Modern Day Meals on Wheels The Food Truck Surge, 0918 SCBJ, SC Lawyer, September 2018, #42

AuthorJane Downey and Richard Capps, J.
PositionVol. 30 Issue 2 Pg. 42

Modern Day Meals on Wheels The Food Truck Surge

Vol. 30 Issue 2 Pg. 42

South Carolina BAR Journal

September, 2018

Jane Downey and Richard Capps, J.

A red and yellow umbrella and table connected to a savory smelling hot dog cart, the reminiscent jingle that sends children with change running to the street to buy popsicles from the ice cream truck or even the site of construction workers taking a well-deserved break on a cold day to buy coffee and burgers from roach coaches illustrate images of the original food truck. Like most long lasting good ideas, the food cart has evolved over time into the modern day food truck. Food trucks, typically painted bright colors and with somewhat odd names, cater to all and offer "to go" size meals ranging from fast food to a large variety of gourmet foods, typically priced inexpensively due to lower overhead than most fixed locations. Busy families appreciate and often prefer picnic style food trucks to fast food restaurants. Executives crave variety over formal white tablecloth lunches or eating at one's desk. Others appreciate food variety at events.

Visibly parked vehicles linger in the front of commercial parking lots or designated food truck lots, sometimes called rodeos, or they may travel to the connoisseur such as for parties or special events. Food trucks can offer such good food, people download mobile applications to find the truck. The most popular food trucks provide local, unique and healthy meals at an affordable cost, and customers have been known to spend more at food trucks than a similar casual restaurant.1 With free advertising and low overhead, many are riding the trend of operating a food truck.

Who is driving

Any person or approved business association ranging from a sole proprietorship to a non-profit organization may own a food truck. Anyone wishing to run a food truck should discuss with an attorney and tax professional about the best business formation and record such with the IRS and Secretary of State. Once established, a food truck, just like brick-and mortar restaurants, is governed by local ordinances, food safety regulations, insurance issues, employment issues and the variable other costs of running a business in the food service industry.

Selecting the drive

Before building a food truck, operators must either spend the money on a ready-made food truck or purchase a truck and convert it on their own, while complying with all pertinent rules and regulations. Ready-made food trucks can cost anywhere from $20,000 to upwards of $150,000, depending on size and capability. While this might seem costly, buying a ready-made food truck typically is cheaper than purchasing an entire brick-and-mortar facility or even signing a long term commercial lease. Furthermore, a ready-made truck reduces the risk of liability found with a converted truck satisfying all the pertinent regulations. The average cost of startup is roughly $100,000, with the majority of the cost going towards the truck and equipment.2 Therefore, hiring professionals familiar with commercial trucks, and hopefully food trucks, to inspect the vehicle prior to any purchase is a roadworthy idea. In addition, before getting on the road, be sure to comply with the applicable rules of the road including regulations.

Chapter 9-1 §§ F-L details construction requirements, water and wastewater requirements, sewage issues, and cooking and servicing area requirements.3 The stringent standards are often why buying a pre-made food truck and inspecting it to ensure it complies might be both easier and cheaper. While the regulation expresses a few exceptions and states the Department may modify specific requirements upon request, if they believe no health hazards will exist,[4] a prospective food truck owner should not hope for a unique exception but should attempt to satisfy all applicable chapters of Regulation 61-25.

Operating as a business

Opening a restaurant requires skill as a chef, attractive menus and atmosphere, shrewd business sense, and the ability to manage a fast-paced operation. Hours of operation must be established with regularity for customers to know when they can eat. This requires a menu applicable to the time of day in service. While food trucks operate on a much smaller scale than most restaurants, operating a food truck requires similar proper planning and preparation. Often the trucks will have 1-3 employees, including the owner. The overhead cost of the operation is much lower, which could be what drives someone to start a food truck over a restaurant. Food truck operators do not have to pay rent or purchase a building, although they do have to have a vehicle, proper insurance and, depending on their size, workers' compensation coverage.

Choosing a location

Many cities and counties have ordinances relating to where and...

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