It is strange to think of food trucks as anything else but rolling restaurants. With a myriad of different food options, special events celebrating them, and the joy they bring to anyone who is hungry but nowhere near a traditional brick and mortar eatery, they have come a long way in a short time to become a staple of cuisine to many.
In the old days, food trucks had issues with health and sanitary standards, earning the label of “roach coach,” but these days, their cleanliness is overseen by food inspectors that hold them to incredibly high standards. If you call a food truck a “roach coach” today in earshot of the proprietor, not only will you receive a steely, hateful glare, but you will be banned from the goodies within.
While chefs of the past would have nothing to do with them, the realities, the perks, the outreach, and the lower overhead have made them a viable choice for those wishing to cook for a bigger audience. They can go almost anywhere, a simple tweet can clue fans into their locations and new menu items, and as long as you keep the quality eats coming, your patronage will be incredibly loyal.
Outfitting Your Food Truck
You have decided to start a truck, know your niche, and are ready to get the party started. But what do you actually need to put in the truck to make the magic happen? Let us give you a little help. We have a list of your essential food truck needs, many of which transition between niches, although some are specialized.
We will give you a brief idea of what trucks need each item:
Licensing - Before buying any interior items, make sure you have the proper licenses and permits to operate. It does you no good to have a fully furnished rig without the ability to serve.
New Versus Used - We know, let's get on with the list. But this is important, so listen up. You can get away with some used equipment, such as smaller appliances, however, for large items like stoves, ovens, fryers, and heavy-duty items, newer is better, New appliances have a warranty. When starting out, a warranty is worth its weight in gold. To recap, a used coffee grinder is ok, a used 6 burner stove, not so much.
Undercounter Fridges - You might need a couple of these, so gauge how frequently you will be shopping, how much space you need, and purchase accordingly. Almost all food trucks need refrigeration.
Griddles - Also known as a cooktop, a griddle is used in almost every food truck for one reason or another. A griddle can be used for breakfast, burgers, many Mexican dishes, and so much more. This will be your most used piece of equipment. Best to buy it new.
Microwaves - For quick zapping, a microwave is an efficient choice. Make sure the wattage will not blow your power source. This can be purchased used. And many food trucks use microwaves for a myriad of fast-heating needs.
Restaurant Ranges - These will be your burners and your oven. Just like your range at home, it can be gas or electric, but most food trucks use gas, as it is cheaper and easier. You will need one with plenty of burners and plenty of interior oven space. Most food trucks, unless they are dessert-based, need a range.
Fryers - Who doesn’t like deep-fried goodies? From fish to ice cream, with the right prep, anything can be deep-fried, and for your truck, even if you think you will never use it, it is wise to get one anyway. Every truck should have at least a single basket deep fryer.
Chest Freezers - These can be tricky to find a home for. After all, there is only so much room in the back of that truck. But some items must be frozen before they cook to ensure quality. For instance, mozzarella sticks only fry well when they are frozen. A freezer is especially keen if you have a dessert-based truck. Ice cream treats melt very quickly. Don’t let them.
Coffee Machines - For you, for the customer, you will be a pariah if you have a truck and no coffee. Angry mobs have formed over less. Check with other truck owners and see what they use. Then use your best judgment.
Power Generators - You have to power the electric items somehow. A heavy-duty generator that can latch to the back of your truck will be sufficient. Check your need and buy the generator that will exceed those needs. On that topic, a steady supply of propane for gas burners and such is also critical. You will burn through a bottle of propane a day. Be sure to remember to fill the gas in the generator, as well as refill the propane.
What You Might Forget in The Shuffle
This is a very exciting time. In the rush, things get overlooked. Like moving away from home for the first time, remembering the tv, the gaming system, but forgetting to buy toilet paper. Here are your forgotten items you will feel foolish not having:
Hand Washing Station – to pass a sanitary inspection, it is a must. Plus, peace of mind for the customer.
Ventilation – proper airflow will keep your smoke from filling the cabin, keep the flames from sucking out all the air, and allow your smells to waft into the noses of new and existing customers.
Sprinklers – For fire safety and certification, a hood sprinkler system is required. Just remember, water does not work for grease fires, only makes them worse.
Clear exits – You should have an easy path out the front and back of the truck. Don’t let obstructions pile up. Keep your space clean, safe, and organized.
Tip Jar – Ok, this one seems silly, but when you do a good job, you should be rewarded. Believe it or not, in a business that often gives small bills as change, tips can be very plentiful.
It is hard work, but the result is worth it if you are looking to cook and get paid without the typical restaurant hassles. But most food truck owners do it for something more. They do it for pride. They love to cook and want to be their own boss. Owning a food truck is a brave move for anyone with the chops to pull it off, the passion for cooking, and the desire to thrive in this budding industry. Carpe Diem, and good luck.