Lesson 6: Food Trucks

A food truck may seem like a big investment, but it can also give you the mobility you need to reach a bigger audience for your creations. It’s a big step, but hopefully, this lesson will give you food for thought.



Food Trucks


If your food booth has customers continually lining up around the block, you may start to wonder, “What’s next?”

Sure, you could decide to open up a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but running a restaurant is far more complex and takes far more money than you may be ready to tackle. Not only do you have to pay for the space, but the renovations, updates, décor, additional staff and commercial-grade equipment in the kitchen.

Before you jump into the deep end of the food business pool, you may want to consider expanding your operation into a food truck. Think of it as a mobile version of your food booth. Instead of setting up and breaking down each day, you close up the service window and start the engine. Plus, you bring the kitchen with you.

You don’t have to jump from the frying pan into the fire, either. You can still run your Cottage Food business and food booth while you shop for the right food truck. At many events, you can simply swap out the food booth for a food truck when you’re ready so you can get your customers used to your new “restaurant on wheels.”

Don’t kid yourself. A food truck is a giant leap from pitching a tent and selling your wares.

Before we get into the costs, let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of going with a food truck.


      • Rather than customers coming to you, you come to your customers. Being in different locations at different times of the week and hours can expose your products to a broader audience and help you refine your business and who your ideal customers are.
      • Having a kitchen right there allows you to keep up with demand. Unlike a food booth, you don’t have to guess what people will buy and how much to make. You can always crank out more products on the fly.
      • You don’t have to set up and break down each day. You can simply close up, pick up your sign and any seating you have in front, and head off to the next location or home.
      • Your food truck becomes a rolling billboard. When you’re on the road, everyone sees your company name and what you have to offer. Make your website address big and clear so they can see where you’ll be selling next.
      • While a Cottage Food operation offers some tax deductions, a good truck has far more tax advantages, including depreciation and the ability to deduct truck maintenance and fuel on your taxes.
      • A food truck can be more time-intensive. In addition to the usual shopping, prep, marketing and finding bookings, you will also need to keep the truck clean inside and out and ensure it is well-maintained.
      • The truck itself will increase your overhead. Trucks break, they need new tires and brakes; any number of things. And that’s not even mentioning the initial purchase price and insurance. Costs will increase, so may your prices.
      • Every city has its own rules about how long and where you can park a food truck. Individual events may also have limitations, partly because a food truck takes up two or more spaces that could otherwise go to the 10’x10’ tent crowd that can offer a greater variety of goods in the same space.
      • Your location can also be a disadvantage. In contrast to a food booth, there may be no built-in traffic in the location you found. You need to increase your online and social media marketing so your customers can find you. Passersby may not be enough to make the day profitable.
      • You may need a place to park your food truck when it’s not on the road selling. Many communities have HOA covenants that limit what you can park at your home or for how long it can be there.


Before you get too far, spend some time talking to current food truck owners about their operations, successes, challenges and overall experience. They can help you avoid many of the rookie mistakes new truck owners end up facing.

You may also want to contact the Washington State Food Truck Association. They have special programs for people who are new to the food truck industry and can provide you with guidance, including how to start, permitting and licensing, Labor & Industry requirements, and state and local laws regarding food vending. They have helped more than a thousand food trucks get their start across the state.

At this stage, you want to make sure you have a good concept for a food truck. Your Cottage Food or food booth business may not translate directly to a food truck. You will be appealing to a broader audience, and you may have to adapt your preparation practices to fit in a food truck, whether that means altering ingredients, changing recipes so they are easier to make, or offering new products that others in the food truck industry aren’t offering. This may mean creating different products using the same ingredients in new ways since space is limited to store ingredients and inventory, especially when compared to the home or commercial kitchen you’re used to.

As you think about your menu, be sure that you aren’t following a fad. Fads come and go, but really great products – especially ones that are original or fill an unmet need – will have lasting value in the market. You also want to make sure that your brand isn’t so narrow that if a culinary or cultural style falls out of favor as trends change, you won’t end up with a food truck that has nothing to sell. You want the truck to be able to weather fickle consumer trends and be able to turn on a dime should the winds and whims of the market change.

Commerce’s free SizeUp Tool can be a godsend in helping you prepare your business plan. It has multiple research tools that allow you to research your audience, and competition and run projections to see how different strategies will impact your revenue, profitability and more. It will even show how your business stacks up to others in your community, county, state and across the country.


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