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


Some costs are obvious, while others may be surprising, especially for first-time food truck owners. Let’s look at some of the costs and some hacks to control startup costs.

The Truck

This is the big ticket item. When fully outfitted, a food truck or trailer can run you anywhere from $35,000 to more than $200,000. Trucks can be found in many places, from local auctions, classifieds and Facebook Marketplace to the Washington State Food Truck Association site, which has its own classifieds. Some manufacturers will build you a turnkey food truck from the ground up.

As you do your research, make sure the truck or trailer you’re interested in is up to code, and you know the status of any equipment included in the sale. You may want a mechanic to check the truck itself, and if you’ve met a food truck owner during your travels, see if they can look at the kitchen and prep area.

It’s easy to fall in love with a deal that’s too good to be true, only to find that it’s a money pit that needs to be updated from the ground up to make it mechanically fit and up to code.

One of the expenses that you’ll need to factor in is the truck’s paint job. You can go a couple of directions here. You can always get it professionally painted. Or you can get the truck wrapped from top to bottom. Most vinyl wraps look great for about five to seven years before they start to crack, fade and peel, so you will need to factor in the cost of doing it again if you end up loving the food truck life.

The cost of a full wrap can run anywhere from $2,500 to $6,000, depending on the material and size of the truck. If you’re on a budget, consider doing a partial wrap. Painting may be the better route if you’re trying to save some money. Even then, a simple paint job will run you $1,000 to $3,000. If you want a more complex design, you may want to go with the vinyl wrap to save money since full color is standard, not extra.

Other bells and whistles you may want to consider are electronic signboards, speakers and a microphone to let customers know their orders are ready, an awning to keep the sun off your food truck staff and dual service windows so orders can be placed and picked up in separate spots to allow traffic to flow more easily.


Equipment & Supplies

The type of equipment will depend upon your menu. It may include grills, ranges, ovens, toasters, warming and holding equipment, refrigeration, prep tables, food prep equipment including knives, utensils and thermometers, serving equipment (trays, napkins, cups, cutlery) and janitorial equipment, including compartment sinks, floor mats, trash cans and sanitizing products.

You’ll also need some kind of system to ring up sales. Some food trucks are cash only, but that limits your sales since 1) many people don’t carry cash any longer, and 2) people using credit typically buy more per transaction.

You don’t need a cash register to manage purchases. Square has POS products that connect to your phone or allow customers to swipe or tap a terminal in your truck. If you’re moving up from a Cottage Food business or food booth, you can probably get away with the same point-of-sale system you used there. Since food trucks can conduct business virtually anywhere, you may want to look at a system that can process payments offline since you may not always have connectivity.

Depending on your own needs and budget, you may want to see if your point of sale system can handle additional services such as loyalty programs, inventory management and online ordering so customers can order ahead and pick it up when they are ready.



It’s tough to run a food truck business without power. A dependable generator matched to your power needs is essential to your success.

Portable generators typically run on gas, diesel, or propane and have an onboard alternator that converts the fuel burned into electrical power. There are three different types of generators: inverter, portable and built-in.

When deciding on the type of generator you need, consider your budget, the power and wattage you require, run time, fuel capacity, noise, size and exhaust. If your generator is built in, it will fuel itself automatically, drawing gas from the vehicle’s fuel tank. If it is a standalone unit, you want to make sure it is quiet since no one likes to hear the roar of generators at an event, and many jurisdictions have strict limitations on decibel and exhaust output.

A generator will cost somewhere between $500 and $3,000, depending on the type of generator, how much power it produces, and any features you feel are important to your operation.

The size of your generator you need depends on how much power your food truck uses and the hours of operation. To determine what size you’ll need, do the following calculation:

        • Record the wattage of every piece of equipment on your food truck, including appliances.
        • If something doesn’t have the watts listed, multiply the number of volts by the number of amps. That will give you wattage.
        • Add up the watts recorded. This is the minimum amount of power you will need from your generator.
Additional Costs

You’ll need to factor in some additional costs for a food truck operation. You may already be covering some of these costs as a Cottage Food business or if you’ve been doing the street fair circuit.

            • Insurance (including the vehicle): $1,000 to $4,000 per year
            • Payment Processing Fees: $200 to $1,200 per year
            • Permits and Licenses: $100 to $7,500 per year
            • Fire Inspection/Certification
            • Business Permits & Licenses (state, city, county)
            • Health and Food Handling Permits
            • Parking Permit
            • Special Event Permit

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