Here Are the Costs of Starting a Food Truck (and How to Save Money)

Here Are the Costs of Starting a Food Truck (and How to Save Money)
Does starting a food truck cost less than a brick and mortar restaurant? Here's everything you need to know about food truck startup costs!
by Colleen Egan Jun 24, 2021 — 8 min read
Here Are the Costs of Starting a Food Truck (and How to Save Money)

We’ve come a long way from the days of being unsure of street food, with the popularity and diversity of food trucks exploding to become one of the most successful small business ideas over the past decade. Many aspiring business owners in the food and drink industry have turned to them as a lower cost, lower risk alternative to opening a traditional restaurant. And the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing.

Many food truck owners dream that starting a small business can lead to opening their own brick-and-mortar location. A mobile setup is a smart way to try out different locations, test and tweak dishes, and build a loyal following before taking the plunge for real.

Mobile catering often beats its brick-and-mortar equivalent hands down on price. But how much money do you actually need to start a food truck and what are the factors to consider when starting a small business?

Licenses, permits and certificates for a food truck

As with non-mobile restaurants, there are a number of licences and permits included in the food truck startup costs that businesses need to secure before they can start selling. When it comes to the important questions to ask when starting a small business, finding the right permits will save you a lot of future nuisance:

Register your business

Before starting any business, you need to apply for an ABN so that you can legally operate in Australia.

Apply for any patents

If your products are a “first”, you might want to apply for patents so that no one else can use your recipes.

Health & Hygiene

The following are required when operating in Australia:


Always consult with a lawyer to make sure your licences are in line with legal requirements and that your food truck is compliant with other applicable laws and regulations.

The cost of renting vs buying a food truck

The biggest question on your mind is probably how much of your food truck startup costs should you spend on the vehicle itself. This is by far the biggest outlay, but with the right choice and regular maintenance, it could last you for years to come.


How much does it cost to buy a food truck? According to Nisbets, you’ll pay up to $100,000 for a brand new food truck, or you might be able to pick up a second hand one for around $15,000.

Research the lifespan of models you’re considering before you start a food truck and always take your potential purchase for a test drive.


How much does it cost to rent a food truck? Finding out the rental cost for a food truck is somewhat harder. Most sites don’t list prices, offering quotes instead. A Google search for “food truck lease” followed by your location will give you some options to choose from.

Think of your long-term plans with regards to buying or renting. If this is a several-year venture, do you want to be tied to someone else’s restrictions? Plus, you will probably find that buying outright can be cheaper than renting over the long haul. Similarly, if this is a short-term means to an end, is the process of buying and kitting out your own food truck worth it?

Kitchen and serving equipment

If you’re planning to update existing kitchen appliances or equip your truck from scratch, these food truck costs will need to be factored in. For most, equipment to start a food truck should include:


Many food trucks come with the basics, such as plumbed-in sinks — the rest is then up to you. When you’re launching your business and dealing with lots of other food truck startup costs, it might make more sense for you to rent appliances while you figure out what equipment you need.

Startup food inventory

The startup costs for ingredients depend on your menu. You probably have a good idea of the cuisine and menu items you plan to sell already. But gauging demand — and therefore inventory — in your earliest days is going to be part of your overall learning experience as a business owner.

Plan your startup menu with these considerations:


Your answers will hopefully give you an idea of which menu items are suitable and how they should be priced to cover your running costs, reach the break-even point and eventually make a profit.

As with your kitchen equipment, it’s always best to start small and scale-up. Design just a handful of dishes, refine those recipes, research where you can get the cheapest ingredients and practice preparing them without any wastage.

Running costs of a food truck

As well as the set costs of licences, there are other essentials to cover when you start a food truck business. These are the main ones:


How to cut costs for your food truck business

There are so many benefits to starting a food truck business: no more office work, you’ll make a tonne of new connections, you’re out in the open air and you get to cook to your heart’s content.
Worrying over how much starting a small business costs can feel discouraging. But before you cast the dream aside, remember that many small businesses receive some kind of funding to get off the ground — it doesn’t have to all come down to you and your savings. Also, there are ways to push those costs down so that in the long run it’s easier to reach the break-even point.

1. Use versatile, seasonal ingredients.

Instead of having lots of menu items that require different ingredients, opt for a smaller number of dishes that use similar, long-life and seasonal produce. Many food truck businesses opt for variations of one idea. As well as keeping your costs down, you’ll become a low-waste, greener company.

2. Don’t go overboard.

When you’re starting out, err on the side of caution with bought ingredients — it’s better to sell out than watch your money go down the drain. Selling out can even build buzz.

3. Keep it in the family.

Ask for help from family and friends. This won’t be a permanent situation, but it will help you work out a long-term staffing plan and keep initial food truck startup costs down. It can help with your word-of-mouth marketing and there’s free food in it for them.

4. Choose your location wisely.

The cost of a street trading licence varies from state to state and also is different for local councils. Research your options before applying and contact your local council to find out what their rates are. It might be worth driving an hour or two into the next region to save money.

5. Buy in bulk with other food trucks.

Purchasing certain ingredients or supplies in larger quantities with your fellow mobile restaurateur’s pools resources and brings costs down for everyone.

6. Embrace social media marketing.

Websites, online advertising, brochures and advertorials aren’t necessarily expensive, but they do come at a cost. Social media for small businesses on the other hand can be run entirely for free and managed easily during quieter periods.

7. DIY.

If you don’t have design skills yourself, you most probably know someone who does. Use their (free) help to embellish your truck, paint signs and design flyers.

8. Take care of your truck.

Though it may sound simple, regular deep cleans and maintenance checks help avoid major, expensive issues down the line.

9. Compare suppliers.

Whether with your energy supplier or your go-to wholesale food shop, keep your eyes peeled for better deals. By switching or asking providers to match someone else’s prices, you ensure you’re never paying more than you need to.

10. Manage inventory with care.

According to the Food Waste Australian Household Attitudes and Behaviours National Benchmarking Study by the Australian Government, Australians throw away 4.9 kilograms of food each week, per household. For a small business selling food, that’s a huge amount of wastage so you want to make sure you’re only providing customers with what they will eat, and what you can afford. With a Square inventory management system, however, you get a better idea of what’s in stock and when you need to refill so you’re not relying on your gut.

This post is for guidance only and is not intended as legal advice. For financial or legal advice related to your specific business, be sure to consult an independent financial or legal professional.

COVID-19 tips and best practices

Even the most successful small business ideas in Australia falter, especially during a global pandemic. Here are some ways to make sure your business is following safety measures and remaining prosperous post-lockdown:


Though it’s not easy to pin down the exact total cost of starting a food truck, this list of necessities is a resource to kick off your research. Few ventures are “cheap”, but there are always hacks to remove some of the cost barriers and help you on your road to owning one of the best businesses to start in Australia.

Colleen Egan
Colleen Egan writes for Square, where she covers everything from how aspiring entrepreneurs can turn their passion into a career to the best marketing strategies for small businesses who are ready to take their enterprise to the next level.


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