What are the benefits of starting a coffee truck?
There are many benefits to launching your coffee business with a truck rather than a brick and mortar store. Coffee trucks can offer business owners more flexibility and fewer expenses. In addition, your mobile coffee business may be quicker to launch than a traditional coffee shop. More benefits include:
- Lower startup costs
- The ability to go directly to your customers
- Catering capabilities
- Flexible hours
- Profitability potential
- Fewer operational costs
- Opening without being confined by a lease or landlord
- Strong potential for growth
Though the process may be shorter and less expensive, you may find opening a coffee truck isn’t all that different than opening a coffee shop. If you’re interested in pursuing a coffee truck on it’s own (or adding one to your existing coffee business) here’s what you need to know to get started.
How much does it cost to open a coffee truck?
Keep in mind, expenses will vary based on where you live and what’s currently happening in the world. (That could be anything in 2022!) Here’s our ballpark comparison of different types of coffee business start up costs.
- Mobile Coffee Cart: $25,000 to $35,000
- Fixed Coffee Kiosk: $25,000 to $75,000
- Coffee Truck: $50,000 to $125,000
- Parking Lot Drive-Thru Shack or Trailer: $80,000 to $200,000 (not including land)
- Traditional Sit-Down 1,200 Sq/Ft Coffee Shop:$285,000 to $425,000
- Small Cafe Style Restaurant Coffee Shop Hybrid: $400,000 to $675,000
As you can see, cost is one of the major advantages of a coffee truck compared to a cafe or coffee shop. It’s also less expensive to operate, since you’ll be staffing fewer people, working on a smaller footprint with less equipment, and avoiding certain big ticket items–like rent.
Of course, keep in mind: you’re exchanging some expenses for others. Coffee truck owners will have to pay various permits and parking fees. Fuel, obviously, is another cost brick and mortar stores get to avoid.
Can a coffee truck be profitable?
Yes! Just like any coffee business, a coffee truck has the potential to be profitable when operated strategically. That means having a solid business plan, a viable business concept, thoughtful financial projections, and excellent operating procedures. (Here’s a primer on coffee shop costs and finances.)
Coffee and food trucks are on the rise. The good news is that they are on-trend. With the right business concept, you should be able to find a receptive customer base. The bad news is that you probably won’t be the only person in your community to open a coffee truck. With competition, you’ll need to find innovative ways to position yourself in the market.
What should I consider before opening a coffee or food truck business?
It’s important to be realistic before starting any business. Coffee trucks can be a great path to entrepreneurship. But, there are also some downsides to mobile trucks when compared to brick and mortar coffee shops. Here are a few things to consider:
- Be adaptable. You may find yourself at the mercy of factors outside your control. Weather is a something to consider. Events get canceled. Successful truck owners adapt quickly and constantly to the ever changing landscape in where and how you can do business.
- You will need a commercial kitchen or commissary. You can not fill or dump water at your home and be up to most health department’s codes. Also food items might need to be prepared in a commercial kitchen for the same reasons.
- You’re constantly on the hunt for customers, as opposed training people to come to a static location.
- While there are usually financial and time savings on the front end, there can be more hassles and challenges on the back end.
- Electrical and space limitations means you can’t easily have all types of equipment.
- Zoning is an ever changing and ever tricky factor in many cities.
Does that mean a coffee truck can’t be successful? Not at all. Here are some tips to help you set yourself up for success as you launch your business.
How to start a coffee truck business:
Think about your consumer and your concept
Just like any business start-up, you need to start with a specific audience in mind. (That’s the secret to any successful coffee shop.) Knowing your consumer is going to shape your menu, your business strategy, and your overall brand. Are you going to cater coffee and breakfast tacos at private, corporate events? Are you parking with donuts and coffee at prime locations in residential neighborhoods? Will you bring coffee and popsicles to the college campus tailgates?
If you’re a coffee truck, not only do you need to consider your audience, you need to think about how you’re strategically going to be where they are. You’re not choosing a fixed neighborhood like a cafe. It’s important to think about whether you’ll be booking events, catering, or setting up every weekend at a food truck park.
Design your menu and find the right equipment
Your menu is going to shape your equipment needs. You’re working with a small footprint, so you need to be very strategic about your menu design to ensure you’re using your space wisely.
Create a business plan to project your average transaction cost on your menu. Your location or event will drastically change how many customers you serve each day. But luckily, you have the flexibility to change your location strategy. It’s not as easy to purchase new equipment, so make sure to purchase strategically.
Create a loyal customer base
Because food trucks travel, it’s important they develop brand recognition. The best case scenario is that your coffee truck is sought after for events, attracts a long (but efficient) line, or is the first choice at a crowded event.
To build a loyal customer base, you have to start with consistent, quality products. Then, find ways to stay connected. Use social media to let fans know where you’ll be. Show up to the same places consistently. Leverage your network to start hosting events.
This is how you turn one mobile coffee truck into two. (Or, an entire coffee empire.)
Be consistent and efficient
Consistency and efficiency is key to the success of any coffee business. Not only should your customers expect to taste the same, excellent drink every time they visit, they should also expect incredible customer service.
Efficiency is absolutely crucial for food trucks. When you’re showing up to a location for a set period of time, the only way to be more profitable is to serve more customers. First, you’ve got to attract customers. Then, you’ve got to produce their orders quickly and consistently so you can move through the line. Invest in staff and barista training to ensure you know exactly how to most efficiently serve every, single order.
A note on efficiency: When it comes to efficiency, a truck, by nature, is a bottleneck workflow. So, you have to play to your strengths. Look for ways to speed up ticket times by putting a lot of emphasis on drinks you can assemble and serve quickly. Use cold brew coffee and teas as base ingredient in numerous creative signature drinks that don’t require brewing anything to order.
This can speed up your service in big ways and prevent people from jumping out of your line. (It is also very on trend right now.) Some successful former students have trucks that offer primarily cold brew and tea based signature drinks along with other fast pour/assemble hot and cold beverages.
Interested in starting your own coffee business?
Truck, cart, drive-thru, kiosk, coffee shop or cafe–we help students launch them all in our 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class. Learn more about the most comprehensive coffee business training in the industry here.