Calculating how much food trucks actually make can be challenging but here are a few things that influence it
It is hard to predict the average income for food trucks due to variables such as location, type of food, operating costs and the owner’s business skills.
Some food truck owners make a good living, while others struggle to turn a profit. Costs like rent, insurance, fuel, and food can be high, which means it’s difficult to forecast daily earnings.
Some food truck owners report earning an average of $500 per day, while others earn less. On this basis food trucks typically make a wide range of between $23,000 – $150,000 + a year.
I will go into how these factors influence how much food trucks make in more detail.
- Startup Costs
- Part-time or full-time business
- Solo business or a partnership
- Tips for making money with a food truck
1. Startup Costs
In any new business, there will be start-up costs involved for things like new equipment and marketing. This means for the first couple of years of trading profit will be lower because you will potentially be putting money back into the business as you grow.
There are loads of different places to trade these days. You can pitch up at a weekend food market, on land surrounding office blocks, music festivals, sporting events……the list goes on.
However, the money made as a food vendor at a weekend fair will differ from a lunchtime market, which again will differ from a 3-4 day festival. It also comes down to the hours of trading and the amount of footfall in the area.
So, for example, a food vendor would expect to make around $1000-2000 net profit per day at a fair. For a big 3-4 day festival, like Glastonbury or Coachella, it is not uncommon for food trucks to make over $50,000 net profit over the duration of the festival.
Example: How much a food truck makes at a fair
This is just an example of how much money food trucks make. The list of running costs is not exhaustive, and there will be variations in the cost of the pitch fee and the number of units sold, which is dependent on footfall and the tax liability, which again will differ in each state.
Also note, that the monthly net income for a food truck in this example is only over 4 days (events). This amount can be doubled or tripled if food trucks trade at more fairs or festivals in a given month.
Food trucks aren’t just about gourmet burgers and hot dogs. There are food vendors selling smoothies, juices, ice cream, crepes and other types of drinks and desserts. Therefore the profit margins will differ depending on the product you sell and ultimately the income you will take home.
Food tends to have a higher profit margin and you can sell it for a higher price, around $8 as opposed to say ice cream for $4.
Whilst the overheads for a food truck business are significantly lower than, say a restaurant, there will always be costs involved. Food truck owners have to consider outgoings such as staff, stock, pitch fees, packaging and travel costs.
As digital marketing becomes more important, You may also want to consider the costs of a website or social media marketing.
5. Part-time or full-time business
Some food trucks and street food vendors work a few days a week, either to top up their earnings from a second job or do it as a full-time job which is their main source of income. The number of hours and days you trade will, therefore, determine how much a food truck makes.
Note – it is possible to work part-time in this type of business and earn the same income as a lot of full-time jobs.
6. Solo business or a partnership
Some food truck owners are the sole proprietors of their businesses and own them as part of a family business or with their partners. This is obviously going to impact how much money is earned
In my experience, trying to split an income between more than one or two people can be difficult at the beginning of a street food business.
Tips for making money with a food truck
Whilst this is a thriving industry and is, in fact, growing year on year in the UK & US not everyone makes a success of it. Yes, a passion for food is very important, but unfortunately, this on its own is not enough and there are a number of things you need to do in order to maximise your chances of making a living.
Treat it like a business
I Can’t emphasise this first point enough. If you intend to make money from street food you need to treat it like a business. Copy what the successful people in the industry do and come across as professional (even if you feel like you are faking it). That means a logo, preferable uniforms, a well-presented food truck, stall or cart and increasingly more important, a website.
Choose the right food to sell
As mentioned different types of products have different markup or resale values. You need to choose food that is cheap enough to produce but can be sold for a reasonable profit. You want to aim for a 30% net profit on each unit of food/drink sold.
Do your market research
This is another important step. There is no point in selling stuff that people do not want to buy. You may think it’s a good idea (and it may well be) but it is the consumer who has the ultimate say.
See what other traders are selling and how busy they are; see what food is trending online, and see what the engagement is like for certain types of food on social media. You have to strike a balance of doing something a little bit different to stand out, but not too different that people don’t know what you are selling.
Choose the right location
Location location location! You know the old saying right?
Whether you have a spot in mind as a stand-alone food truck serving office workers or want to trade at a particular weekend food market, location is key. You need enough footfall to make enough sales, especially if there are other traders to compete with.
Check out a number of locations to say how busy they are before you commit to trading.
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As mentioned this is a growth industry which means not only is there more demand but also more competition. You, therefore, have to stand out amongst the crowd (other traders) in terms of presentation.
Have large signs above your food truck or street food stall clearly stating what you sell and have a well-laid-out and simple menu.
Have a buffer
Like most things in life, worthwhile stuff takes time. Some people jump straight into this thinking their food will be a huge hit from the word go and they will make lots of money. Unfortunately, whilst sometimes this may be the case, more often than not it isn’t.
It takes time to get into events or food markets; takes time to build up a customer base; takes time to gain experience and fine-tune your operation; it all just takes time.
That is why it is a good idea to have some sort of buffer to iron out the kinks – be it savings or a part-time job. It takes the pressure off and in the short to medium term makes things more sustainable, helping to increase your chances of success.
In short, it’s all about managing expectations.
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There is certainly money to be made in street food and more people are doing it as the demand for outdoor eating increases. How much you earn depends on what type of food you sell; where you sell it; whether it’s a solo or family business; and if it’s a part or full-time venture.
Like any other business, there are pitfalls and not everyone succeeds in this industry. There are things you need to consider to give yourself the best chance of making money from street food. From doing your market research, choosing the right location and having a buffer to fall back on.
It’s all about managing expectations and if you do things right there is no reason why you cannot make money from street food.
Are you ready to take that first step?
Gavin D is the founder of Street Food Central and Tru Foo Juice Bar Co. and has worked in the mobile catering industry for over 7 years.