We hope these 10 tips will help you
take the right steps in establishing
your mobile food business.*
- Know the minimum amount of money you need to earn in order to be satisfied. The fact is, no matter how great your food may be, it won't be successful unless you earn enough to pay your bills and save for seasonal impacts on outdoor food service. Only you will know what this amount is, but start with it and then work backward to see what you need to be successful.
- Understand the industry. The best way to know the mobile food business is to work in it, even if starting at minimum wage working for someone else to get some experience. Make sure your passion matches the hard work of standing up for 12 hours cooking, serving, cleaning and hustling.
- Learn about the permits and regulations in your area. Before you start, be sure that you understand all of the permits and regulations governing the licensing and sale of mobile food in the city and counties in which you will be selling. These have both financial and timing ramifications that will impact what, when, where and how you can sell your food.
- Know your competition. What food products are they selling and where? Make sure that you're selling a differentiated product. How are your competitors running their businesses? What can you learn from them and be different?
- Have a clear sense of your food concept. Do your homework to determine if consumers like and want what you're selling. Try to determine the price that they are willing to pay for it. These concepts of "market supply & demand" get very real very quickly.
- Understand your target market. Know where to find them, what they like to do, eat and drink and estimate how frequently they'll eat your food offerings. What incentives will help them spread the news about your food to their friends. It is important to identify your optimal locations before filing for your permits.
- Run your business by the numbers. A good rule of thumb to start is that your food (cost of goods) should be less than 25 percent of sales. Now add your overhead costs, such as cost of equipment, permits, gasoline, insurance, downtime and other business expenses. How many sales will you have to make on an average day to break even? Set up a spread sheet to keep track of income, expenses and profit.
- Make sure that your food is consistently good. Nothing kills any business more quickly than a poor product, so make sure that not only you make it well every time, but also others whom you hire can do the same. This way, you can grow your business when you're not always at the grill.
- Have a kitchen and commissary available. Regardless of whether you're just steaming your product or cooking it on your mobile food equipment, you'll need a commissary to store and prep your food and clean your equipment at the end of each day. Make sure you're happy with the facility you choose and those who run it.
- Be a good neighbor. Be sure to introduce yourself to the business owners in the area where you will be selling your food. They may be your best customers, or they could be your worst nightmare-it's all about communications.
*Contents credits: Caleb Zigas, Executive Director, La Cocina (www.lacocinasf.org); Matt Cohen, Owner & Operator, Off The Grid (www.offthegridsf.com), SF Cart Project (www.sfcartproject.com) and Tabe Services.