Building your Brand and Concept
With more than 300 food trucks in Vancouver alone, a good brand and concept is vital for your customers to differentiate yourself from not only other food trucks, but restaurants as well.
For the owners and operations of Crack On, Gus and Mark, once they decided to make gourmet breakfast sandwiches, the next step for their soon-to-be iconic food truck was branding. Both friends who grew up in Ireland knew they wanted their brand to be different from anything in Vancouver, and were clear they wanted to work with a designer from back home.
Their concept of the best gourmet sandwiches allowed them to grow their brand from a food truck to a ghost kitchen and now a notable brunch pop-up.
How to Make your Food Truck Menu
As a new business in the hospitality industry, creating your menu should start with understanding who your customers are. Menu development is a balance of creative fulfillment, financial stability and consumer demands reflected in what you create for your customers.
A helpful tactic is to create a customer persona. These hypothetical customers allow new businesses to not only identify the type of customer they will want to attract but also give some clarity on what style of food to serve.
According to an accountant turned restauranteur, Roger Field’s best-selling book “Restaurant Success By The Numbers”.
He suggests asking the following to zero in on who your target customer is:
Average disposable income
Average household size
Average rent and prices of houses, condominiums, and apartments
Food and beverage sales
Major employers and industries.
Establishing your target customer is only one part of the equation. As an outdoor mobile food business, your menu needs to be versatile enough to adapt to changing weather conditions, neighbourhoods and demographics.
For Bocao, Vancouver's premier Spanish food truck, they recommend pursuing additional revenue streams within your business to remain competitive. Since Vancouver rains 10 months out of the year, in order to supplement their income during the winter months, they also operate a ghost kitchen in our Strathcona Commissary.
How Many Menu Items do I Need on my Food Truck Menu?
What goes on your menu is a question to consider while you develop your brand, concept and target audience, but this doesn't mean your menu needs to be four pages long. For food trucks, the exchange for convenience and mobility means prioritizing efficiency in a limited space.
Nobody likes to wait too long for their food, and as a food truck, you will likely be considered as “fast-food”. Coho's community of food trucks recommends you limit your menu to seven items. A smaller, more focused menu designed to pull from a similar pool of ingredients allows you to reduce your food and labour costs while refining your offerings to suit your target customer.
What Permits Do I Need To Start a Food Truck?
To start any business, food truck or otherwise, you’ll need the essentials to legally sell your products. However, businesses that sell food also require health permits, commercial kitchen space, and additional insurance. However, business licenses vary from city to city, and health permits from region to region, but for the most part here is a list:
Health permit for your vending unit
Motor vehicle insurance
Criminal record search for each vending operator.
You’ll also need a commercial kitchen to make and store your products, such as a commissary kitchen. When you join Coho, many of these requirements are a part of our onboarding process.
Applying for City Permits
These permits “allow food and non-alcoholic drinks to be sold on city property from a vending unit”.
They vary not only based on your business model, but also by city and for Metro Vancouver they fall into two categories: stationary and roaming.
Stationary Street food permit These permits are exactly like they sound. You are given a fixed space within the city to sell your food. However, they are limited in quantity with applications halted until 2023, but are open to purchase from other businesses. These existing food permits can be typically found online or through word of mouth from another business, and are still contingent on city approval. Current fees as of 2022: Application fee: $57.59 Permit fee: $1273.89 + GST ($63.69)
Roaming Street food vending permit These permits allow you to move around most parts of your city and park wherever you’re legally allowed. They do come with their own set of limitations: such as finding competitive parking spaces, while also staying 100 meters away from any existing restaurant with a similar menu. Current Fees as of 2022: Food truck: 343.67 + gst Food: bike, cart (without motor): 172.49+ GST.
How Much Money Do I Need to Start a Food Truck?
Although starting a food truck, or working from a commissary kitchen, is cheaper than opening a storefront, the cost can range from $30,000 - $100,000+. This price varies based on your total expenses, but two key factors are your truck and your equipment.
Henry's Hip Eats is a food truck that operates from our Powell Street commissary kitchen and offers Vietnamese fusion treats like, crispy lemon grass chicken, and loaded tater tots. Similar to Crack On and Bocao, owner and operator, Henry bought his food truck used.
Although it may be cheaper to purchase a brand new vehicle, the costs can still range, based on your renovations or if you plan on purchasing any additional equipment.
Purely from a cost perspective, the most afforable method for the short-term would be to lease your food truck. However, as your brand recognition grows, and you start to refine your menu - completely changing food trucks might not be worth saving a few dollars.
Consider Digital Marketing
There are as many marketing tactics as there are food truck concepts (not really, but we understand it can be overwhelming). It’s never been easier to promote your business online, but with this much choice and variety, it can be easy to fall into analysis paralysis or a serious bout of imposter syndrome.
The name of the game is to help people find you online, and at the end of the day people want to eat your food, they just don't know it yet.
We’ve summarized a few small business resources which alleviate this stress, but if you are able to invest your time or resources we suggest the following.
1. Website: A website allows anyone to understand your story, access your menu, and get a good grasp of your concept.
2. TikTok: Starting a TikTok account can be as simple as securing a name, choosing a relevant song, and posting a 30-second video of french fries. Although there are plenty of strategies and best practices involved, this social media channel favours organic-looking content, meaning no fancy cameras, microphones or lights.
3. Instagram / Facebook: With Instagram slowly shifting towards more video content than photos, with the same or similar content from your Tiktok channel, you’re able to repurpose your video to Instagram. Also, since both Instagram and Facebook are owned by the same company, the same content can be shared on your Facebook page as well.
All of these services can be easily outsourced by following the link above. As you start your business, your budget and time can be tight. The hardest part is just getting started, but rather than doing everything, find what you’re able to do and experiment to find your digital audience.
At Coho, we strive to provide a lower barrier of entry to get your food business started, access to commercial kitchen equipment and locations in prime real estate locations throughout British Columbia.
If you’re curious to find out more about our services or book a tour, click the link below to find out.