Food Truck Owners Need to be Paid

As a food truck owner, you’re excited about entrepreneurship … for many, it’s your  first venture into running a business.  You’re excited about what you’ll be serving, building your truck, purchasing supplies, hiring staff, developing your website, and social media presence.  The list goes on and can get even longer with each passing day. You’ve done several events and paid your bills and your staff.  Seems simple ... and yet it is not.

As food truck owners, how do we pay ourselves?  Many gauge our  success by what is remaining in the bank.  Because the food truck business requires constant addition of more supplies, repair expenses, event fees, purchasing food, advertising and accounting expenses, staff payroll, and taxes, what remains in the bank may not be the best gauge of your profitability.   Some owners actually forget to pay themselves.  How could this happen?  A food truck owner may not see themselves as an employee because they are the business owner.  While true in one way, the more important 'truth' is that we're contributing to the daily operations of the business as a working team member and as such, should be paid.

Food truck owners need to be paid.  Figuring out the profitability of an upcoming event, including food, supplies, overhead and total labor expenses, including you, is vital to running any business.  What might happen if your labor contributions were not factored in to the total labor cost to handle the event?  Excluding that expenditure could give a false sense of profitability and become the difference between a marginally profitable event and an event that is losing money.  Knowing your true profitability is critical to determine if you would participate in this event again. And while you may consider paying yourself a high salary to operate your food truck business, yet wouldn't that reduce the number of profitable events?   A good rule of thumb is to pay yourself what you would pay someone to do your job, running your food truck operation.  Moving forward, should you want to work less on the truck or invest in a second truck, you’ll need to hire a food truck manager to replace your position.  Not only will this help give you a  realistic understanding of which events are profitable, but also give you a clearer understanding of how your food truck could operate without you down the road.

Food truck owners need to be paid.  Would you expect any of your employees to work for free? Of course not! So why should you, the owner?  Having even one team member not collecting a paycheck raises questions on the validity and operation of the food truck business.  Should you decide to sell the business or need to apply for commercial loans, as example, the profitability of the company would not be an accurate representation of the business, thus excluding your business from future lending opportunities.  Just like your employees, you as an owner have personal bills and expenses to manage.  You should be able to count on a steady paycheck for your contributions to the team operation.  Many food truck owners elect to take distributions from the profits after all expenses have been paid, including all labor expenses, as their 'paycheck.'  You are actually receiving compensation from two different roles you play in your business.  The food truck business is a seasonal operation.  Certain times of the year the demand and activity is greater than, as example,  cooler times of the year.  Financially, cash flow may be more challenging during those times.  As an operating owner, you may elect to hold on to or set aside incoming revenue for when cash flow is tight, electing to cash them in until activity is greater.  Either way, operating your business so you it can grow and expand, without the unplanned expense of paying for a team member who’s labor had been free, is the way to go.    Make Today Great!

Ray Chow
CFTO (Chief Food Truck Officer)
"How Food Trucks Roll"

Food Truck Owners have a special way to give back to the community.

Most everyone would love to have the opportunity to give back to his or her community.  Many envision writing that large check to their favorite charity, school or church.  A sum of money can make a major impact in the non-profit’s operation budget. Volunteering time is also a great contribution to giving back to your organization.  Everyone has either the financial or time resource to give back to his or her community.  Many of us feel we need to do so in a large amount otherwise it may not be as impactful.  However, if we just contribute what we can within our own means, you’ll be surprised at how great of an impact that makes on your community.

Food Truck Owners have a special way to give back to the community.  Aside from time and financial resources, we have the luxury of working with food all of the time.  Food resources are a special way we can contribute back to our favorite charity, church or community shelters.  For many years, I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to donate food supporting local blood drive organizations, charities and churches.  Making a donation is like writing a check.  You feel good about doing it and the organization is extremely appreciative of your efforts.  But it’s not the same effect as serving the food yourself to someone hungry and homeless.  If you’ve ever done so, you’ll know exactly why.  The rewarding response from the recipients is beyond words.  Many of them have many needs and are very appreciative of whatever supplies they receive.  Food is something that is needed on a daily basis for survival.  Experience feeding homeless families with children and prepare yourself to be drying off tears in the process.  Rewarding doesn’t come close to how you’ll feel with your efforts.

Food Truck Owners have a special way to give back to the community.  We work with food everyday at various events.  Many times we’ll have extra food at the end of the day.  Some food can be saved for use the next day while some are consumed or donated.  Many local churches and community shelters welcome any and all food that is provided as they have many resources to those who are in need to survive each day.  Expand on your donation by bringing the food truck to their next event and serve.  Participate in feeding the hungry at a local shelter from your food truck.  Not leftovers from yesterday’s event, but a conscious effort to prepare food as if they were paying guests.  The experience is well beyond the rewards of writing a check in any amount.  You’ll get some great exposure with your business, but that is not the real reason for serving the charity event from your truck.  You send a message that a local food truck entrepreneur cares enough about the community to take food, financial and time resources from your daily operation to give back to the community.  You’re sending a message that here is a quality meal that many would typically be paying for…not a free lunch from leftovers.  You’re telling them to come experience eating from a food truck and not another chain restaurant.  This is an experience than many in the community prefer to do.  You’re telling them I’m here to help whatever I can to help make your day one day better than yesterday.  The messages are many and positive.  This experience is significantly greater than just writing a check or dropping off food.  The total experience of helping others is something that everyone should enjoy when given the opportunity.

Food Truck Owners have a special way to give back to the community.  Just like everything we do in our daily business.  We network within our food truck family to help create more business and opportunities to help each other keep busy work schedules.  We also have that network to support our local charities and churches on they events.  We may not have the availability to service their events, but we know of 50+ other food truck owners we can reach out to share with them the opportunity to do so.  This is another way we can give back to our community.  I’ve found it very rewarding in the past to be able to make a positive difference by just donating food.  I’ve found it even more rewarding to donate a food truck event at a charity auction raising $1,000’s for the organization.  Volunteering your own time to help put food on the plate of someone hungry and homeless will give you an eye opener that not everyone in the world has our luxuries that we sometimes take for granted.  An even greater reward is sharing those experiences with others who may be unaware of their gifts and help them experience the same rewards.  These are truly rewarding experiences that cannot be monetized.  We all have special ways to give back to charities.  Every gift is special to someone.  Make your special gift donation today!

Ray Chow
CFTO (Chief Food Truck Officer)

The other side of the Food Truck window: A typical day

 "How Food Trucks Roll™"

How cool is it that a food truck pulls up to where you work, live, play or visit and you have some of the best LOCAL food to enjoy.  Besides the simple convenience of the truck being “right there” its definitely a nice break from the typical chain restaurants we see everyday.  What if you wanted to hire your own food truck to serve your event?  Actually it would be really awesome to hire several food trucks for your event…all of your guests would have a great variety of food trucks to choose from…besides, the food trucks just pull up and serve right? 

Here is where I share The Other Side of the Food Truck Window: A Typical Day.  Absolutely, food trucks just pull up and serve.  They’re restaurants on wheels.  They can venture where they want to; park their truck; sell food; then drive home and take the rest of the day off.  This is a very common view of how food trucks operate.  Just as anyone who has never made a commercial video or movie would think…all you do is hit the record button and you’re done.  There is so much behind-the-scenes work and preparation to make the video and movie.  Similarly, there is so much behind-the scenes work and preparation to make food trucks work.  So what does it take to make the food truck roll each day? 

Preparation:  Before the food truck can even pull out and head to an event, the truck must be loaded with supplies, product and utilities.  Having enough of the right supplies and product require time to purchase, prepare and load into the truck for each event.  You also need to make sure you have plenty of water in the tank, fuel for the truck and generator plus propane for your cooking equipment.  All of the preparations can amount to hours before an event; some operators take an entire day off each week from accepting events just to make preparations to launch their food truck business for the week.

Execution: This is the part where we just pull up and sell…Don’t forget it’s like driving to and from work.  Many working professionals will drive upwards of 1 hour or more each day venturing to and from their job.  Food truck operators do the same driving to and from an event.  Some days a food truck will go to 2-3 events per day.  Serving at an event may be as short as a couple hours for a lunch service or last all day for 8+ hours for special festivals and events.  At the end of the event the food truck gets to venture back to its commercial kitchen to begin the next segment of the day…Closing

Closing:  After working a nice long event or multiple events, that drive back to the commercial kitchen (aka Commissary) seems to take longer than normal…may have something to do with having worked a 12+ hour day already and dreading the additional hours of unloading and clean up. Closing involves cleaning up the truck, unloading all trash, restocking supplies, closing down your food products to the kitchen coolers and making a final inspection of what is needed for the morning.  Now it’s time to head home…and work?

Financials:  After each event, we have to count the successes of our food truck day.  I’m tired, but the longer this part takes the better I feel.  This includes sorting tickets and credit card receipts, counting the cash and making sure everything adds up.  Then comes getting the sales ready for the bank deposit and for proper bookkeeping.  Of course when you go to the bank in the morning, you have to remember to pick up some change for your starting bank.  This process repeats the next day…yes, but there is more!

Research and Book events:  Somewhere outside of the daily hustle of food truck operation, you have to have your events booked on your calendar.  The whole time we are under the impression food trucks just venture anywhere they please…some areas allow that but still requires research to finding the best spots, who to contact and get the right permissions to sell.  You venture to local schools, businesses, offices and apartments that would enjoy a food truck stop.  You entertain bringing the food truck to different festivals in your area just to find out they all have applications to complete for consideration.  All of this takes time in addition to the 15-16 hour workday you just completed.  So you’re finally done right?  There is always more! 

Maintenance and repairs:  Your food truck is your business and livelihood.  It will take care of you if you take care of it.  Maintenance may not be needed on a daily basis but needs to be on your radar and scheduled when needed.  Food trucks require oil service, tire rotation, tires replaced, transmission service just like any other vehicles.  Don’t forget to take care of the generator as well.  It is tough to work at an event without electricity.  The tough parts are the repairs…typically they occur when you least expect it.  Many common ones include water pumps burning out, transmission issues, engine issues, flat tires…these usually happen during the busiest times of the year when you’re on your way to a large event.  The cost of the repairs is usually the smaller portion of your cost…you also have a cost due to the loss of the event, labor costs incurred while waiting for assistance, plus the long term relationship that may be damaged due to your food truck not showing up for an important event.  Is there anymore to the food truck business?  Absolutely.

Marketing:  Social media is huge for all businesses today.  It is just as important for the food truck operator to keep their social media current and active; telling their customers and followers where they’ll be each day.  Don’t forget to update that website with this information as well. Again, additional work that supports a successful food truck business.

Personal life outside the food truck:  Whether you’re in the food truck by yourself as a single entrepreneur, teaming up with working partners or have your spouse riding along the side with you to events, somewhere outside of the food truck day, you need to have personal time.  Time is needed to rest, handle family obligations, but more importantly recharge and getting ready for the next day.  If you’re lucky, you get to squeeze in some hobbies, personal development or just hanging out with friends in what limited time you have remaining outside of sleep.  All of the above repeats itself while you juggle the many hats of entrepreneurship.

As a food truck owner/entrepreneur you have to be able to manage all of the supporting pieces of making your business work.  You have to have the support system in place to ensure everything is taken cared of so your food truck is able to run each day.  This system includes your friends, neighbors, business partners, family, spouse…more importantly, other food truck owners.  Who else would have a better understanding of what your day is like than another food truck owner?  Chances are they’re going thru the same fun (chaos) you’re experiencing each day.  They understand the other side of the food truck window: a typical day.

Ray Chow
CFTO (Chief Food Truck Officer)