Mobile kitchens are valuable physical assets. They can go anywhere, cook anything, and have a “cool” factor that’s great for advertising. But owning a single food truck or food trailer means you can only take advantage of one opportunity at a time. Also a mobile business costs money to run with staffing, ingredients, insurance, gas, commissary fees, repairs, parking tickets, etc. That’s why it’s so important to figure out the most profitable ways to make money when using your food truck and create additional passive income when your food truck isn’t available.
Some ideas in this article use the physical asset of the truck itself. Others leverage your brand, website or personal expertise as a food truck owner to make passive income. The most successful food truck owners will layer a variety of revenue streams to create a successful business.
Here are 20 creative ideas to help you make the most out of your food truck business.
1. Cater with your food truck
Made-to-order catering is one of the most lucrative ways to make money with a food truck. In major cities, a two hour wedding catering with your standard menu can fetch between $2,000 – $8,000. Even if weddings are too high pressure, there are plenty of corporate lunches and birthday parties.
If booked correctly, you will collect a 50% deposit at booking and know in advance exactly how much food to buy, staff to schedule, and money you will make for every catering gig.
2. Cater without your food truck
Many catering hosts will want the food to be made to order from the food truck. But others may be happy for you to drop off large pre-made portions in disposable chafing dishes with serving spoons, plates, napkins and utensils. This allows you to effectively do two (or more!) caterings at the same time from only one truck.
Signing up as a vendor on sites like Cater 2 Me or ezCater can help your food business start booking this style of catering immediately.
3. Sell at festivals and events
Booking a festival, sporting event, concert or other local event can be exciting, but not all of them are profitable. Look for events that are ticketed, have a captive audience, low vendor participation fees, and have no more than one food vendor per 500 attendees. Check out our complete guide on how to determine which events will be profitable for your food truck.
While you shouldn’t plan to lose money at an event just to market your brand, the marketing from events is a nice bonus. Even if those customers didn’t buy from you this time, they may be more likely to seek your food truck out next time they’re hungry.
4. Sidewalk vending
Sidewalk vending is the revenue stream most of us imagine when we think about a gourmet food truck. A food truck parks at a curb or parking lot and sells made-to-order meals to anyone who shows up. Typically there are only 2-3 stops per day corresponding to the busiest times people eat: breakfast, lunch, dinner, or late night
Unlike catering, you’re not sure how many customers will show up, how much food to prepare, or how much money you’ll make. This inconsistency actually makes it one of the least profitable revenue streams for many trucks. Also, you might need to show up extra early to snag “a good parking spot” before cars or your competitors take it.
5. Commit to a route
Back before Roy Choy launched the gourmet food truck movement, most food trucks were route trucks. Route trucks follow the same route every day, making brief stops at dozens of locations.
Regular customers rely on the classic lunch trucks or loncheras to show up at their job sites or on neighborhood corners at the same time every day. Food is usually inexpensive, quick and prepackaged. Think refrigerated burritos, prepackaged sandwiches and bagged chips. Routes are also a great service model for coffee trucks.
The key to this type of revenue stream is consistency. There’s no faster way to lose customers than not being on time for their 10 minute break or 30 minute lunch.
6. Sell to-go orders from your food truck
In 2021, 31% of American consumers used third-party food delivery services at least twice a week so consider signing up with DoorDash, Uber Eats, Grubhub, and Postmates.. While profit margins through these third party food delivery apps may be a bit lower, they also create an opportunity to tap into this $26.5 Billion market that wouldn’t otherwise buy from your food truck.
Try including a paper menu and a discount coupon for their next order to turn a one time customer into a repeat customer. Because these apps often require you to serve from one location, this can be a powerful revenue stream for route trucks who are at the same place every day at the same time.
7. Turn your food truck into a ghost kitchen
If you have some success selling to-go orders through third party apps, take your delivery game to the next level. A ghost kitchen is a professional food preparation and cooking facility for delivery-only meals. Becoming a ghost kitchen frees your food truck to make any food that is popular for delivery, not just the menu from your food truck.
For instance, maybe your food truck brand makes burgers and fries, but hot wings are the most popular take-out food in your area. Create a new hot wings specific menu, brand, and logo then add your new “restaurant” to some food delivery apps. This tactic could easily double the normal amount of business you do during a dinner service.
8. Create a consumer packaged good (CPG)
Do you have a BBQ sauce, spice mix, salsa, or ice cream flavor that people love? Package up fan favorites and sell them!
Talk to a co packer in your area about what elements of your menu would make good pre-packaged food items. It’s likely cheaper than you think and your customers are probably willing to pay a premium to bring your flavors into their home.
Start by selling directly to customers from your truck and on your website. If it takes off, consider scaling your product to grocery stores.
9. Turn your food or CPG Into a subscription service
If you find some success selling consumer packaged goods, try offering a subscription service. Instead of selling that bottle of BBQ sauce to a customer once, sign them up for an ongoing subscription where they can receive a new bottle from you monthly or quarterly.
Have multiple packaged products or flavors of the same product? A subscription of rotating flavors or a gift box packed with a variety of pre-packaged favorites might be the way to go.
Set up customer credit cards to charge automatically and this consistent cash flow will be a win for your business.
10. Sell branded merchandise
We’re talking stickers, t-shirts, hats, hoodies, totes, mugs and more! Start selling merchandise from your truck and website. Not only do you make money off the swag, but you get free marketing every time your customer wears it.
Not sure what to put on your merch? Hold a design contest for social media followers or post designs to your social channels and see what people prefer. Some folks might be excited to purchase a product with just your logo. Others might be attracted to a cool image, witty saying, or local in-joke. Merch can also be a great prize for social media content that engages customers and drives sales.
Best of all, printing and shipping merchandise can be completely integrated with your website and outsourced to third parties like Custom Ink, Merchology, Awesome Merch, or Printify.
11. Lease your food truck
While these opportunities may not come up too often, companies will pay top dollar to borrow your truck for a few days or weeks.
Tell your commissary, food truck network, social media followers, and local food truck association that you’re interested in leasing your truck by the day or week. You might be surprised who reaches out. People who are interested in short term food truck rentals include:
- Agencies and brands who want to rewrap your truck for their food truck marketing tour
- Brick and mortar restaurants who need a temporary kitchen while theirs is being remodeled
- Restaurateurs who want to vend at a festival or cater a big party, but don’t have a mobile kitchen
- Filmmakers who need a food truck to use on camera
- Food truck entrepreneurs who want to see what it’s like to operate a food truck without a big commitment
Make sure to charge at least the amount of net profit you would make that day. Also get a signed contract, proof of insurance, and train the renters on how to use and clean the equipment on the truck so they don’t break it.
12. Write an ebook
Maybe it’s a how-to guide for other aspiring food truckers, a cookbook, or a memoir about working in restaurants. Regardless, you have unique expertise or perspective to share with the world.
Self-publishing an Amazon ebook for Kindle readers is free! And if you have a large enough following or can rank at the top of organic search results on Google, you might find that selling an ebook can be both profitable and good publicity for your food truck.
13. Sell downloadable business templates
What kinds of business documents have you made that other people might be willing to pay for? Contracts? Quote layouts? Menu layouts? Recipe formats?
You’ve done most of the hard work by creating these. Now turn those documents you already have into templates for people to download and fill in with their own info. Sites like Etsy and Canva make it easy to post digital templates for sale.
14. Teach an online course
Similar to the downloadable templates, an online course is something you can create and post online once, then make passive income off forever.
It’s hard to find great information about how to own and operate a food truck business. You may not see yourself as an “expert”, but over time you’ve probably developed some great insight into how to successfully start and run a food truck business in your town. If you invest some time creating compelling and helpful how-to content, people may happily pay tens or even hundreds of dollars per download for the privilege of learning from you.
So how do people find and pay for your awesome food truck course? Udemy, The Great Courses, and Coursera are the most popular platforms for paid online learning today.
15. Start a Youtube channel
Reuse snippets of your online course or shoot totally new content for your new YouTube channel. All kinds of people, not just aspiring food truckers, are interested in learning about the experience, struggles, successes (and recipes!) of a real food trucker. Some of the 1Billion people that watch YouTube every month are bound to watch.
To keep them watching and attract new viewers though, you will likely need to create and release new content on a regular basis. And while many people do film and edit their own videos, you might need to pay someone else to help depending on your skills and available time.
But don’t despair! This investment can definitely pay off. A YouTube channel unlocks your ability to make money in a variety of different ways:
- Automatically receiving a portion of YouTube advertising
- Automatically receiving a portion of YouTube premium membership dues
- Asking for donations via sites like Patreon that allows viewers to directly support content creators
- Cross marketing all the other products and services you sell
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16. Teach cooking classes
Consider offering small group cooking classes on the truck or in your home. Feature your business’ recipes and include a tour of the food truck if possible. Enjoy the meal afterwards in your home or at a local park.
I bet that cooking on a food truck doesn’t seem that interesting to you by now. But for many foodies, getting an authentic taste of the life of a food truck chef would be a unique and fascinating experience… And an experience that they would be willing to pay well for. You’re also guaranteed to get free marketing as guests take, post and tag photos of the experience on social media.
Book your cooking class on travel sites like Airbnb experiences or Viator that target vacationers for a never ending supply of customers. Make sure to grab potential guests’ attention by including some great photos, your bio, and a teaser about what the experience will be like.
17. Form a “How to Start a Food Truck” bootcamp
Do you have one slow day a week that’s just not very profitable? Perhaps offering a series of weekly, hand-on workshops for prospective food truck owners could be for you.
Many people considering a future in food truck ownership want to know what it’s physically like to operate a food truck before taking the plunge. A six to eight week bootcamp that guides prospective food truckers from the beginning stages of their business to being fully operational would be a priceless experience.
To brainstorm the topics you will cover, think about what you would have wanted to know when you were starting a food truck business. Remember to build any unique insights you have into the curriculum.
- Buying or building a food truck
- Menu development
- Order taking, ticketing and POS systems
- Meal prep and cooking
- Basic repairs to equipment
- Hiring employees
- Health inspections
- Advertising and customer acquisition
Advertise physically at culinary schools and to food carts. Or go digital by advertising the bootcamp on your website and social media.
18. Donate food truck catering to a non-profit
Volunteer to cater an event hosted by a 501 3(c) charitable organization… for free.
Huh?! Giving back to your community may seem like an unlikely way to boost your profit at first. But donating a business service allows your business to write off the retail value of the catering as a tax deductible donation. That means that you may get a tax break on the full amount of the service, but only actually spend the money needed to cover your hard costs of the catering like food, labor and gas.
It also creates excellent networking opportunities that may lead to new business in the future.
Just remember to make sure you actually are donating to a 501 3(c) non-profit by getting their W9 and to document your donation by asking for an “in kind donation letter” from the organization. And, as always, consult with a tax professional to understand the full implications of in kind donations for your business.
19. Enable website ads
Just by enabling Google Ads to display on your website, you can start earning passive income today. It’s one of the fastest and easiest ways to start earning passive income. Set it up once, connect your banking account, and watch the cash start rolling into your banking account!
How much cash you earn varies depending on how popular your website is. And you have to weigh that against whether you might lose potential customers who stop buying something on your website when they click on an ad instead.
If you choose to try this, keep a careful eye on sales. You want to make sure that advertising on your website doesn’t have a negative impact on your “regular” business.
20. Enable blog ads
Most food trucks barely have a working website let alone a strong website with a blog. But creating a blog or resource section of your website can be a huge benefit. Every blog you post becomes another page that you can advertise on to make that passive income.
If you feel uncomfortable advertising on the main part of your website, but still want to make some cash, advertising on your blog posts may be a good compromise.
Bonus! Investing in a blog will also help your website rank higher in search results. When people search terms related to your business like “taco trucks near me” or “best food trucks in Los Angeles”, your website will get displayed more often. This is part of a bigger topic called search engine optimization or SEO for short. But briefly, search engines like Google like it when you update your website regularly. Blog posts are a great way to do that.
So how will you make money with a food truck?
Pursuing all of these tactics to boost your food truck sales probably isn’t realistic. But now you’re armed with twenty out-of-the-box ideas that can help you grow your mobile food business revenue. Savvy food truck owners will pick and choose ideas off this list that compliment each other and yield the greatest return on investment.
Are you a savvy food truck owner who’s ready to upgrade to a new food truck or food trailer? Firefly manufactures the world’s best custom food trucks and experiential marketing vehicles from our location in Los Angeles, CA. Contact Firefly today at 323.524.0078 for a free business consultation and quote.