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Are Food Truck Owners Required to Get a CDL?

Are you required to get a Commercial Driver’s License or CDL if you drive a food truck? In most situations, you don’t need a CDL to operate a food truck. A standard Class D driver’s license issued by the state you live is sufficient to legally drive and operate a food truck.

There are of course always exceptions to this general guideline. We will spend the rest of the post exploring some of the rare situations where you might actually need a CDL to drive a food truck. If you’re unsure, make sure you contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in the state you plan to operate for more information and guidance. Requirements for CDLs vary slightly from state to state so it’s important to understand the local laws.

Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

Rare Situations You Would Need a Food Truck CDL

Weight: If you plan to operate a food truck with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) 26,001 pounds or more then you will need to obtain a CDL.  The total weight of a unit includes the mobile kitchen equipment and employees that are expected to be on and operate the unit.

Although food trucks are heavy, a typical food truck won’t come close exceeding the 26,001 pound weight limit. Since the weight of a food truck is dependent on the size of the unit and equipment installed the final weight will vary. But based on our experience a typical food truck will weigh 12,000 – 16,000 pounds. You find food truck weight estimates for trailers, food trucks, and food buses in our previous post.

If you plan to convert a school bus into food bus, you’ll want to keep weight considerations in mind and may actually need a CDL. Depending on the type of school bus you acquire it may fall under or over the weight requirement depending on the size. Some larger school buses weigh approximately 30,000 pounds when you include seating so this is a scenario where you might need to obtain a CDL.

If you have a food trailer that you plan to tough to events that is over 10,000 pounds, a CDL will also be a requirement. Even large 22″ food trailers weigh about 8,000 pounds so most vendors will fall well below the threshold.

Passengers: You are required to obtain a CDL regardless of vehicle size if you plan to transport 16 people or more. This 16 person limit includes the driver.

In our decade and a half experience manufacturing food trucks, we’ve never built a food unit for someone that intended to transporting more than 16 people. When you get more than five people working inside a larger sized food truck, you’ll hit a threshold where there are literally too many cooks in the kitchen to operate comfortably.

The Final Word

Bottom line, most food truck owners don’t have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Odds are you won’t need one either if you don’t fall into one of the rare scenarios listed above. If you want to learn more about the CDL process, check out the informative resources below:

Who Is Required to Get a CDL? This piece is published on TruckingTruth.com and outlines in plain English who is required to obtain a CDL. The piece also explains the exceptions for individuals working on farms or driving an RV.

CDL Class Types: Learn about the different class types for CDL driver’s licenses.

How to Start a Healthy Juice Bar Food Truck in 2019

Happy 2019! The start of a new year always marks a time for reflection and looking ahead to the future. Some of the top resolutions you’ll find each year is the goal to eat better and get healthier overall. According to a 2017 poll by YouGov, eating healthier is actually at the very top of the resolution list, tied with saving more money and working out.

While eating better is a common goal it’s not as easy to accomplish as you might already know. Eating consistently healthy meals means investing the the time required to meal plan, prepare and shop for healthy food items.  This can be tough if you’re busy running a business, have a job, or a family to take care of. It’s easy for busy people to fall back into a routine of eating fast food or other meals out of convenience only a few weeks into the new year.

Enter the business opportunity of the increasingly popular juice bar food truck. A smoothie or juice truck provides customers a no-hassle way to get their daily serving of fruits and vegetables. The juice and smoothie bar industry overall has continued to grow over the past 5 years according to IBISWorld industry reports. According to the report industry revenue will hit $3 billion 2019. In the United States alone there will be approximately 5,861 businesses that fit into this business classification.

With a mobile food unit, you can deliver this healthy product to customers with money to spend, but the lack of time to make a healthy drinks themselves. Some proven popular locations for smoothie trucks to serve are at large corporate offices and special events that focus on active lifestyles like 5K runs. You can take a video tour of a Smoothie King ProMaster Food Truck below that was built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks below.

Depending on your needs a truck, trailer or step-van can be all be converted into mobile juice bars so plenty of flexibility in the build out of these units.

You should expect to invest well over $100,000 to start a retail juice bar location. You will be able to invest well under $50,000 on a mobile juice unit. Aside from a lower cost to get started, some of the unique advantages to mobile juice bars is that you won’t be locked into a longterm lease. One of the biggest risks with a juice bar when starting out is finding a profitable retail location. If you end up opening in a location without sufficient foot traffic or the wrong demographics of people, the business could fail. Finding the perfect location is not as important when going mobile because  you can move to greener pastures at any time.

Crafting the Right Menu

Coming up with a menu for your juice truck is part art, part science. You may need to tweak the recipes of the beverages you sell depending on the location you plant to vend. If you are willing to listen to your customers and continually refine the menu overtime, you’ll figure out what’s most profitable.

With that being said here are a few type of beverages you should consider for your future menu:

Cold-Pressed Juice – This is an increasingly popular form of juice that is made without heating up the fruit to retain its vitamins and minerals.

Organic Juices – If you’re catering to a more healthy conscious audience, knowing whether or not the fruit you use is organic or not is important. You will need to pass along the added cost of organic ingredients to customers.

Traditional Smoothies – Traditional smoothies made with fruit have gotten a bad wrap as of late since so many of them contain high amounts of sugar. Still these beverages remain top sellers at juice bars nationally.

Coffee and Other Beverages – While you may not specialize in serving coffee or other drinks, it can be beneficial to offer this beverage. It’s not at all uncommon for juice establishments to sell a type of coffee that aligns with overall mission of the business.

Equipment List Considerations for a Juice Truck

Some basic things to keep in mind is that if you want to keep the cost lower of these units, a van or trailer conversion will be more lower cost than a food truck. If you plan to serve drinks and basic add-ons like pre-made muffins or energy bars a van can be a great option and will run well with regular maintenance for years to come.

If you plan to have more than two people working in the juice van or if you need larger menu, a van won’t typically work due to the space limitations. If you need to fryers, prep table, coffee makers, and blenders all installed onboard a step-van the equipment can be extremely tight. Give us a call if you’re working to determine the layout and type of equipment that will fit comfortably into your unit.

The final equipment consideration to make is that blenders, ice machines, and other equipment that you need on a juice truck is going to take a lot of power to run. If you plan to serve gourmet coffees on the unit, you’ll need even more power and will need a generator with sufficient wattage. You can read our previous post on how to determine the electrical power needs of a food truck if you want to go more in-depth on this topic.

Here is a list of commonly installed equipment on a juice truck: 

  • Prep Table / Cutting Boards – You’ll need plenty of space to cut fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Refrigerator – This will keep product like milk, fruits and veggies cool.
  • Ice Machine – Products like smoothies and juice require ice so you’ll need a reliable machine that can keep up with sales volume.
  • Commercial Juicers – A way to quickly extract pulp and seeds from oranges and other product.
  • Commercial Blenders – You’ll need at least two reliable blenders installed on the unit to keep up with rush time periods.
  • 3-Compartment Sink + Hand Washing Sink – This is a requirement for washing knifes, spoons, cups and other utensils on the truck.
  • Coffee Maker – Even if you specialize in juice and smoothies many vendors increase their sales by offering coffee as well.
  • Display Unit – We recommend installing a customer facing display unit into the vehicle to increase sales. You could choose to display food or drinks in this area.

Market Analysis and Competition

Before jumping into any business opportunity, it’s wise to check out what the local competition is doing in your area. More than likely there will already be some brick-and-mortar juice bar locations operating successfully in your area. Two of the most popular franchises in this industry are Smoothie King and Jamba Juice. Smoothie King has over 1,000 locations globally with an average gross revenue of $681,724 for the top 25% of locations in the United States. Jamba Juice has over 900 locations according to their franchise website. You can’t hit this level of locations without strong market demand for the product.

If you do plan to open a smoothie truck, you should visit these local stores to view their menu and taste their products. You should also hang out in these locations and observe the clientele. What kind of people frequent these establishments? How busy are the locations? Does this seem like the type of business you would like to operate? What is the price being charged in your area for a small, medium, and large size juice? This is an easy and fast way to help determine if this is a business opportunity you would like to explore further.

Should You Take a Food Truck Training Class?

Why you should take Food Truck Classes.

Running a food truck is just as hard if not harder than running a restaurant.  Would you start a restaurant without any formal training? Probably not, right?

You should be taking training of some sort before you get started on type of serious business endeavor. There’s literally no profession or real business you can start with a realistic chance of success. Would a dentist hang up their shingle without first attending school and acquiring the necessary certifications? We certainly hope not!

But for some reason there are plenty of people that think they can start a food truck business without any sort of mentorship. Keep in mind that there are plenty of different ways to learn. You can certainly learn a lot of the concepts and numbers behind operating a food truck business in a class, but working part-time or being an intern on a food truck can often be even more valuable. Ideally, you would get trained on both aspects of the business before rolling out on your own.

A lot of community colleges are now offering food truck classes and we think the perfect mix is online training and class based training now that they are being offered. Also, community college classes are always more affordable than universities and you might even be able to figure out a way to get some of your books and schooling paid for with a scholarship.

Tony’s Clam Chowder – Built By M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

What should you be learning?

This is really tough to say because each food truck owner brings a different and unique set of skills and knowledge to their business but here is a general list of things you should be competent in before you set out to start your truck:

  • Food prep and Food Safety
  • Marketing and Menu basics
  • Managerial Leadership and Conflict Resolution
  • Truck Safety and Rules of the Road
  • Food Truck Regulations for your city
  • Food Truck Finance
  • Marketing
  • How to Pull off a Catering Event
  • How to Create a Weekly Operations Schedule

This is a basic and sparse list of everything you’ll master as an experienced food truck owner but you don’t have to know it all before you get started.  After all, you’ll never be a food truck owner if you don’t take the first step, right?

Start your apprenticeship

We highly recommend reaching out to a local food truck and ask to tag along or work for free.  Yes, we said work for free.  Every great technician, professional or master of any craft always served under an apprenticeship.  You should too.

Pick your favorite food truck and call the owner up.  Tell him about your dream and offer to help for free for a few months.  It’s gonna suck, but its the best way to learn the job on the go and those are when the real lessons get absorbed the best.  Good ‘ol hands on training.

This is one of the approaches that Dave Krolak of the of the Cas’ Pierogi and Kielbasa food truck used to start his business. Instead of going it alone, he reached out directly to one of the prominent local food truck owners in the area and offered to compensate him for training. That modest investment in training has yielded all sorts of benefits for Krolak’s business in return.

First, he got an understanding of what it really takes to operate a food truck from someone that’s successfully operating the business. Questions that could take other inexperienced vendors weeks to figure out on their own could be quickly solved by Dave’s mentor.

In addition to a better understanding of the business this arrangement yielded some immediate monetary benefits as well. As you may know, a lot of owning a food truck is getting to know the players in your community. Specifically, getting to know the people that are organizing events in your town, other food truck owners that understand the most profitable daily service locations, and the corporate contacts that book catering events.

Having a teacher rapidly increased the speed the Dave’s food truck business that would have otherwise took years to experience the same levels of success. Why not fast forward through early stages of trying to figure out who the local players are and where the biggest events are in your area? Instead find and compensate a mentor to send your success into hyper drive.

Crepe Myrtle Cafe Food Truck – Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks

Apply what you learn

You don’t have to have your food truck to apply what you’re learning already.  If you can try a pop-up or catering event for a friends birthday party…then apply and practice these skills before you start your food truck. Imagine yourself in the food truck while you’re practicing some of these skill sets.

If you’re putting together your business plan for your food truck with all of the financials, apply that new knowledge to your business as well.  Most of the skill sets your learning translate over to what you’re currently doing so flex these muscles as much as possible.

If you’re going to be investing tens of thousands of dollars into a food truck or hundreds of thousands into a restaurant, it makes sense to spend some time investing in yourself through classes, a mentor, or reading blogs and blogs like this. While taking a class is no guarantee of longterm success it will certainly increase your chances.

How to Create a Weekly Operations Schedule For Your Food Truck

Before you roll your food truck concept out into the world, it’s a smart idea to build out a tentative daily or weekly operations schedule. This is also referred to “daily service” by those in the industry. This operations schedule will give you a sense of the frequency you plan to work and the days you plan to take off for downtime.

One mistake that beginning mobile food vendors make is that they don’t build a plan of where and when they plan to vend. The other frequently made mistake is that they don’t build out enough prospective locations to vend at. These new business owners may have a local flea market in mind or an event they plan to serve at. But if the first location or two doesn’t work out they struggle to figure out what to do next.

When you start a food truck of your own, you’ll be doing a lot of experimenting with locations in the early days to figure out what spots and operation times are the most profitable for your business. It’s important to keep in mind that just because a certain event works well for a pizza truck, doesn’t mean that it will be a home run for a donut trailer. Consumers eat and drink different items at different times so it’s important to give yourself time to figure this stuff out in the first few months of the business.

If you plan to open a specialty coffee truck, like the one shown above, your highest profit hours will be at different times than a pizza truck.

Building out a daily operations plan doesn’t need to be complicated either. You can open up a Word Document and start planning out what you think a Sunday – Saturday would look like as a food truck operator. A cheap calendar and a pen will accomplish this task just as well. This is a great time to begin thinking about the times and locations your food truck would be most profitable to operate. For many food vendors, the question of when to operate will be straight forward. If you’re planning to serve meals like hamburgers and french fries for example, the most profitable operation hours will be lunch and dinner on Fridays and weekends. If you plan to focus more on beverages, like coffee for example, your most profitable hours will be in the morning.

As you begin to build out this operation plan, be honest with yourself if this is the type of hours you want to work. If you’re a morning person, operating a food unit that will generate most of it’s sales in the evening might not be the right choice. If you’re still in the planning and prep phase of your business this is the ideal opportunity to reflect on the what type of a lifestyle you want to have in addition setting business and revenue goals. The business should serve you as much as you serve and grow the business.

As an example, we’ve published a sample operations plan that you can use as a guide for developing your own operation schedule to show you just how easy this is to get started with. In the example below, we’ve created the plan for a coffee truck business, but you can edit the hours of operation and strategic selling locations to reflect your future business and geographic area.

Operations Plan 

Serving hours are built to capture both weekday mornings (high-demand time for coffee), as well as weekend evenings (high projected demand for pre-made dessert items). The specific locations we plan to vend are outlined below in the Strategic Selling Locations for Daily Operation

Weekly Operations Schedule

Serving Days: Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat

Serving Times: Morning

7AM- 12PM 7AM- 12PM 7AM- 12PM 9AM- 2PM

Evening:  6PM- 10PM 6PM- 10PM

The desserts and baked goods being sold are already prepared and packaged. Since we want to focus primarily on serving coffees and teas, we will purchase food products from other vendors. The following schedule outlines when food preparation is done as well as the equipment maintenance and communication / business development with other clients. Although we will be handling regular business communication throughout the week, we want to carve out specific times to conduct this work as well to avoid overwhelm.

Food Prep, Equipment Maintenance, Business Development

Tuesday: 2 – 6 p.m.

Thursday: 2 – 6 p.m.

Friday: 2 – 6 p.m.

Strategic Selling Locations For Daily Operation

Selling locations will represent where the coffee truck parks most of the time. These locations are businesses who have given written permission (often times by email) to park its truck at their location. Businesses will do this for goodwill, symbiotic benefit, or sometimes revenue sharing opportunity. At most selling locations, our business will be the only mobile food vendor present. Strategic selling locations inside our city include:

The Temecula Library, Weekly Farmer’s Market at the Promenade Mall, Weekly Farmer’s Market in Old Town, Saturday flea market on Winchester, outside of the wineries, outside of local breweries.

Strategic selling locations nearby Riverside County include:

Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Avocado Days in Fallbrook, numerous hot rod events around the area.

Gourmet Aviator

Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

Strategic Events

Strategic events are festivals, fairs, and public gatherings that include mobile food vendors. Strategic events very often must be booked very far in advance of the event. They represent opportunity for high volume of sales in a short period of time. In future years as we develop additional relationships, we expect to participate in more of these lucrative annually held events.

Strategic events in Riverside County include:

Ballon and Wine Festival, Summer Concert Series, Summer Movie Nights, Temecula Food Truck Rally, Pet Adoption Events, High School Homecoming, High School Sporting Events, Sport Team Fundraising events, Fall Festivals, Halloween Festivals, Christmas Tree selling locations.

We hope you use this post to develop your own operations plan. If you’re having trouble figuring out where and when to vend one of the best places to start looking is at the social media profile of other food truck vendors in your area. The most popular food trucks will regularly publish their hours of operation / where they plan to vend on social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. This makes it easy to find locations that allow mobile food vendors on a regular basis.

Finally, start to be more aware of where you see food trucks operating around the city. If on your next trip to Home Depot, you see a concession trailer take note of the location and add it to your list of potential vending locations. Simply being aware of your surroundings as your doing your regular routine around the city will help you identify other profitable vending locations.

Real-World Food Blogging Topic Ideas for Food Truck and Restaurant Owners

Own a restaurant or food truck, but aren’t sure if you should take time to publish a blog? The reality is if you’re operating any type of food business finding the time to sit down and write a blog post or record a video won’t be easy. After all, you’ve got a business to grow and customers to serve.

Truth be told, if you own a restaurant and are trying to decide what type of marketing tactic you should invest your limited time and effort into, we don’t recommend blogging as the first option. There are plenty of other ways that are going to get you a faster return by driving more customers to your business.

Some faster ways to increase awareness of your business online include focusing on generating positive reviews for your restaurant on websites like Google My Business, Yelp, and Facebook. Consumers use these websites to discover new places to eat and decide where they want to dine. Other strategies such as offering coupons or limited time discounts work well to drive more immediate traffic to your establishment. Both ideas will bring diners to you faster than a blog ever could.

Is Blogging Right For Your Food Truck Business?

The Benefits of Publishing a Blog

After reading the first section of this post, it might feel like we don’t believe in blogging. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Assuming you have the time and ability to publishing entertaining or helpful content regularly, it can deliver an astronomical return on investment. The point is you aren’t going to realize the benefits today, this week, this month, or even this year if you’re just starting out.

But if you can push through a couple years blogging and come out the other side, you’ll realize some incredible benefits like massive awareness and increased loyalty. Essentially, you’ll have a digital magazine that people enjoy consuming regularly.

We’ve found our blog to be extremely helpful in educating food truck owners about running a food truck and answer frequently asked questions about operating business. Consistently blogging has helped us grow our business, but it didn’t happen overnight.

Blog Ideas You Can Start Writing About Now

Of course, simply setting up a blog or not putting much effort into the posts you publish isn’t going to get you far. Getting traction with your blog will have a lot to do with your consistency publishing and quality of content. The easiest way to ensure consistency is to set a schedule for yourself. For example, you could make a commitment to publish two blog posts per week for the next two years. This sort of commitment will take a lot of time, but it’s what’s required if you want to see results. Due to the length of time required to get any results is why we recommend other marketing methods first.

After you’ve got a schedule in place, it’s time to come up with a list of ideas to write about and publish on your blog. Keep in mind that you could publish all sorts of multimedia content on your blog including text, audio in the form of a podcast, images, or video. In fact, the more ways you can include video and imagery the better your posts will be.

Below is a list of topics ideas you can use that work well for both a restaurant, food truck, or any type of food business really. These ideas are intended to be interesting and or helpful to the right person. More than half of the restaurants trying out a blog get their content wrong initially because they only write about themselves or what they write is extremely boring. Don’t expect to get any results with boring content. It won’t work. You can start with these ideas below to get started the right way.

Cooking Demonstrations: Whether you operate a food truck or restaurant, you’re going to be in the kitchen cooking different meals all the time. Why not use this time to demonstrate to prospective customers how you make the food? This is the ideal way to generate high-quality blog content while being productive in the kitchen. You may even find a certain chef or yourself has a great personality and works well on the camera. These individuals are perfect to feature.

Notice I said you could record a cooking demonstration. You won’t need any special equipment for this as most cell phone cameras are good enough to pull this off. From there you can upload the video into YouTube or Facebook and embed the video into a blog post on your website. Follow this process and you’ll have an effective way to develop blog and social media content.

Test Menu Items: You should also be coming up with exciting new menu items for your restaurant. Testing out new items, even if you don’t plan to put them on the menu is the ideal type of content for a blog. People love to give their opinion on almost anything and testing out new menu ideas and getting feedback from your audience on if you should keep it is a great way to encourage people to participate and get involved in your brand. You could even create a “secret” test menu for hard-core customers.

Interviews: You shouldn’t only talk about yourself in a blog. In fact, it will help you out a lot of you feature other people and businesses. One way to generate content while featuring other businesses is to conduct interviews of other people. We recommend publishing either print or recorded interviews with chefs or other restaurant owners in the area. Asking for an interview is an effective way to start a relationship with someone you’ve never met and help to build awareness of your spot among influential folks in a market. The more local relationships you can build in your market the more opportunities will generally be sent your way.

Promote Events: Any time you serve a corporate catering event, work with a non-profit on a fundraiser or attend a local event like a fair it’s an opportunity to publish a recap about the event on your blog. Other businesses or event promoters love it when you help you promote their stuff on social media or a website. Doing so can also be interesting to attendees and it’s yet another opportunity to produce content of interest to a local audience.

In conclusion, blogging serve as the publishing focal point for your restaurant or food truck. But you’ve got to be willing to put in the time and effort before you will see all the positive results even with a list of content topic ideas.

Five Healthy Side-Dish Recipe Ideas For Your Food Truck

All food trucks can benefit from offering healthy side dishes.

As a society, we are trying to live healthier lifestyles than our parent’s generation. There are plenty of reasons for folks to make a conscious effort to improve one’s health, including weight loss, live longer, or simply to feel better. No matter what the reason behind a living a healthy lifestyle, for most folks this means doing more of two things: exercising regularly and improving diet.

While budgeting time to exercise or eat better is simple, it doesn’t mean this will be easy to accomplish. Between work and family obligations it can be difficult to put in the time to grind out a few miles on the treadmill. Likewise, eating nutritional foods aren’t always convenient. If you’re at a street fair, baseball game, or the shopping mall it can be almost impossible to find healthy options. Even if you’re at home and have all the healthy ingredients you could want, doesn’t mean you want to cook meals yourself each night.

Should You Serve Only “Health” Food on a Truck?

From a logical standpoint, one might think that your food truck could be the business that fills in the need for healthy foods in your area. But before you start serving organic Quinoa bowls or vegetable based bacon, you need to consider that what people say isn’t always what they do.

For example, even if you intend you make lifestyle changes, you probably have a cheat meal or two built into your weekly routine. Chicken breast with a side of organic carrots and broccoli for a weekday lunch might be tolerable for a while, but once the weekend hits most folks are looking for a change. For this reason, we do not recommend starting a healthy food only truck. Friends and family may applaud your efforts for trying to improve the well-being of the local community, but the concept is unlikely to take off.

Instead of starting a “healthy” food truck, consider adding better options to your existing menu. To seek inspiration for this approach you won’t need to look far. Take the global restaurant chain McDonald’s as an example. With the kid’s meals you used to only have one side option… a small French fry. Today, you have the option to order sliced apples as a replacement. You also have the option to replace the cheeseburger with all-white meat chicken nugget.

Notice how the burger chain didn’t drop their quarter pounders and other recognizable meals. They simply adapted a bit to provide some healthier options. You can use the same approach with your food truck as well! Don’t get rid of the core menu items customers crave because of media reports that people want to eat better.

Think about it. Are there any successful restaurants that highlight serving health food meals? Probably not because there just simply isn’t enough demand to support this concept in most areas. Instead of completely changing up your menu trying offering simple and health side dish options like the ideas listed below. Each idea below can be tweaked to align with your menu of offerings.

All aboard The Vegetable Express Food Trailer Built by M&R Speciality Trailers and Trucks.

Apples: This is a product that can be purchased affordably year round in the United States. In the fall months, you may even be able to serve locally grown varieties like honey crisp. There are a limitless number of ways you can utilize this fruit, by simply chopping chopping apple slices or amping them up with some sprinkled cinnamon and sugar. Viola, you’ve transformed a boring apple into exciting apple fries!

Smoothies: If you happen to have the right equipment onboard and a blender, smoothies can be a terrific healthy option. This beverage pairs well with coffee or breakfast trucks specifically. Just make sure you’ve got the appropriate electrical capabilities setup on your unit… blenders are electricity hogs on food trucks!

Veggie Snacks: Create a mini veggie tray. Cut some carrots, broccoli, celery in an attractive way. Serve with a side of ranch or premade hummus. This creates a healthier option to fried foods and is extremely easy and affordable to make. Everyone loves a personal veggie tray!

Potato Alternative: All sorts of restaurants use some form of potato as a side. Why? Almost everyone likes potatoes in their various forms (fries, mashed, bakes, waffle) and they are cheap to make. The down side is that is that many reports associate eating potatoes with weight gain. Most people don’t associate the spud with the example of health.

Instead, look to offer foods that are perceived to be healthier on the side. Some recipe ideas include: Califlower rice. Asian green beans. Cranberry almond coleslaw.

French Fry Alternative Recipes: Squash Fries. Roasted Sweet Potatoes. Roasted carrots. All of these items can be chopped just like an old-fashioned French fry and served! Bon apetite!

Do you offer healthier food options on your concession unit? If so, let us know what approaches you’ve used. We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

Starting a Mobile DJ Trailer Business in Florida?

Thinking about starting a mobile DJ trailer business in Florida? A trailer can help you safely transport audio and visual equipment, while setting your business apart from other DJs in the local market. Below is an overview of this high-profit business model.

Mobile DJ Trailer Business Model Explained

Being your own boss and becoming entrepreneurial disc jockeys (AKA DJ) is something most on-air talent considers during their career. After all, most small radio markets pay on-air talent under $40,000 annually if you’re just entering the workforce. It’s not that small-market radio wouldn’t like to pay their employees more, it’s simply a matter of revenue generated through advertising can’t support higher salaries in these markets.

The flip side is that you can earn a very healthy six figure or higher annual salary as an independent DJ and owns his or her audio equipment and a trailer to haul equipment from venue to venue.

When you’re starting out, finding events to DJ will seem difficult. Like any other small business, no one will know about your services at first. In the early days, you will need to pay your dues to get your name out there and into the public. This could mean bringing your talents at no charge to local charity events or fundraisers. While you won’t get paid for these events you will introduce your services to the community and start generating leads for paid gigs at events like this.

There are a few different strategies you can use to build an income as a DJ. Many DJs will use a combination of these approaches:

Bars and Clubs – Small bars, especially those without built-in audio equipment or lighting may hire out third-parties to provide entertainment on busy nights like New Year’s Eve. These venues will likely only pay $200 – $500 for an evening of entertainment. If you perform well, you may be invited in play again at a future date or even operate at bars run by the same owner.

One important aspect to remember is the business aspect of paid entertainment in a bar or night club. You are being paid by the business owner to provide a fun night for guests and keep people happily ordering drinks throughout the night. If you can accomplish both, you’ll likely be hired for future events.

Weddings – This is the holy grail of DJing event. A wedding provides the opportunity to charge higher prices in the $1,000 – $3,000 range per event. Depending on the service you offer and night of the wedding this quote could be even higher.

You’ll need to prepare more for a wedding than you will a bar event, however. What is usually forgotten about is the amount of planning that goes into a wedding. You’ll need to determine things like what will the father daughter dance be? What will the couple’s first dance be? What songs do they not want played at the wedding? Will the chicken dance be played? You’ll need to bring your A-game for more formal events like weddings.

School Dance – Want to go back in time and relive those awkward teen years? You can do just that as a disc jockey for school dances. Remember that while you’ll need to adapt the music to what a younger demographic wants to hear, you also need to remember the school is paying your fee. Don’t make them regret the decision to hire you.

Street Dance – Playing at small town street dances or centennial celebrations can be lucrative events to book. Usually, you’ve got to have a well-established track record before landing these big events, but some can pay $2,000 – $6,000 for a single night of entertainment assuming you’ll be providing equipment like stage lighting and a dance floor.

Fairs / Carnivals – County fairs and street carnivals regularly hire DJs to provide free entertainment at events.

Advantages of Operating a Mobile DJ Business

  • Be your own boss.
  • Retain all revenue from DJ events.
  • You hand pick the events you book.

Disadvantages of This Business Model

  • You will need to work nights and weekends to make good money.
  • Seasonal demand for DJ services.
  • Low barriers to entry from local competitors.
  • This is not the ideal business model for reserved personality types.

Best Practices for Running a Successful DJ Business

The best paid DJs are the ones that act professionally. They understand their role at an event. Establish a routine of showing up early to events so you can setup audio / visual equipment to ensure everything is ready to go at the agreed upon start time. Remember, you’re essentially a temporary employee of the business that hired you.

Next, check your ego at the door. You’re not a famous rock star that can show up late and disrespect other employees like wait staff, bartenders or bouncers at an event. In fact, you should put your best foot forward with venue employees as they are often the eyes and ears of the check writer.

Third, it’s your job to bring the party and have a good time at events. But never drink in excess or curse on the microphone. It’s bad taste and will earn you a bad reputation that you may not be able to bounce back from.

Fourth, you will encounter other DJs and local cover bands on your journey to building this business. Be nice to these guys and gals, especially if they are popular acts in your region. Popular acts know who the decision makers are in your area and might even help you secure more business in the future if they respect you and can vouch for your talents and professionalism. Many of the popular acts will be booked quickly at the start of the year and can only entertain one venue at a time. Believe it or not, your competition may actually help you book more business if you give them a reason to help you.

Finally, every gig you play is an audition for your next event. If you make it a point to do your best at each event, you’ll find that you are able to regularly meet new people that need paid entertainment for events. Your calendar will start to fill up and you’ll be able to gradually increase your rates.

Should You Offer Free Samples From Your Food Truck?

Offering free samples is one of the oldest ways to market and generate interest in a new food product. You see this all the time when you visit the giant discount retailers like Costco.  Part of the attraction for many Costco members is visiting the store is to see what type of snacks, entrees, drinks and deserts will be on display to try for free. Offering a free sample is an effective way to get potential customers to experience your product without risk.  But does it make wise business sense to offer freebies from your food truck like bigger businesses?

It’s one thing for a behemoth like Costco that generated a reported $163 billion in sales in 2017 to offer free soda to guests. They’ve got the established business, membership revenue, and sales volume to support this marketing expense. But it’s entirely different situation for concession businesses like yours where the expense of every free sample comes directly out of your pocket book.

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

Does Offering Free Samples Really Work?

There are common fears associated with offering a free food sample. The first fear is that people will take advantage of free samples. Instead of taking just one sample, they might take four or five tastes. Then they might invite their wife, five kids, and buddies to sample your food with zero intent to purchase. This scenario is probably more rare than imagine, but it’s something you’ll probably experience if you offer free samples long term.

There’s also the fear that free samples won’t actually increase sales. People that try free samples are viewed as cheap and not the buyers. No doubt there is some level of truth to both of these examples. But does the business upside outweigh these risks?

Much has been written about the psychology of free samples. You can read more details on reasons why free samples work, but it mostly comes down to people’s natural inclination to reciprocate. To put it in plain English, if someone does something nice for you then you want to do something nice in return. It’s a built-in trait that most of us humans share.

A quote taken from “The Psychology Behind Costco’s Free Samples” published by TheAtlantic.com explains this cerebral occurrence well:

“Reciprocity is a very, very strong instinct,” says Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University. “If somebody does something for you, you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them.”

In addition to the psychological supporting evidence on why free stuff works, there’s also supporting sales data provided in the same article below. The chart below shows how volume of sales increased for each of the following product items during an experiment conducted in a grocery store. As you can see, the total number of sales increased across all product categories after free samples where tried.

What Should You Offer as a Free Product?

Even though free samples will be an expense for your business, it’s worth having this option in your marketing quiver to drive more sales if needed at events. This tactic particularly valuable during slower periods to drive more sales during off-peak hours. When business picks up and your line is long, you can stop serving free samples and focus on serving the paying customers.

While free samples has proven to be an effective way to drive interest and sales, you’ll need to be smart about what you offer as a free sample. For example, higher-cost pieces of ribeye would be a freebie that would no doubt attract a crowd, but might also put you out of business due to the high cost. When looking for a free offer you want to offer a product that tastes great and reflects your menu, but is also low-cost to you. We’ve written in the past about some of the highest-margin concession foods, but some good places to identify free samples are below:

Bread Products:  Bread products are cheap. You’ve no doubt been in a shopping mall where they hand out fresh baked pretzel samples or flat breads. These products are both tasty and low-cost to serve. The same process can be used for all kinds of starch-heavy products like donuts, bagels, pizza, and bread sticks.

Ice Cream / Frozen Yogurt: If you’ve ever been to an ice cream shop or frozen yogurt spot you know they’ll always offer a free sample. The reason? The process works and is an extremely affordable way to generate sales when it costs under 10 cents per sample. When an ice cream cone is sold as a direct result of a free sample, the profit-margin is often well over 50% meaning you’ve profited handsomely even if you only make one extra sale per 20 freebies given away.

Popcorn: Kettle corn vendors understand that because the cost of their product is so low, it can be given away profitably to generate additional sales.

Chips: Most sit down Mexican restaurants serve you free chips and salsa when you order a meal. In addition to this being an expectation at sit-down restaurants, it’s also an extremely low-cost offering. Chips cost almost nothing to serve.

Beverages: Things like teas, coffees, and other specialty drinks can be the ideal freebie. Especially if you’re serving at summertime event. You could get creative by serving a flavored peach tea. If you make peach tea in bulk it can be distributed for pennies to prospective buyers.

Estimating Your Return on Investment

As a business owner, it’s your duty to ensure the food truck is bringing in enough money to support all the expenses and provide a comfortable lifestyle for your family. As part of this fiscal duty, you’ll want to ensure all these giveaways are delivering a return on investment.

You can determine if the giveaway is producing results by figuring out your free sample conversion rate. Here’s the conversion rate formula for free samples:

Number of Free Samples Given / Number of Buyers that Purchased Product after Receiving Free Sample = Conversion Rate

Here is a real-life example on what this might look like:

100 free samples given away / 20 purchases made after a free sample tasting = 20% conversion rate.

This means that for every five samples you give away from a food truck, you get one new purchase on average as a result. Assuming you were giving away a freebie that was low-cost and low-effort to produce, this formula could end up being highly profitable for your business.

At the end of the day, you’ll need to test different free samples to understand the thing that works best for your business. If you are taking the time to understand how many free samples you give away to determine, the cost, and the conversion rate that people end up purchasing your product, you’ll be confident that your marketing efforts are driving profits and not taking away from your business.

Do you currently offer free samples on your food truck? If so, let us know what you offer and whether or not it works in the comment section below.

101 Food Service Kiosk Name Ideas, and How to Find Yours

For many aspiring food kiosk owners, dreaming up the perfect name for your new business was probably one of the first things you did. After all, once you’ve established a concept for your new restaurant idea, picking out a name should come easy. Right? RIGHT?

But what if you’ve headed down the path toward opening day, secured some investment capital, roughed out a viable business plan that seems to hold together, and maybe even secured licensing, insurance, and a few vendors to get your started, and you STILL don’t have a name for your restaurant? What if you’re marching toward opening day, and you just can’t come up with a catchy name that will encompass all of your hard work and fresh ideas?

We’re here to help.

Picking out a name for your new food service kiosk can be incredibly difficult. After all, how do you communicate all of the things you need to for your new coffee shop or ice cream parlor, in just one or two words that will sum up your months (or years!) of sweat and toil? The type of food, coffee, or ice cream. The atmosphere of your location. The types of customers you’re hoping to attract. Your background, the style of cooking, the vibe of the location (shopping malls, corporate centers, college campuses)…these are all things that you must try to capture perfectly, when naming your food kiosk. How can you possibly get started?

Refuge Coffee Co. Truck: Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks

Make a list. Then throw that list away, and make another list.

That’s right. Begin by scribbling down every single restaurant name idea that comes into your head, without being too harsh or judgmental about what could work, and what absolutely couldn’t work. Write everything down. Even the less-than-savory ideas may help jog your brain, and lead to other, more viable names for your business. After you’ve got 30 or 40 ideas down, run through them with a marker and cross half of them out. Copy the remaining names to a new list, and use those names to spin off new ideas. Keep going. Something should present itself.

Keep it short and sweet. Alternately, make it long and weird.

Shorter names are likelier to stay fresh in the minds of your customers, though it may be challenging to find a one or two word domain name for your restaurant’s website. If short and sweet isn’t your style, make it so long and weird that it stands out that way. For example, if you’re going to launch a restaurant specializing in chili (don’t do that, that’s my idea), you could call it either “Chili Bowl,” if you’re into the whole “brevity” thing, or alternately, “Mac’s Royal Chili Emporium and Medieval Toastery.” Both names are memorable, for their own reasons.

Don’t get too specific. Look, the needs of your business may change. You want the name of your business to be able to grow and change, as your concept grows and changes. If you name your restaurant, “Strictly Burgers,” what’s going to happen if nobody likes your burgers, and you need to change the focus of your menu to primarily vegan chilled soups? Pick a name that has room to change with you. Also, please don’t start a vegan chilled soup restaurant.

Similarly, while it may be tempting to incorporate the name of your geographic location into your restaurant name, remember: Things change in this business. You may find yourself having to find a new location when the popularity of your restaurant triples your rent, or you may find yourself opening additional locations in different towns or cities.

Do some market research. Don’t bother trying out your new name on your friends and family; they’re going to be so supportive of you and your new venture (bless them), that they’re likely to be super encouraging of any name you come up with. Instead, ask potential customers for their opinion on your new name; they’re likelier to be more forthcoming with criticism.

Crowdsource your new restaurant name. What if I told you that there was an interconnected network of networks, where millions of people with strong opinions and an underdeveloped sense of the rules of polite society, were just WAITING to help you with your restaurant idea? Try out a restaurant name generator… Sure, you may not get something usable magically handed to you, but these generators can help get your brain working in new directions and coming up with new ideas. Sign up for a few restaurant industry forums, as well…you’ll find plenty of people who are happy to brainstorm name ideas with you.

When all else fails, use one of these 101 restaurant names. Okay, fair warning: These ideas aren’t all winners. But our hope is that even if you don’t use one of the following ideas off-the-shelf, one may still get you thinking in a different direction and help you come up with a new idea you hadn’t previously considered. These are all cool ideas I came up with that you can modify for your own future restaurant. So, without further ado:

  1. The Spaghetti Pantry
  2. Shambles
  3. Brimstone
  4. Purity
  5. Embers
  6. The Hive
  7. The Lamb and Whistle
  8. The Honey Comb
  9. Harvest
  10. The Streetwise Morning
  11. The Fable Table
  12. Big City Catch
  13. Hand & Fork
  14. Bread
  15. Pulpo
  16. Good
  17. Town Hall Grill
  18. Sycamore House
  19. Fresco
  20. The Stone Cup
  21. City Bites
  22. Knead & Feed
  23. Plate
  24. Old Bay Steamer
  25. Crow Creek
  26. Breakers
  27. Viking Grill
  28. Zocalo
  29. The Crack Pot
  30. Dan’s Dumpling Dowry
  31. Falafel Therapy
  32. Early Girl
  33. Cake Walk
  34. The Frayed Knot
  35. Gusto
  36. Heart in Hand
  37. Salty’s
  38. Soggy’s
  39. Sassy’s
  40. Hold the Anchovies
  41. Tandoor
  42. The Kiln
  43. Bushwhacker’s
  44. Roaring Rock Restaurant
  45. Take It Away
  46. The Wolf
  47. Trattoria Bella
  48. Trattoria Bellisima
  49. Sweet Basil
  50. Butler
  51. Mucho Gusto
  52. Taste
  53. The Feasting Fox
  54. Aftertizer
  55. Banana Cabana
  56. Kettlepop
  57. Panache
  58. Pan Ash
  59. Peerless
  60. Pesto Quest
  61. Rippers
  62. South Mouth
  63. The Straight and Narrow
  64. Big Juicy
  65. Chew
  66. Chevre
  67. The Bloated Tick
  68. Curb Appeal
  69. Flying Horse
  70. Flying Noodle
  71. Thai Tanic
  72. Royal Crest
  73. Florante
  74. The Eatery
  75. The Golden Spoon
  76. The Tined Fork
  77. Tiffany’s
  78. The Burnt Biscuit
  79. Wallflower
  80. Allium
  81. Comfort
  82. Clementine
  83. Piehole
  84. Home
  85. Southern Skillet
  86. Frankly, My Dear
  87. The Foyer
  88. The Porch
  89. The Mud Room
  90. Easy Now
  91. Easy Does It
  92. EZ Duz It
  93. Okra
  94. Azalea
  95. Heirloom
  96. Magnolia
  97. The Red Clover
  98. Mandoline
  99. Sweet Home
  100. The Riverboat
  101. Roderigo “Salty” Sanchez’s Terrific Taco Take-Out Emporium and While-U-Wait Auto Detailing
container restaurant

Shipping container turned into a food service kiosk.

Remember, no one but you can name your food service kiosk (unless you’re investing in a franchise opportunity). Soliciting ideas from others may help get the creative juices flowing, but ultimately, it will be up to you to find the name and concept that works. You’ve worked hard to get to this point, and taking the time to find the name that fits your dream perfectly is an important step, with no shortcuts. Be creative, speak from the heart, and let the ideas flow.

Note: Not all of these builds featured in this post were manufactured M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks. Some of the images used as included inside this post were built elsewhere and used for example purposes only.   

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.

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