Food trucks are booming, with an estimated value of $1.2 billion in the US. But the trucks themselves can be costly, starting around $50,000 for a used model and upwards of $100,000 new. And that doesn’t even begin to account for vehicle maintenance costs or lost earnings when the truck is immobile. Amidst those drawbacks, food trailers present a more affordable and customizable option for entrepreneurs eager to break into mobile food service. Here are four tips to get started.
1. Keep the Menu Simple
Most mobile food services limit themselves to a small menu because of limited space for prep or storage. Instead of offering something for everyone, like a large chain restaurant with a full kitchen, a food trailer can provide a few niche items prepared to perfection. And, if the food is portable and easy to eat on the go (such as tacos, sandwiches, cupcakes, mochi, kebabs, etc.), even better! But above all: choose dishes you love and that you’d enjoy preparing hundreds—hopefully, thousands—of times.
2. Find a Trailer, and Outfit it With the Right Equipment
Once you’ve got an idea for a menu, it’s time to find a trailer. Buying new or used depends on what’s available in your area or how far you’re willing to travel to get one. But in general, a decent food trailer should run less than $20,000—a much more manageable investment than a food truck.
That said, you’ll need something to tow the trailer. If you already own a vehicle capable of towing, great! If not, do some calculations to determine whether it would be better to get a trailer plus a separate truck or an all-in-one food truck.
Finally, food trailers have another big advantage over food trucks in that they tend to be larger and more open to customization. Here’s some of the equipment you might need, depending on your menu and health and safety regulations where you plan to operate:
Prep: Whatever it takes to cook or prepare your food onsite, including a griddle, range, hot plate, microwave, panini press, or fryer. More specialized food trailers might require items like cotton candy machines, espresso machines, soda fountains, etc.
Storage: You’ll likely need refrigerated storage for health department requirements, but also consider where you’ll keep dry ingredients, tools, condiments, and serving ware.
Safety and sanitation: A sink can be used for both food prep and hand-washing. If you’re cooking hot food on site, and not just warming it up in the microwave, you’ll also need appropriate ventilation. Your local jurisdiction might also require overhead sprinklers in case of fire. And always keep a couple commercial-grade fire extinguishers handy.
Overwhelmed? The equipment costs can add up, but there’s help—Clicklease offers flexible equipment financing with no paperwork, no hassle, and no hard credit pull. Approvals arrive in minutes, and you can get what you need to deliver good eats.
3. Get Licensed and Inspected
A food trailer will require the same business licensing needed in your state, county, and city—and it’s a good idea to check on all three. You’ll also need a tax identification number to pay employees, a permit from the local health department to sell food, and an alcoholic beverage permit if you’re selling drinks. Finally, in day-to-day terms, you’ll need to investigate parking permits for the places you want to operate your trailer.
4. Appeal to the Masses
When you’re selecting a name and a theme for your food trailer, don’t be afraid to get silly or whimsical. Think of puns, longstanding jokes, mashups, or rhymes to get started. You could also reference pop culture touchstones like song lyrics, movie titles, celebrities, or historical figures while you’re brainstorming. Check out this list of famous food trucks and trailers for inspiration. Whatever you choose, try to make it easy to read quickly as someone passes you on the road.
And speaking of driving: another advantage mobile food service has over restaurants is that you get ample advertising value every time you move the trailer from one place to another. Make it something people can’t help looking at with a bright, bold graphic wrap. Prominently display your name, logo, socials, phone number, or whatever else potential customers need to remember who you are and reach out for future business.
Ready to roll? Clicklease is available 24/7 to answer your questions. Contact us today.