Move over, molecular gastronomy. Outta the way, do-it-yourself menus.

According to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot in 2011 survey, 30 percent of chefs consider mobile food trucks to be one of  this season’s hottest operational trend.

It’s not hard to see why. Less expensive, more flexible and (potentially) less time-consuming than a traditional bricks-and-mortar restaurant, food trucks also ride the wave of increasing market demand for quick-service food. And although Canada is somewhat behind the food-truck trend, which really caught on in the US in the summer of 2009, the mobile lunch biz is catching on in this country slowly but surely, with trucks starting to roll in Hamilton, St. Catharines and Jordan, and a food truck festival slated for Toronto in early July.

Of course, these are no ordinary greasy-food roach coaches: the new lunch trucks sell everything from cupcakes to grilled cheese to Montreal-style smoked meat.

Want to hop on board the mobile trend? Think you’ve got a great idea for a lunch truck?

Take a look at our tips for opening a successful mobile food business.

  1. Come up with a great (portable) idea. Lunch trucks in the US sell everything from banh mi to bulgogi to escargots, taking their cue both from the great street food of the world and high-end traditional restaurants. Come up with something no-one else is doing, and you’ll be a step ahead of the (eventual) crowd. Test your concept on your projected target market and see whether it’s something people will actually eat.
  2. Consider buying used equipment. Yes, you can buy a shiny new truck for $100,000—but if you’re budget-minded, you can retrofit a used vehicle for between $20,000-$40,000. Just make sure you’re able to accommodate the equipment you’ll need; if you’re running a gourmet fry-truck, for example (like the guys at Frysmith), you’re going to need extra fryers. If you’re planning on serving rotisserie chicken—well, you probably get the point.
  3. Do your research. Get the permits and inspections, figure out the rules about parking, decide what safety measures you might need. Get all this in place before your truck gets rolling and you’ll avoid hassles and potentially expensive delays.
  4. Find a good location. Scouting a good location can be challenging, especially if you’re breaking into an established marketplace or trying to set up close to other eating facilities. Often, renting space on private property—like parking lots—can help you avoid regulatory red-tape (this is what Zane Caplansky did with his deli truck, which is set to get rolling this summer).
  5. Use social media. If you’re going to be rolling into different locations throughout the day and week, use social media tools like Twitter and Facebook to keep your followers updated.
  6. Think outside the box for extra appeal. Paint or wrap the top of your truck with your info so people in office towers looking down from the seventeenth floor know what you are and where you’re parked. Serve frogs’ legs and sweetbreads. (Yes, it’s been done. But not often.)
  7. Cut your energy costs. While food trucks may be less expensive to run than bricks-and-mortar restaurants, they aren’t necessarily energy efficient—unless you get creative. Consider using your used fryer oil instead of gasoline or diesel to run your engine—this kind of retrofit is becoming more and more popular (read: affordable), especially in the US, where food trucks like Frysmith’s recycle their deep-frying oil for fuel. You can also install solar panels on the roof of your truck (like Sunny Vibrations in San Francisco) to power small appliances like toasters and blenders and take some of the load off your generator.

For more information, check out our post about southern Ontario’s budding food truck scene.

Have you had experience with mobile food trucks? Share your story in the comments.

Image credit: ricardodiaz11