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So you’ve made the decision be a food truck owner.  Good for you!

This is the critical first, and most important, step in a career that can rewarding on so many levels, not least of which is financially.  And while nothing is for sure, especially in the restaurant business, food trucks are cost effective business solutions for the newbie restaurateur, providing that you’re the type that can handle the uncertainty that comes with the complete autonomy of being your own boss.

While there’s TONS of aspects you’ll need to consider in order to create a good foundation to grow your business, there’s one that can literally sink your business overnight:  permitting.

Wherever you decide to sell your food, you need to get legal..  That means getting familiar with the permits, regulations, and licenses required to run your business in the municipality of your choice.  After all, you’re essentially in charge of a mobile restaurant. Talk to any brick-and-mortar restaurant owner and they’ll tell you of the ridiculous amount of bureaucracy required to run their business.  You’re essentially putting that highly-regulated business on wheels in the eyes of the government.

So today, while we can’t cover specifics on every municipality, we wanted to give you an overall on the thing’s you’ll need to consider as a Food Truck owner in order to get right with the government.

Vehicle Design

Whether you’re buying used or new, or another food truck, you want to make sure that your vehicles design meets code.  From a cleanliness perspective, that means making sure that any vehicle modifications are easily washable.  Cleanliness is where most regulatory agencies focus, so do your due diligence on everything in the truck, and we mean everything, from the walls to the floor, but especially food prep areas and equipment.

Also:  think safety-first.  Nothing is worse than a grease fire in an enclosed space, so make sure that the right fire extinguishers are available (yes, there are different kinds), and emergency exits are plentiful should the need to flee arise.

It’s important to give some thought to this early in the process since it can be extremely expensive to redesign, so it’s always a good idea to call to the city and state departments of health in your area to get an idea on their requirements before you start with any vehicle modifications or design plans.

Business Permits

Besides the regularly required permits for food and health services, you’ll also need to have a business license for your local city and/or county if you’re running a food truck. You can get these at your local City Hall, or at your local county clerk’s office. The fees for your business license are typically under $100. To do so, you’ll need the name of your business or you’ll have to have a DBA which means “Doing Business As” which indicates that you’re running your business under a fictitious name.

Additionally, in many states, the business owners must also register their business with the state tax agency and apply for the required tax permits as a vendor. To apply for the state sales tax permit, you’ll need to consult the local tax office or you can talk to the IRS and follow their instructions. If you plan to hire employee’s, you’ll also want to make sure that you have an Employer Identification Number or EIN. This is a Federal tax Identification number that will identify your business from others. This number will be used on all government forms, tax ID forms, tax returns and other important documents. It helps to keep you from having to use your social security number on all of these documents which could put you at risk for identity theft. If you don’t have any employees, but you do wish to incorporate your company you’ll also be required to have this number. The IRS uses it for many different documents.

The Specifics

Before you ever put your food truck out on the road, you’ll have to have it inspected by health inspectors. The health inspector will be checking for the following:

  • Proof that you own the truck including proper ID and vehicle license.
  • Proof that you have a food manager ID card for the district you will serve.
  • Food purchase storage and record keeping means.
  • Your food truck must also meet or exceed all vending unit operation requirements.
  • A copy of your food license and service support for the vehicle or a recent inspection.

All food vehicles must be properly licensed and inspected annually by the health department. Sometimes this is done randomly to ensure that food trucks are in compliance. They will be given a “cleanliness rating” and the inspector will check to see how the vendor stores the food to avoid spoilage. Food truck inspectors will check the temperature that food is stored at and they will also check any kitchens or garages that are used in relation to said food truck. If these are found to be not in compliance they are subject to further inspections. Always remember that food permits must be renewed in a timely fashion in order to remain compliant. Renewals are mailed out to the last known address on file so always keep your address updated as well.

In order to be safe, always double check the requirements in your local area. Food handlers today must wear disposable food prep gloves and all foods that must be refrigerated must be kept at specific temperatures.

Driving And Parking Requirements

Every city, town and community will have specific zoning restrictions that designate where the commercial and non-commercial zones are. Even though you’re mobile, you aren’t allowed to park where ever you like, you must follow the rules and regulations for your specific area. Most will have areas for buses, food trucks, trailers and carts. You can find a list of these areas at your local county clerks office. Also, keep in mind that you need to park as close to the curb as you can without double-parking. Find out what the other regulations are for your food truck parking as well. If you’re unsure, ask your local motor vehicle department or check the local websites for th especifics. Most won’t allow food trucks to park in school zones or within specific areas during school hours.

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