STARTING A FOOD CART BUSINESS
How to Start A Food Cart Business – Food is an important aspect of human life. We cannot do without food – in fact, it is a basic necessity. As long as we are alive, we must eat. From the white collar worker who has been at his desk working his socks off for hours and is hungry, to the young student who has been sitting in the classroom attending his lectures and needs to take a break to eat, or the hungry bricklayer who is taking a break or has finished his shift for the day, or the house wife who’s bored from her daily routine and decides to take a walk on the streets and in the process gets hungry, we all as humans need food to keep us going.
That hungry white collar worker is in all likelihood not going to go to his home from the office just to get a meal; neither is the young student attending lectures. They would preferably go to a nearby place to eat; these nearby places include restaurants, eateries and food carts. The importance of these places cannot be understated.
As long as humans roam the earth, there will always be a market for food vending. Having said that, here are some factors, in no particular order, which should be taken into the consideration for a successful operation of a food cart business:
Capital: As with any business about to start-up, capital is of utmost importance, and there’s no fixed formula as to how much that might be. You should make a list of everything you will need, all tailored to meet the specific product you want to offer. Some basic equipment which should be included in the start-up costs are commercial kitchen, cutlery, cooking utensils, generating set (for larger operations), food and ingredients.
Location: The fact that everybody must eat shouldn’t undermine the fact that a good location matters. A thorough examination of where you intend to sell you products is important. You should also consider the prime hours for each potential location and of course, the competition. If you’re going to be mobile, you should have a fixed route to maintain your customer base.
Personnel: There is no binding rule as to how many people you need to run a food cart business, but it all starts with one person which is you. You have to take into consideration the size of your business and the size of your market. As the business grows, you have to put in place the system and machinery which will allow you to step away from the day-to day operations. If you cannot do this, then you have a job, not a business.
Licensing: Cities have various requirements, but the basics are food/health licensing (NAFDAC), business licencing and parking licensing as the case may be. You should also register with the local union if there’s one. Every city has its policies so contact your local government to get the facts.
Advertising: In this present age, social media like Twitter and Facebook can play a big role in advertising your product. But word of mouth is by far and away, the best method of advertising. If you offer good products, your customers wouldn’t need any convincing to tell their friends, relatives and colleagues about that new place they’ve been having their meals. So it is important you make a good first impression because you only have one shot at that.
Finding a niche: Be unique. Do some researches into what people in your area who are in the same line of business are already into and then come up with your own creation. This could include menu, setup and appearance, and interaction with customers. You should stand out from the crowd. ‘Packaging’, as Nigerians would say, is important. You should find a brand, develop it, and stick to it.
Commercial kitchen: Decide where you will prepare the food. As a start-up, especially if it is a small setup, it is conceivable that you could prepare the food from your home kitchen. But if the business grows to an extent where it is no longer feasible to prepare the food from your home kitchen, renting a space for the food preparation should be an option. Large operations or those that plan to expand should factor this into their start-up costs
Menu: When selecting a menu, these under listed questions are important:
What do you know how to cook?
What foods do you enjoy cooking?
What foods are popular in your town, area or city?
What foods are easy to transport to and from an off-site commercial kitchen?
What can you prepare and/or heat up without much difficulty?
What food(s) are ideally suited for your culinary expertise or allow you to try creative new recipes?
What foods can customers easily carry around with them?
What food(s) are potentially cost effective for you to sell?
What foods are not being sold at 100 other food carts, kiosks or mobile caterers in your area?
What times of day will you be open for business? Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Late night? All of the above?
For a food cart owner, it is important to have a limited or small menu as opposed to an extended menu which one would find in say, a restaurant. This will enable you focus and improve on whatever it is you decide to dole out. It is an opportunity to get known for a particular item. You are better off being known to have a small menu which you excel at, than for having an extended menu with low standard – quality over quantity! Nevertheless, a savvy owner knows it’s all about the customer, not his or her personal tastes and opinions. Don’t be self-possessed. Be open to opinions other than your own.
On a final note, start out small if you can and build from there. When things get some momentum you can start looking to expand.