of lunch trucks serving construction sites have been common site for decades. This symbiotic  relationship continues to be strong in 2018 and could be an overlooked opportunity for you as well.

Whether you operate in a densely populated city or a rural area serving construction sites can be a profitable part of your regular operations. If a new structure like a distribution center is being developed off-the grid in a location without nearby water, electricity or other services this could be an opportunity to bring your food to a captive audience of employees where the only alternative comes in a lunch pail. As an added bonus, assuming you’re able to find a safe parking spot and get permission there are no parking restricts or special permits needed in most cases. Of course, you will need to take into consideration the added gas expense that’s needed to drive out to a distant vending spot.

On the other side of the coin, building construction in urban areas can also work. While there will be significantly more access to food options, you can still offer a higher level of convenience than nearby restaurants. After all, workers may be able to walk just a few steps outside the job site to get to you. Add to that the fact that most workers have limited time to eat and not dressed appropriately you still have the advantage. Plus, you’ve got the distinct advantage of having the smell of your food permeate the worksite. This is basically free advertising!

The Flying Pie Guy. Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

How to Serve Construction Sites

If you want to operate on-site of a construction area, you will need to contact the construction company first. You can usually find the name and contact information for the business clearly posted at the job site. From there it’s simply a matter of giving the business a call and inquiring as to whether or not they would be open to having your food truck serve on the property. Depending on the business, you may be welcomed with open arms and seen as offering a fun service the employees. Alternatively, the company may turn you down due to perceived risk or liability. Either way, it’s worth a shot and there’s no harm in asking if there’s interest.

If you are welcomed on-site you’ll want to follow instructions on where to park very closely. With heavy equipment like trucks and forklifts operating nearby and building infrastructure you’ll need to be extremely thoughtful in where you park… Preferably somewhere a good distance and out of the way of the workers.

If you plan to operate inside a city, you can often park on the city street just outside the job site. Of course, you’ll still need to adhere to the cities rules for when and where you can park.

Gourmet Trucks Can Offer a Change of Pace 

When you think of construction sites you probably think of the old-school lunch truck. These units were affordable and served food fast, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. You can only eat a hot dog off of a lunch truck so many days in a row before you can begin to feel like you’re in a rut. Although it’s non-traditional, a gourmet food truck can help provide a change of pace at work sites that is welcome by employees.

Diverse Options: Although often overlooked, a gourmet food truck can help provide a change of pace at work sites that is welcomed by employees. If you’re able to deliver a really high-quality burger or Asian-style tacos to a location like this… Folks really appreciate it. It’s a limited time treat that they can’t typically get.

Better Food: A soggy sandwich out of a bag might feel the gas tank so to speak, but it’s not enjoyable. As a food truck you have the opportunity to deliver much better food than is usually offered to these employees. If you are able to pair convenience with high-quality, you’ve got a winner.

Getting the Most From This Opportunity  

According to U.S. News & World Report, the average construction worker makes $33,430 per year. This wage can often be increased by working overtime and getting time and a half. But even workers that are at the very top end of the pay scale aren’t rich.

Since many of these workers unfortunately live paycheck to paycheck, it can be wise to vend at these locations on paycheck. Most construction workers are paid bi-weekly on Fridays, but you can ask the company when people are typically paid. You’ll have more success vending if you’re serving to a group of workers that are flush with cash and approaching the weekend.

The other opportunity to serve construction sites is through catering. Catering events are paid for by the construction company in advance. This is the ideal for you as a business owner since you know exactly what your profit and expenses will be for the event. There’s also plenty of benefit to the company by selecting your services since employees won’t need to travel from the worksite and can quickly get back to building.

If you own a gourmet food truck, don’t overlook the opportunity to serve construction sites. Doing so can be both lucrative and fulfilling.

How to Start a Profitable Pie Concession Trailer Business

The Flying Pie Guy. Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

Crumbly, flaky, tasty… The business side of selling pies has its benefits. While pies are traditionally thought of as a desert in the United States there are simple ways the food can be adapted as breakfast or lunch options (chicken pot pie anyone?). In today’s post we explore the pie industry in greater detail so you can decide if it’s the right option for your business.

Business Potential

One of the first steps in writing any business plan is determining if there’s market demand for your product. In 2017, a company called Specialty Bakeries Inc. brought in over $20 million in pie sales for the year. Specialty Bakeries Inc. is the third-largest producer of pies in the United States according to the same report to give you a sense of the national appetite. Demand confirmed!

Of course you can’t achieve eye-popping sales numbers in the food industry without major distribution. According to the company website Specialty Bakeries Inc. pies, cake rolls, and lady fingers are distributed across 90% of supermarkets chains in the United States. The company has been in business for over 100 years so this level of success wasn’t baked up overnight. Even if your goal is not to build the next million dollar pie company, its reassuring as an entrepreneur to know there’s a high-ceiling of available demand inside the market you plan to enter.

Aside from overall market demand, the next important element that needs to be considered is whether or not selling pies can actually work on a food truck or concession trailer. Fortunately, pies work extremely well in a mobile environment due these two success characteristics:

Fast Orders: When operating a concession trailer, the faster you’re able to get orders out the window, the more sales you can haul in. Pies are the ideal food to serve quickly. All the product can be pre-made and cut in advance of service so all you need to do is plate the item, send it out the window, and you’re ready to accept the next customer transaction.

Where concession businesses get into trouble is when they have products that take a long time to cook and are made to order. For example, if it takes 5 – 10 minutes to cook and assemble a gourmet hamburger that can really slow down a line. A ten minute wait can feel like a very long time for customers too! This won’t be a problem if you’re selling pies that have already been cooked and prepared prior to vending at an event. You can continue to quickly serve even in the most demanding rush periods.

High-Profit Margin: There are plenty of expenses associated with running a food business. After compensating employees, paying taxes, and covering everything else there isn’t always a lot leftover for the proprietor. The good news is with certain exceptions, pies are low-cost items you can sell at a premium… meaning you can have a lot more of that revenue hitting your bottom line compared to others in the food industry.

If you’re planning to sell popular variations of pies like apple, cherry, custard, or cream you can purchase low-cost ingredients. Pie crust, fruit, and baking ingredients are all affordable, widely available and don’t fluctuate in price. If you are planning to serve a meat pie, however, your costs will typically run higher, but you can also charge more to even out the cost. As a general rule of thumb you don’t want to spend more than 1/3 of your total product cost on ingredients to ensure profitability. Here’s a break down of  the cost of making and selling a fresh pies from Mirror.co.uk:

As a concession vendor you will not incur as many expenses as the pie chart above. You likely won’t be paying any retailers costs since you’ll be selling direct to consumers with a trailer either. Your logistics costs will likely be lower as too since your business is more straight forward. Still, it’s important to note that ingredients and manufacturing (or baking) the product requires a significant amount of cost. Even if you plan to do a lot of this work yourself initially, it’s good to build hiring an employee into your financial projections so you have options as the business grows.

At special events (concerts, football games, festivals), it’s not uncommon for vendors to charge $5 – $6 USD per slice of pie. That means if you can get 6 slices out of a unit you could be generating around $36 per pie. If you want to increase profits further you could make each slice smaller and increase it to 7 slices per unit.

While you want to consider overall customer value when determining your vending prices, in most regions in the United States you can charge this amount at an event leaving you with plenty of profit no matter what style pie you plan to produce. At the very least it’s nice to know there are options to increase profitability if needed.

Popular Styles of Pie

According to Statista.com, the most popular are fruit / lattice that contributed to over 38% of annual pie consumption in the United States. While there’s no empirical data around it, the classic apple pie is assumed to be the most popular flavor within this category. While there’s national demand for the classics within the pie category there’s certainly room for innovation as well.

Statistic: Category share of pie sales in the United States in 2017, by pie type | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

Vending Strategy 

If your plan is to hit the road to generate sales a a concession truck or trailer, you’ll want to get a clear strategy. First, identify what type of pie’s you plan to focus on. Meat chicken pot pies are served as entrees for lunch or dinner.  A Quiche is a breakfast food. Cream and apple pies are considered to be desert or treat in the United States. By selecting the types of pie you plan to serve you’ll be able to more strategically determine where and when you plan to vend.

Another vending strategy you’ll want to consider is the complimentary products you’ll be offering on the concession trailer. If you plan to serve Quiche or pies, offering coffee options is a simple way to increase the average ticket sale on your truck and increase profitability further. Coffee, of course, is a highly profitable item to sell and can be an easy way to create “value menu” type options for the business. Commercial grade coffee equipment and espresso machines can be installed on a food truck to offer a new high-quality product.

Equipment

As mentioned previously the pie menu concept is ideal in a mobile selling environment. Here’s an example of a build we completed for The Flying Pie Guy that is lovingly referred to as “Matilda.” The Flying Pie Guy serves Aussie style meat pies that are extremely popular for lunch in Australia. The Flying Pie Guy has had great success bringing this concept to the United States and has received significant TV and online press since opening. We wish The Flying Pie Guy and Matilda continued success with their business! Watch the video below for a full tour.

Should You Paint or Wrap a Food Trailer?

If you’ve landed here, you’re no doubt trying to decide whether it’s better to wrap or paint a food truck or trailer. If you’re grappling with this decision, the answer is simple: Get your food truck professionally wrapped. Inside this post we’ll outline our supporting evidence into the paint VS wrap decision, but for the majority of folks out there this should be an obvious choice.  Almost every gourmet truck you see on the road has used a wrap instead paint due to the numerous visual benefits. Learn the many reasons why below!

Sprinter Van built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks with a custom wrap.

What is a Food Truck Wrap? 

Food truck wraps are vinyl graphic coverings usually produced by 3M or Avery. These wraps completely cover the outside of the vehicle from top to bottom. A boring and bland looking white food truck can be transformed in an afternoon by installing a bright vehicle wrap.

Before you get your food truck’s wrap produced, you’ll work with a designer to produce a wrap that’s right for your business. Typically, we recommend using bright colors that stand out from the competition, along with your brand logo and name of business. You can work with your own designer or companies that specialize in custom vehicle wraps will typically have a designer on staff that you will work with. We recommend at the very least consulting with the vehicle wrap companies designer. Due to their experience working with vehicles, these designers will help you avoid some of the common pitfalls.

As a added pro tip, we recommend including contact information  like your telephone number, website or Facebook URL prominently on the vehicle as well. This transforms you mobile business into a rolling billboard that can help you book future events. Some past customers report that by simply including their website and phone number on their vehicle they’ve been able to get catering leads while driving to the grocery store for supplies. The example below is a BBQ trailer for one of our past customers. Note the telephone number, logo, and website clearly displayed on the unit.

Beautiful yellow wrap on this BBQ trailer.

The Cost and Lifespan of Wraps

The cost of a wrap will be in the $3,000 – $5,000 range. The cost depends largely on the company applying the wrap and the design resources needed to execute your vision. The size of your truck or trailer will also determine cost. The larger the truck the more wrap that needs to be applied. Most wraps will have a lifespan between 5 – 7 years until they begin to fade and show their age. Consult your custom wrap company to identify ways to increase the lifespan of these units.

One simple way to identify if a vehicle wrap company will do quality work is to see if they have photos of past wraps. Many companies publish these wraps on their website so you can view past work. Take a close look at these images to confirm there are no visual bubbles or air pockets within the wrap. Another question to ask is whether or not the company is a 3M certified installer. This certification ensures that the employees of the company have received a certain level of training.

After the vinyl wrap is installed the maintenance of these is easy. You should wash regularly with soap and water just like you would any other car to make sure it’s clean. Be careful with waxing the unit, however, as some brands are too harsh for wraps. Other than that the ongoing care is minimal. These wraps also will not affect the underlying paint in anyway even if removed in the future.

Should You Paint a Food Truck?

These days it can be difficult to find a modern food truck that’s been painted. Why? It’s difficult to get bright graphics, fonts, and colors exactly the way you want when you paint. If you’ve ever tried to paint a bedroom in your house a specific shade or gray, you understand how difficult getting the exact color you want can be. The color you selected, can different after being brought home and applied to your walls depending on lighting. One the other hand wraps can be extremely precise with logos and color. The design is produced on a computer and printed out to your exact specifications.

There’s less room for error with paint as well. Even for the most skilled vehicle painter, it’s going to be a challenge to get a phone number or other text on the truck without smudging a few corners. With a wrap, everything is much more precise. In the event that a certain piece of the wrap is applied incorrectly, a new piece can be printed out for use. No harm, no foul.

When does painting make sense?

There are some rare scenarios that may make you elect for paint instead of a wrap. The first is that you can usually paint your unit for slightly less than you would get a wrap produced. You can usually get a basic food truck painted in the $2,000 range. Of course, the more complex your vision for the outside of the unit, the more costly it will be to execute and you might end up paying about the same amount as you would have for a custom vehicle wrap.

At M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks, we don’t believe in overpaying for equipment or services. With that being said there are folks try to save money at the long-term detriment of their businesses. For example, we’ve seen some do-it-yourself food truck paint jobs on YouTube and they aren’t pretty. Sure, the owner may feel smart that they “saved” $5,000 on a wrap and painted the truck themselves. But the flip side to that is they now own a unit that isn’t appealing to customers. If prospective customers are turned off by the outside of your vehicle, they’ll never have the opportunity to try your food. People eat with their eyes first and having an attractive and welcoming external vehicle is essential for success in this business.

In rare instances you may have a vision to produce a paint job that is artistic and really stands out from other vendors in the area. If you have a unique artistic vision and a master artist this is the only scenario we would give our stamp of approval for paint.

Why NYC’s Snowday Food Truck Offers Job Training to Youth With Criminal Backgrounds

“People who run criminal organizations have all those (business) skills. They just have been put in the wrong and negative space,” explains Roy Waterman, Director of Program for Drive Change. The goal of Watermans’ organization is to train, mentor, and employ formerly incarcerated young men and women by working on a food truck.

As a former inmate himself, Waterman understands how difficult it can be to turn your life around and become a productive member of society. When you are raised in an environment where all you see if drug use and criminal activity, it can be almost impossible to break out of this negative cycle.

What compounds the difficulty of returning from incarceration is that it becomes infinitely harder to get a job. No one wants to hire a criminal that might steal from the business or cause other problems. It’s just too big of a risk.

But without the ability to get a job that pays respectably, former inmates end up frustrated and fall back into their old survival habits. The goal of Drive Change based in New York City is to provide a positive opportunity to these people that are often forgotten or ignored by most of society.

How a Food Truck Can Serve as a Life Changing Platform

The food truck that Drive Change operates is called Snowday. Snowday’s menu is based around grilled cheese sandwiches, a popular item on mobile food trucks. The food truck also won a prestigious Vendy Award in 2015.

At first glance, you probably wouldn’t recognize the social goal of the food truck. From a day-to-day operational standpoint, the food truck looks and acts like any other unit you see serving folks across NYC. As the video below demonstrates, the average day on a food truck starts in the early morning as Snowday is on the road traveling to a vending location at 8 a.m.

The goal for employees of Snowday is for it to be a transitional, but live changing experience. Each individual that goes through the program will work on the truck for a period of 6 – 12 months. After their fellowship is up, these folks will typically go into another job within the food industry or go to school full-time. Either way, the truck provides a positive work experience and job training that can be leveraged to provide entry into the workforce.

As highlighted in the video above the individuals being trained through Snowday became incarcerated for a laundry list of reasons like bank robbery or possession of drugs. Although their reasons for getting into trouble are all different, the common thread among each of these employees is that they want to make a change. They’ve learned their lesson the hard way and want to move forward.

In conclusion, it’s incredible to be able to see how impactful a food truck can be for individuals when aligned with the right mission. Visit the Drive Change website to learn more about the goals of this important organization.

Custom-Built Hawaiian Food Trucks For Sale

Although the total populations of Hawaii is less than 1.5 million people, the culinary footprint of this group of islands is much larger than it’s size. No matter where you go in mainland United States, you can locate a locally owned Hawaiian restaurant. Part of the reason for the popularity is due to the massive amount of tourism to the state. According to news reports, almost 9 million people visited one of the islands in 2017 alone. Many of these tourists return home craving the flavors of the islands they enjoyed while on vacation.

Traditional Hawaiian food is simple, yet wide-ranging. The most approachable and arguably most popular option is the plate lunch. In Hawaii, the plate lunch usually features rice, macaroni salad, and some type of grilled meat (chicken, teriyaki beef, and mahi mahi).

In addition to customer demand, the good news for mobile food vendors is that Hawaiian food options can be cooked and served on a food truck easily. Hawaiian food is often cooked on grills near the ocean and served picnic style. This makes Hawaiian food the ideal food to serve on a mobile food unit.

You don’t need to restrict yourself to plate lunches, however. Other options that have worked well on food trucks include: Acai bowls, shaved ice, barbecue, and Poke.

Below is an example of a Sprinter van we converted into a Hawaiian food truck. Since the equipment needed to cook and serve most Hawaiian food is minimal. You can fit all the cooking equipment into a van or truck.

If you want more space and room for employees to operate, we recommend going with a larger truck with an increased serving capacity. Watch the video below to view the entire transformation of this unit. Stick around to the end of the video and you can see what the van looks like with the final branding and wrap.

Equipment Checklist 

Any mobile food unit can be completely customized to meet your specific needs and menu requirements. We always recommend developing your menu in advance of purchasing a food truck or trailer. This ensures you have all the cooking equipment pre-installed in order to create and serve your desired menu.

Here’s a summary of the equipment installed on the Hawaiian food truck featured in the above video:

  • Fire suppression system / hood
  • Char broiler
  • Two burner stove
  • 3-compartment sink and hand sink
  • Propane water heater
  • Cabinets for storage
  • Refrigerators
  • Stainless steel counter top space
  • Air conditioning

Advantages

There are some distinct advantages to operating a Hawaiian food truck. First, there is high-familiarity with Hawaiian food due thanks in part to tourism within the state. No matter where you plan to operate there are likely a lot of potential customers that enjoy this type of food from time to time.

The trucks that we see having the most success are those that are able to put a creative twist on well-known food items. Typically food trucks that go too far outside the norm are more difficult to remain profitable longterm.

Another aspect of operating a mobile food business is how fast food can be served. If you’re a first time vendor, you may not have considered that serving speed is an important component of being profitable on a food truck.

As a vendor, you may only have a 1 – 2 hour window when the majority of your sales occur for the day. If you aren’t able to get food prepared and out the window fast, you’ll miss out on a lot of easy sales and hurt your overall profits.

Fortunately, Hawaiian food can be prepared and served extremely fast compared to many other menus. To use the lunch plate as an example, you can prepare mac salad and rice in advance and have it ready to plate. You can also partially cook the meats in anticipation of a lunch or dinner rush.

Finally, be on the look out for regional or ethnic events around Hawaiian food and culture. These cultural events are held annually in many cities across the United States and can be an additional opportunity for increasing sales outside regular service. Here is a list of popular festivals celebrated on the islands.

Challenges

Every real business has challenges. One aspect you’ll need to look into within your market is to identify how many other Hawaiian restaurants and food trucks are operating in your area. If you do find some competitors (you probably will) keep in mind this isn’t a bad thing. You’ll just need to take more time in considering what makes your food different.

Are there any styles of Hawaiian cuisine that could be incorporated into your menu that doesn’t exist elsewhere? Is there a unique island specialty that hasn’t been approached? Can you put a different twist on the macaroni salad that you think enhances the flavor? Are local vendors serving Poke bowls (a food that is increasing in popularity nationally)? These are all great questions to ask and develop ways to address them based on your research.

If you’re thinking about getting a mobile food truck for your business, send us an email or call M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks directly at 904-397-0246 to discuss your build.

Do Food Trucks Need to Pay Taxes in the United States?

The 2018 deadline for submitting your business or personal income taxes in the United States is nearly upon us. In 2018, the deadline for submitting these taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is April, 17th. This date is even labeled as Tax Day on most calendars. Depending on your situation this date is something you dread or is just another day because you filed your taxes in advance over a month ago.

No matter what end of this spectrum you find yourself at, as Tax Day moves closer people have questions about the tax code and law. One frequently asked question we’ve seen is whether or not food trucks really need to pay taxes? We aren’t sure how this rumor came to be, but it’s not true. Food trucks are obligated to pay taxes just like any other registered business.

Believe it or not there is no food truck loophole in the tax code that we could find. If your goal is to somehow avoid taxes by starting a food truck it won’t work in any territory within the United States. You’ll be obligated to pay Uncle Sam his fair share just like everyone else.

It’s unclear how the rumor that food trucks don’t need to pay taxes came to be. It could be an idea that goes back to the old roach coaches of years past that would serve questionable food without a business liscense. It could also be yet another misunderstanding about the food truck industry. Either way, food trucks, concession trailers and other vendors are required to pay their fair share of taxes to the government.

clam chowder van

Tony’s Clam Chowder built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks

While you can’t avoid paying taxes by starting a food truck there are some basics you can do to reduce your tax burden at the end of the year:

State Taxes: Where you live makes a big different in how much you pay in taxes each year with a food truck. States like Nevada and Florida have no state income tax at the time of writing. On the other hand states like Minnesota and California have an income tax of well over 6%, which can really eat into profit for a small business.

Business Expenses: Many of the costs associated with operating a food truck business can be written off as legitimate business expenses. Some common examples of expenses will include mileage to travel to different vending locations. Also any wages paid to employees or investments made into new cooking equipment can be listed here. The simplest way to track your business expenses is to have an account or credit card that is only used for business purposes. This will make it easier to download the charges you made in the previous business year from your bank’s website. Make sure to keep as many receipts as possible as a record of purchases.

One thing to keep in mind is that we are not tax professionals so don’t take this a legal tax advise. You should always consult a certified professional that can provide guidance based on your situation and goals. With that being said the above tips are all smart ideas to bring up to your tax professional to see how they apply to your business.

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