How much does it cost to start a food truck?

Food trucks are growing in popularity, and it’s not hard to understand why—significantly lower costs than those associated with opening a brick and mortar restaurant, paired with the freedom to create your own unique business model is driving newcomers, as well as seasoned restaurateurs to open their own food trucks. That said, when it comes down to bottom line, "how much does a food truck cost?" Costs can range from $50,000 to upwards of $150,000, depending on a number of factors.

Check out our free worksheet to break down what it will cost to open your food truck.

Breaking down food truck startup costs

The cost of opening a food truck can vary drastically depending on how big you want your operation to be, the location you wish to serve, and a range of smaller choices you’ll need to make. And of course, there’s the actual truck—are you going to rent or own? There are benefits to both, but keep in mind that buying a quality truck outright can be expensive. We broke down one-time and ongoing costs to help you get an idea of what you’ll be working with.

One-time costs

You’re going to have some initial one-time costs to get your food truck up and running. When considering these capital investments, understand that you’ll have to shell out some cash at the outset in order to turn a profit over time. Remember: you won’t be making a profit right away, so you’ll need to have a cushion of money in the bank to sustain your business as it gets rolling.

  • Permits and licensing fees – if you want to succeed, you have to keep your operation up to speed—that means getting licensed and having current permits for your area of business. These costs can range from $500 to $1,000 or more, depending on operation location. 
    According to Jordan of Italian ice truck, Mustache Mike’s, “Each state and city’s requirements are all different, but out here in California, you need about a handful of different credentials before opening up your doors such as a California Seller’s Permit (from the state), a local health department permit (from the county), a city business/peddler’s license (from the city), etc. As a food truck owner you would also need to have a Food Safety Handler’s certification and even your truck itself needs to be certified as well through the Housing & Community Development (HCD Department)…and if you operate in multiple counties or in different cities, you would need a whole new set of credentials for those locations, as well.”
  • The truck – for those who opt to buy their truck rather than rent, this may be the biggest initial expenditure you make. As with all vehicles, the cost of a properly outfitted food truck can vary greatly. Expect to pay anywhere from $15,000 to $100,000. Research your food truck and find out what is included if you’re planning to buy it. The costs you allot for this truck should include the truck itself, a custom paint job (if needed), as well as the equipment and setup needed inside the truck to allow you to start cooking. For many first-time food truck owners, not only are there a lot of costs associated with purchasing a truck, but a lot of regrets. Wendy of W.O.W. (Wonderlicious On Wheels) said that, “I wish someone had told me not to cut corners when purchasing the truck. I wish I had gotten a newer truck. We had so many repairs the first year we were in business. We had to replace the engine, transmission, all tires, etc…if I had just taken that money and bought a better truck in the first place, we would’ve been much better off.”
  • Initial food/beverage product inventory – you’re going to have to stock up for your grand openingand beyond. A food truck without the food is just, well, a truck. Expect to set aside $1,000 to $2,000 on supplies to start.
  • Register/POS – of course you’ll need a way to get paid and keep track of those payments. You can spend between $200 to $1000 on a cash register or POS (Point of Sale) system. To save some money at the start, you can use a tablet with a credit card reader rather than springing for a more intricate system.
  • Smallwares – these are your pots, pans and any tools you’ll need to whip up your menu items. You’ll be spending anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 here.
  • Uniforms/t-shirts – this one is optional and depends on how many employees you’ll have, but it’s a good idea to have some degree of uniformity if you want to look professional. You can wear what’s already in your closet for $0 or spend up to $1,000 for some spiffy uniforms.
  • Initial paper product inventory – here’s one of those little things that add up. Plates, napkins and utensils are usually sold in bulk if you want a good deal. Expect to spend about $200 to $300 from the outset.
  • Fire extinguisher – grease fires can happen in a food truck and you don’t want to see your investment go up in smoke. Additionally, permits may expect you to have a fire extinguisher in your truck. Be sure to have proper fire extinguishers for specific types of fires (grease, electrical, etc.). Costs for fire extinguishers may tally about $100 to $300.
  • Miscellaneous expenses – you never know what little things will come up as you build your operation. Put aside about $500 to $2,000 to account for odds and ends.

Recurring and ongoing costs

As your food truck develops, you’re going to have some daily, monthly, and annual costs to take care of—and these have a pretty big range between different types of trucks. No matter what, it’s always a good idea to shop around for the best rates, so make sure you do your research.

  • Commissary – most localities require the use of a commissary if you’re going to be in business. It’s a way to enforce health regulations across the disparate food trucks. Expect to pay $400 to $1,200 monthly.
  • Insurance – you’re running a business, as well as a motor vehicle, so insurance is necessary and a bit costly at about $2,000 to $4,000 for your annual premiums.
  • Food/beverage  – you’ll be paying out regularly to replenish your supply. Cost depends on what you’re selling and how much of it. Marti Lieberman of Mac Mart took a good-humored approach to learning about the importance of replenishing your food wares from a supplier: “We learned as we went along. For instance, we were buying our food at Walmart—big boxes of noodles. And when we got to our prep kitchen, all these other food trucks were laughing at us because they bought their food from an actual supplier for larger, cheaper quantities. We didn’t know you could buy a large, 20 lb box of noodles instead of 20 1-lb bags. Once we understood there was a better way of doing things, it became easier.”
  • Paper products – this one goes hand in hand with your food and beverage supply. Paper products are nonperishable, so you can save some money by buying in bigger quantities less often and purchasing from a supplier. 
  • Gas/propane – depending on how far you travel and how long you stay open, you can expect to spend about $200 to $500 to keep the engine on and the grills firing.
  • Social marketing – Facebook and Twitter are your friends. This one is a rare freebie on the cost sheet, so take advantage of it and build your following. 
  • Website – social media can only take you so far. A professional website will set you apart from competitors. Expect to pay up to $1,000 for a quality page, plus domain costs to maintain it.
  • Phone/Internet – customers will need to get in touch with you, and using a personal phone number will get overwhelming quick. Factor in the cost for internet access for your payment software, as well. These costs will run between $100 to $200 per month.
  • Labor – this one really depends on your particular set up. If it’s just you and a partner doing all the work, cross it off the list—you’re both taking it for the team. If you have employees, pay them a fair wage for their level of work expertise.
  • Repairs and replacements – things inevitably break and need to be repaired or replaced. Between truck repairs, cookware replacements, and all the other cogs in the machine, you can expect to pay out about $1,500 per month.

Common food truck startup myths & mistakes

There’s a lot of information floating around about opening up a food truck. Unfortunately, that means there’s also a lot of misinformation. So we’ve decided to take some of the most commonly discussed food truck startup myths and mistakes and give you the real scoop.

  1. Mind the licensing and permitting process. Bottom line: everything must be up to code on all fronts. Make sure you do your research and find out the exact requirements for operating in your area of choice. Novice food truck operators often overlook the necessary credentials for legal operation—you may need to go through the state, county and city (sometimes even specific part of the city) to get certified or else risk hefty fines and closure.
  2. Find the right events. And make sure you’ll have a spot when you get there! New food truckers often don’t realize there are usually waiting lists for popular events—and they can stretch up to years in advance. Get in touch with the organizers to secure your spot. And don’t forget to find out the associated fees—most events charge a fee in addition to a percentage of your sales from the event.
  3. Don’t skimp on the truck. Too often, food truck owners starting out try to cut corners to save a few bucks and it really ends up costing them. Our advice: don’t go on the low end for your truck. Mechanical problems down the line can end up costing a lot more than simply buying a truck in good condition.
  4. Take advantage of social media. Not many things come free in this world, so make sure you take advantage of this aspect of running a food truck. It’s easy to overlook the power of social media when you’re busy running your truck, but the truth is, it can play a huge role in your success. Giving you the ability to connect with potential customers, offer specials and announce where you’ll be next, social media is the key to generating buzz around your truck.

What food truck owners wish they knew when starting their business

In the food truck world, experience is invaluable. The most successful food truck operators today have made plenty of mistakes along the way. If you’re just starting out, be sure to take note of these tips from the veterans who’ve learned the hard way.

  • Expect the unexpected.” And be prepared for it. You can spend close to $100,000 on a state-of-the-art truck and still run into costly repairs—the same goes for your kitchen equipment. Things you use day in and day out take a beating. Try to have some savings in place to pay for any unexpected issues. These things are the lifeblood of your business, so you should always have a contingency plan in place.
  • Network, network, network.” Food trucking is a particularly competitive industry, so it’s important to develop allies among the scene. Especially when you’re starting out, having a few industry friends to put you on to catering events and similarly lucrative gigs can be extremely helpful. Remember: you’re going to be running into the same trucks pretty often, and building connections can be beneficial to both parties.
  • “Mistakes happen.” The truth is, it’s inevitable. Even with the most thorough planning, every operation will run into some bumps as they smooth out their path. The key is not to beat yourself up—learn from your mistakes. When you’re willing to understand there might be a better way of doing something, life becomes a lot easier. Even with the best advice, some things you have to learn as you go.

How to use the food truck startup cost worksheet

Our food truck startup costs spreadsheets are easy and intuitive to use. Once downloaded, they’re fully customizable to fit your needs. 

  • Download the free template
  • Add or remove fields applicable to your startup
  • Assess your needs and related costs
  • Make note of potentially changing costs or costs to be determined
  • Plug in your numbers and enjoy the simplified breakdown of your startup and ongoing costs

Focus on building your business, not tracking expenses—try Sage Business Cloud Accounting

Opening and maintaining a food truck requires a lot. Day in and day out you invest your time, energy and focus into creating something great. So why waste your valuable time and efforts tracking expenses the old-fashioned way? Administrative tasks can now be fully automated—so upgrade your business model by deploying online accounting software through Sage Business Cloud Accounting and save yourself some time and money. You have enough on your plate. Outsource the busy work and get back to doing what you do best—making your business a success.

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Additional startup cost templates

Is our sample food truck startup cost calculator not what you’re looking for? Then, please check out our other templates. We also offer solutions for all of your startup needs.