Looking for a fun way to pick up the slack and increase the paycheck during these tough economic times?
Why not try a simple service business — such as driving a food catering truck?
My first exposure to the tasty delights that can be found on a catering truck was on a military base overseas. Every noon hour, the chow wagon (affectionately referred to as the “roach coach”) rolled onto the tarmac in front of the hanger where our two C-123B cargo planes were based.
This was almost 40 years ago and I can still recall the taste of their Asian fried chicken lying on top of a bed of fried rice — all packaged up in a neat little box that served as both a delivery container and serving bowl.
Over the years, I’ve worked at many different locations that were faithfully serviced by a shiny chrome truck. They always brought snacks, quick meals, and often local specialty dishes that you just couldn’t get anywhere else.
One thing that all work sites have in common is hungry workers! No matter if it’s a construction site, a sales lot, or even a multi-story office building — wherever more than a dozen people are employed, a catering truck of some sort is likely to include those locations on their daily route.
How To Get Started With A Food Truck
Catering trucks that service job sites throughout the work day usually come in 2 styles:
- The lunch truck – a stainless steel catering unit, mounted on a pickup truck cab and chassis. The vendor stands alongside and the truck’s sides — which are open like wings to display the products. (Sometimes, hot dog vendors use this type of set up.) Usually, one side of the truck is the cold side with the display case filled with ice, sandwiches, cold drinks, fruit, and anything else that requires refrigeration. The other side of the truck would likely be equipped with a large coffee urn and a warming oven — to keep heated items ready to serve.
- The catering truck – a full service stand-up rolling kitchen. Usually, this type of catering truck is manned by 2 to 3 people. One may work the crowd outside collecting money and passing orders to those inside who are doing the cooking and packaging. This is where burgers, fries, breakfast specials, and other specialty items are cooked to order on the spot.
Food Truck Rules & Regulations
Getting into the catering truck business requires a close relationship with:
- The local Health Department (search “[your state] department of health” in Google);
- Your local License & Tax Office (find your state); and
- Your state Department of Agriculture.
In most instances, you’ll be required to provide a business plan and submit plans for the type of equipment you intend to use, as well as the type of food you plan on selling.
Depending on your particular state, you may also be required to have a certified commercial kitchen for food storage, as well as to cook any products you intend to sell.
Mobile catering isn’t something you can get into without considerable research and asking a lot of questions. Getting off on the right foot is very important because if the Health Department doesn’t approve your business, you’ll be shut down before you even get started.
Be sure to check out Mobile Catering & Food Concession Businesses — the only website and online forum exclusively devoted to mobile catering, food concession, and vending cart businesses.
Food Catering Truck Products
The equipment you will need for a food truck business depends greatly on what you will be selling.
For example, if you only plan on reselling snacks, soft drinks, and sandwiches which have been purchased from a wholesale distributor pre-packaged (and thus require no actual cooking), then you may only need a permit from your state Department of Agriculture to open your business.
On the other hand, if you’ll be making food from raw ingredients, then the requirements will be considerably more complex.
Here are some additional considerations for starting a catering truck business:
- Every state (and even every city) may have different permit and licensing requirements. If you think you found the perfect deal on items for your business on eBay, just make sure the Health Department is on the same page as you… first!
- Buying something from out of state may not meet the requirements of your location. You could be making a very expensive mistake if you don’t get your plans pre-approved by the correct departments.
- I also strongly recommended that you do your research — so you know what’s really involved in setting up a food truck business.
See how to plan a menu for a food catering truck.
More About The Catering Truck Business
In addition to the links I’ve included above, these links can help you find more information about starting a food truck catering business:
- 11 Best Catering Truck Businesses in NY
- How Much Money Can You Make With A Catering Truck?
- Plano Catering Trucks
- How Successful Food Trucks Pick The Best Locations
- Food Truck Industry Trends