In Brussels, in recent years, we have seen more and more food trucks. Often fun and colourful, they are based on a well-defined concept and seem like an easy alternative and a first step to opening a small permanent establishment. Easy? Don't be so sure! If you're tempted, read our advice carefully to make sure things run smoothly!
Unless it has an exceptional or non-commercial character (for example, selling brownies at a Christmas market for your children’s' sports club), any itinerant commercial activity will require you to have independent status (and you must prove your basic management skills to the one-stop business counter). However, despite what you might think, it is not necessary to have access to the restaurant and catering profession. In fact, three-quarters of those who have already launched a food truck had no experience in horeca. Unfortunately, this is one of the leading causes of failure: many people underestimate the difficulty of the trade. It is a profession in its own right: it is one thing to prepare food for friends, but it is quite another to serve over 200 people at an event! Consider this and prepare yourself by getting training, which will help you to become more professional.
To be able to sell on the street and in public areas, you will also need an itinerant merchant card for yourself and for anyone working with you or for you. This can be requested from a one-stop business counter.
By food truck, we mean vehicle. This is usually the main investment required to launch this type of business. The offer in Belgium is still extremely limited and not very competitive, many look to France for new, second-hand or rental vehicles. Some even order their vehicle from eastern European countries. As many projects start with small budgets (more than a quarter of food truckers were unemployed before starting their food truck business), the entrepreneur often makes the mistake of choosing a vehicle which is too small, and which will, therefore, never allow them to increase their production.
Fabrice Willot from the Belgian Food Truck Association (FR) says:"For saving purposes, many people choose not to get their “heavy goods vehicle” licence. Now, this restricts them when it comes to choosing their vehicle. This means that, even if they have sufficient space, if they receive a large order for an event they cannot accept it because an extra fridge or a lot of extra stock would take them over the maximum load allowed for their permit".
So, it is important to think big enough when planning the project. If you had a large order, could you fulfil it using your small truck? Could you work with several others if required? Do you have the correct licence? Remember that to purchase and set-up your vehicle, you can benefit from general investment grants from the Brussels-Capital Region (up to 35% of your investment). And there are also subsidies for the purchase of hybrid vehicles and bicycles!
Another common mistake is, in order to save money on equipment, choosing gas (less expensive) as the fuel used for cooking appliances. Yet gas is banned in many places (festivals, urban centres, etc.). If you make this choice, you will limit your sales options! Think carefully about your choices. Another example: many people prefer pizza cooked over a wood fire... but your oven (and therefore your vehicle) will be excluded from festivals and parks!
When preparing your business plan, do not underestimate vehicle-related costs. These are self-evident, such as various taxes, insurances, maintenance, fuel. But have you considered where you will park your food truck during the night? Do you have room at home, or will you need to rent a garage? Will you need an electricity supply during the night? What will the cost of this electricity be? So many questions that you really need to ask yourself - renting a parking space can be very expensive in Brussels!
Hygiene and environment
In your vehicle, you will prepare, cook and distribute foodstuffs. Therefore, you must comply with the AFSCA (Federal Food Safety Agency). This means that you need to apply for a permit, which must be displayed in your vehicle. Above all else, this means that you must respect basic hygiene regulations: vehicle and equipment cleanliness, work plans, possibility of washing your hands with running water, cleaning plan, destruction of insects and pests, respect of the cold and hot chain, etc. If you need more information on these matters, the AFSCA provides free guides and publications, and training is regularly offered by various organisations. And don't think that you won't be checked just because you are mobile: an existing food truck has already been checked 11 times since it began 22 months ago!
If you carry out part of your production outside the truck, make sure that the premises chosen comply with AFSCA standards and make sure that you do not break the cold or hot chains by moving your products from one place to another. You also need to be very careful because, given that it is a professional activity, the premises chosen must be compliant from a planning permit (you cannot open a business just anywhere) and environmental permit point of view (required for certain ovens, extractor hoods, cold rooms, storage, etc.). You should contact the municipality's planning department to find out which permits are required.
Where can you sell?
This is the biggest issue facing food truck owners. Your itinerant merchant card is not adequate if you want to sell in public areas: you will also need authorisation from the municipality where you want to operate (or municipalities if you are considering several locations).
You could try and sell at markets. The problem is that spots are limited, and it is obviously difficult for a newcomer to secure a pitch. Places are generally available on a day-to-day basis and, given the high demand at certain markets (and particularly the “trendiest” markets), they are allocated at random, so it is impossible to plan ahead.
The situation is even more complicated for locations outside markets. Most municipalities, fearing too much competition for "fixed" horeca (which pays taxes to the municipality), are still very opposed to food trucks and impose strict rules on them (no chairs, at least 500m away from an existing establishment, etc.). Others have a more relaxed policy such as the city of Brussels, which decided to select, based on an application (which included information on quality, originality, "typical" nature of the products, etc.), 10 food trucks to have a regular pitch in public places.
Due to these restrictions, most food trucks make most of their turnover at events: festivals (but securing a pitch can be very expensive and difficult to absorb) or private events (birthdays, weddings, business events, etc.). The benefit of the latter is that you know exactly how much to produce, so there are no losses.
Another solution for circumventing the issue of municipal approval is to sell on private sites: car parks of large companies, zoning car parks, etc. This is the time to make the most of your network!
Get your name out there
Just like for any business, you need to spread the word. It is very important to carefully select the products that you are going to sell. Try to stand out from your competitors: if there are already ten food trucks selling burgers, choose something else! Consider seasonal effects: will your offer be the same all-year-round, or do you need to adapt based on the weather?
Then, make the most of social networks to promote yourself; this way your customers will always know where to find you!
In conclusion, plan carefully, study the competition, try and secure sales pitches.