How to start a food truck in the UK

Food trucks are an exciting new category in hospitality and can offer you a lucrative way to make money anywhere on the open road. Find out how to start a food truck business in this article.

We’ll outline the basics of what you need to know to get set up and ready to start serving the lunchtime rush, including:

  • How to set up your business legally
  • How to develop a menu
  • Dietary safety, preferences and allergens
  • How to advertise your new business
  • How to engage your target customers
  • How to budget for your business and manage your finances

Get ahead and grow your business faster using our guide for new food truck entrepreneurs and learn how you can save hundreds of hours back from your admin using accounting software solutions like Countingup.

How to set up your business legally

As a new hospitality entrepreneur, you’ll need to do three things to set up your new business: declare your new income to HMRC, meet the safety requirements for food establishments in your local area and have a driving licence for the food truck you plan to use. We walk you through each below.

Set up your business 

Starting a business is an exciting time for new entrepreneurs, and you have a few different options when establishing your business legally. Whatever route you choose is necessary as you’ll be able to declare the new income you’re receiving and pay any tax on your profits.

One of the quickest ways to become a sole trader: all you have to do is register for Self Assessment with HMRC. As you apply, you’ll need to verify who you are and disclose some information about your new business, like where you’re based and what your business is called. If you’d like help with this process, including how to avoid legal trouble from using someone else’s business name, read our article How to register as a sole trader.

As a food truck, you may need an extra set of hands. While you can hire people as a sole trader, it’s typically done through a limited company. Learn more about the different advantages and restrictions each option might present to your business’ future in our article How to set up your business: Sole trader or limited company.

Getting food business licences before you operate

Whatever method you choose in setting up your business, you’ll need to register with your local authority for a food business licence as a new food provider. This step is vital as you’ll need to meet the requirements for food hygiene. Registering is free but make sure to register at least 28 days before opening to avoid fines or other legal trouble from operating an unregistered food business.

Driving licence

Depending on which size of food truck you plan to use, you will need a category B drivers licence at a minimum. This will allow you to tow something to your car, although it does come with restrictions. You may need to upgrade your licence to drive larger vehicles in category C or D (like an adapted minivan for your food truck). Find out more information on upgrading your licence on the website or via our article for HGV drivers where we cover a similar topic.

How to develop menu items

While the early days of your product development might involve lots of fun taste tests, there’s lots more to food in the hospitality sector – especially the practicalities of scaled-up production and storage while you drive to new locations. 

That’s not to say taste and presentation aren’t important, of course, but modern consumers are looking for other elements in their food purchases. We’ve outlined the basic steps to develop your menu below. 

Step 1: Experiment and perfect your recipes 

As a business, your aim is to make money, and with food products, you have two options: make customer favourites that everyone loves and/or experiment with new recipes to invite customer attention. Food trucks are in the perfect position to blend these two methods as typically younger and city-orientated customers are always seeking new dishes to try.

Even if you already have several popular recipes at the ready, you’ll now need to perfect how they can scale when making larger quantities. Make sure to record your ingredients and processes accurately. When developing an entire menu, you may wish to simplify your on-site cooking process by creating base ingredients that customers can mix and match with sauces, dips and more.

Step 2: Measure how long your goods can last 

When simplifying your menu items, particular food groups like rice, pasta and bread or sauces can be prepped ahead of time. While this can save you time when serving customers, you’ll need to have an idea of how they’ll last in storage by placing use-by dates. Regardless of what you’re making, this applies to cooked and uncooked foods. For example, pre-chopped vegetables and meats.

Luckily as a food truck business, this will mainly be a concern for you and your staff. Given food truck businesses are aimed at making takeaway food, you won’t have to worry as much about communicating best before dates to customers. This isn’t to say you should disregard letting customers know, simply, focus on understanding what you or your team need to know.

If you’re new to food preparation, storage, and temperature requirements, the UK’s Food Standard Agency has support available on hygiene and storage, along with online training courses.

Step 3: Plan how you’ll deliver or serve it to customers

This final step concerns how you’ll present your food to customers at the roadside. 

In particular, you may want to consider how to keep your dishes at the correct temperature and safe from spillages/leakages. While your meals may still be perfectly safe to eat on arrival, customers may be disappointed with food items that look different or have lost their temperature so quickly. Consider investing in grease-proof and secured packaging that help your meals last while your customers can enjoy them.

Dietary safety, preferences, and allergens

We’ve already discussed how you’ll need to make sure your food items are safe once they’re made with use-by dates. However, some customers have additional dietary needs and preferences. 

In general, you’ll need to make sure all your ingredients have gone through the necessary safety checks beforehand and are stored appropriately once they arrive. Depending on the cuisine you make, dangers from certain food groups will be more relevant. For example, if you use eggs in your products, they should be tested for salmonella. Similarly, you’ll need to avoid cross-contamination of different meat products as well as making sure the minimum cooking temperature for each is reached. Note that, depending on which location your food licence grants, these minimum cooking temperatures vary across the UK.

Unfortunately, allergies present as a serious concern for food businesses. As you’re preparing food, you’ll need to make sure that cooking surfaces and allergen ingredients are kept separate – even considering the air surrounding your ingredients as they’re being prepared. Where your dishes have certain allergens, you’ll need to label them as such in order to keep customers safe. Similar courtesies for vegan/vegetarian and halal customers should also be followed in order to give your new business a good reputation.

Crucially, if you can’t guarantee that your meals are completely free of allergens from when they were made (especially nuts), it’s best to err on the side of caution and declare trace amounts to customers. The Food Standards Agency has advice and training on allergens for new food businesses available online.

How to advertise your new business

Food businesses have lots of flexibility in how they’ll advertise to customers and every opportunity should be taken to grow your business.

You should consider using platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok to show off your tasty dishes and circulate advertisements relatively cheaply. As you’re starting out, you can begin taking simple photographs and videos of your food items to share and refine your social media marketing from there. Learn more about using social media in our guide How to use social media for business and learn how reaching out to local food bloggers and reviewers can build brand awareness.

Food truck business owners should also be careful to use their packaging as a means of advertising. Whether this advertising medium comes as customers simply being seen to eat your tasty dishes while on the go or back at the office, or from social media posts, strong branding with colours and logos can help you stand out easily. 

Read more about different advertising methods in our article How to advertise a small local business.

How to engage your target customers

If your business is to be successful, you need to know your target customers well. Even if you’re already advertising on social media and building a decent following, identifying ways to speak directly to the people most interested in your business is vital. As previously mentioned, more targeted advertising like food influencers and local advertising can be used.

To know more about what sort of customers might enjoy the food you plan to make, and how to advertise to them effectively, you’ll need to conduct market research. Find out how to do this and more in our article What is a target market and how to define yours

Once you have your target market established, you’ll then need to use this information effectively in order to build your business. Learn more about marrying your target market information to your business advertising in our article How to create a marketing strategy for small businesses.

How to budget for your business

Food truck businesses can be very expensive to start but offer a lucrative method for profit once you’re set up. In order to get your business established, you’ll need an informed and well-researched budget. Budgeting for business is a fairly standard practice, which is why we’ve got advice available in our article How to budget for starting a business

Food truck businesses need to pay close attention to their overall profits. While new businesses often lose money for their first few months while they set up, they manage to grow to a size where they make a profit again. However, many hospitality businesses operate on thin profit margins. It’s therefore vital to understand how strategy and investment changes to your business affect your profits later on. Learn how to calculate your business’ profit rates with our article How to calculate profit margin.

As a way of targeting high-traffic areas for your business, you should consider operating near office spaces, event days in your local area, culinary festivals and public areas like parks and beaches. You may need to apply for licences or permits ahead of time in order to attend some. Therefore, you’ll need to do your research on the opportunities available to you.

Keep your finances organised easily with a simple app

When starting a business, bookkeeping can seem like a daunting subject – especially if you’re unfamiliar with accounting practices and tax compliance standards. 

However, built for small business owners, the Countingup app makes it easy with its two-in-one business account and accounting software. The Countingup app automates time-consuming bookkeeping admin, giving you more time to focus on growing your business, meeting customer demand and finessing your advertising.

With automatic expense categorisation, receipt capture tools and live cash flow insights, you can confidently keep on top of your business finances and save yourself hours of accounting admin, so you can get back to doing what you do best. Find out more here.