Editor’s Note: This is part one of a three-part installment of a blog series called “How To Start A Street Food Vendor Business.”
So you want to become a hot dog vendor or a street food vendor? Well, the economy is ripe for street food vendors of all types. What once was considered a “last resort” type of career has seen the likes of doctors, CEOs, veterans, and professionals from all walks of life join the ranks.
Before You Start
Many get excited at this new venture—and rightfully so—but they often make mistakes, run into roadblocks and red tape, or don't consider everything before starting. Like anything worth doing, it's worth doing right. The following steps will lead you on the safe and successful path to professional vending.
STEP ONE: Know What it Takes
Hot dog vending, or any type of street food vending, is hard work. Yes, the pay is great and the hours are short, but it's still work. Not everyone is ready for the prep work, the clean up, and the maintenance the profession requires. Some see dollar signs while imagining selling hot dogs at 90% profit but never consider the work it took to get there.
A safe rule of thumb is scheduling one hour before and after you plan to be selling for prep and clean up. It doesn't sound like much, but after standing in the hot sun, the last thing you may want to do is clean up; however, this will help you to be well prepared and ready for the next day.
A street food vendor must also be self motivated and have good management skills. No one will come over and make you get up and set up for the day; you are self-employed and must be able to direct yourself accordingly. Some people find this a challenge and lack the motivation after they get started.
Along with motivation, a street food vendor must be able to manage the funds coming and going. I've seen vendors who make exceptional incomes to only go broke because they spent every dime they took in. One lady I shared a story about on the Hot Dog Vendor Radio show would have days where she made $800 during lunch and then two days later have no money to buy stock. She once had an amazing weekend and immediately purchased a vehicle that was out of her price range, using all of the income from that one weekend as a down payment.
You must be able to make a budget, understanding that just because you took in $800 for the day doesn't mean it's all profit. You have propane, supplies, food costs, etc. Those items are called your nut, the fixed expenses plus the COGS (cost of goods sold). By planning ahead and keeping good records, you'll be able to set a budget for yourself—the amount you'll pay yourself while reinvesting the rest.
STEP TWO: Due Diligence
I've seen vendors skip the steps, rush out, and buy a cart only to find their new cart doesn't meet the state health guidelines or that the location they assumed they'd use was off limits. It happens, but not if you do the due diligence first.
Check local and county ordinances or codes on vending. What kind of permit is required? Is a variance needed? Can you vend on public property, or does it have to be private property?
Check state health department or agriculture/restaurant division codes. You can usually find these online and can get a rough idea of the features your cart will be required to have, including what foods are considered legal and safe to offer from your cart.
Determine your menu and verify that those items can be served from an open cart.
Determine the cart you would like and submit its schematics to the health department for pre-approval.
Start looking at potential locations.
Be on the look out for the next installment of our “How To Start a Street Food Vendor Business” blog.