Truckin’ Tasty Food In TN: Your Ultimate Guide To Food Trucks In Tennessee

Food trucks are the latest craze, and they’re a craze that’s not going anywhere. Food trucks are popping up all over the country, offering tasty eats from local vendors who want to get their name out there.

The concept of a mobile restaurant has been around for years, but it wasn’t until recently that people started realizing just how much fun this could be.

There are many types of food trucks, each with its own specialty. Some specialize in selling sandwiches or pizza, while others sell tacos or even cupcakes. In Tennessee, food trucks can be found on the streets, at festivals, parks, fairs, and other locations where there are crowds of hungry people looking for good eats. 

Truckin' Tasty Food In TN: Your Ultimate Guide To Food Trucks In Tennessee

We’ve got the lowdown on what it takes to start a food truck business in TN, including getting permits and licenses, finding a location, and more.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about starting a food truck business in Volunteer State.

How To Start A Food Truck Business In Tennessee 

A food truck is essentially a mobile kitchen. They serve food from a vehicle, usually parked somewhere that is near a crowd of people. The food comes straight off the truck, so customers can eat it as soon as they order it.

They’re also popular because they give vendors an opportunity to showcase their products without having to build a permanent structure.

Starting a food truck business in Tennessee can be highly profitable. However, before you go creating plans for your food truck, you need to consider a couple of factors. You need to know what type of business you want to run, and what competition you have. In fact, it’s crucial to know three things:

  1. What type of food is popular within Tennessee?
  2. Are there already vendors making this food?
  3. How can you make it different?

Having a great idea for a food truck is not enough to be successful, because there could be competition who have the exact same idea. You need to make sure that you have a clear unique selling point so that the great people of Tennessee will choose your food truck. 

In Tennessee, there’s an abundance of popular food items and cuisines. These include barbecue, pizza, tacos, sandwiches, burgers, and much more. And while many of these foods are available in restaurants, they aren’t always convenient or affordable.

So, if you want to open a food truck in Tennessee, you’ll need to specialize in one particular cuisine. 

When deciding which food to offer, think about what types of people visit your area. For example, if you live in Nashville, then catering to tourists would probably be a better option than catering to locals.

If you do decide to cater to locals, make sure that your menu has something special for them. For instance, you might add some Nashville-style hot sauce to your menu. 

Create A Plan For Your Food Truck Business

Next, in order to create a successful food truck business in Tennessee, you need to create a plan of action. 

Never underestimate the power of a plan. Some people think that they can start a business with just a goal, and some creativity. This isn’t true. A business is much more than that, and you need to be exactly sure of your targets and aims.

While it’s normal to have setbacks and changes, you also need to think about solution plans for anything that could go wrong, to ensure your business can survive. 

In order to create a plan for your food truck, you should think about the following things (note, this is not a definitive list, but it will give you an overview of the types of subjects you should assess). 

  1. Your location. Where will you park your food truck? Will it be in one set location, or travelling?
  2. Your equipment. You don’t necessarily need to buy everything at once, but you do need the basics. 
  3. Your menu. Think about what kind of food you’re going to sell, and what makes it different.
  4. Your marketing strategy. Is there any type of promotion that you can use? Do you need to invest in advertising?
  5. Your website. Create a site that tells customers about your business, and how to contact you.
  6. Your social media presence. Make your page on Facebook look professional, and keep it updated regularly.
  7. Your budget. You need to know all of your expenses, and how long it will take to make a profit.
  8. The legal side of running a food truck. It’s important to get all the necessary licenses and permits.

These are just a couple of factors to consider, but it’s a great starting point to get a concise idea of the business.  

Register Your Business

To start your food truck business, you first need to register it. It’s pretty easy to register a business online, but you will need to prepare documents and have to pay a substantial fee.

Once you’ve registered your company, you need to fill out a form called the Employer Identification Number (EIN), which you can obtain from the IRS. Once you’ve done this, you can apply for a tax identification number. 

Get A Food Truck And A Commercial Space

Get A Food Truck And A Commercial Space

While food trucks can travel anywhere, a permit is required to park and sell food in specific places. This means you will have to check the locations you want to set up shop and see whether they require a permit. Generally speaking, it’s near impossible to find a place that does not require a permit, so be prepared for the fees. 

There are a couple of factors to consider before choosing a location: 

  1. Does the location frequently get a lot of tourists, locals, or a mixture? Is it a popular location? 
  2. Are there any other food trucks in this area? 
  3. If so, what do they sell? How is your business different?
  4. Is your target audience in this area? 

Part of owning a successful food truck business, making sure the location is right. The location might seem great, but none of your target audience visits that location. Or, there might be dozens of local vendors in that area that are selling the same product. It’s vital that food truck owners find a location that can generate profit. 

Obtain The Necessary Operating Permits And Licenses

Providing that you have registered your business, you can start applying for licenses and permits.

There are two main types of licenses required by law: food safety licenses, and local health department licenses. Both of these require a separate application process.

In order to operate a food truck in Tennessee, you must hold a food handler’s certificate. This license allows you to serve and sell food. If you want to sell alcohol, you will need to obtain a liquor permit. However, this generally isn’t accepted in Tennessee, so business owners for the most part can skip this step. 

Obtain Food Truck Insurance

It’s also imperative that you purchase food truck insurance. This is an essential part of operating a food truck business. Without proper insurance, you could face serious financial issues if anything were to happen to your vehicle.

Food truck insurance covers damages caused by accidents, theft, vandalism, fire, loss of ingredients, and more. Auto liability insurance is one type of coverage available through insurance companies, and it protects the vehicle against accidents.

General liability insurance is also crucial for all food trucks. It protects the business from property damage and bodily injury, as well as the food sold. If someone burns themselves from touching a hot surface, general liability insurance will protect the business. 

How Much Does A Food Truck Cost In Tennessee?

Costs vary depending on the size of the truck, the equipment, and the location.

Generally speaking, there are three different types of food trucks you can buy: 

  1. A new food truck. Buying a new food truck could cost you from $70,000 to $150,000. They’re incredibly expensive, but they are modern and contain updated kitchen equipment. 
  2. A second-hand food truck. This is a popular option because it’s much cheaper than the former. Food trucks that are second-hand can range anywhere from $20.000 to $70.000 — but it depends on how modern the truck is.
  3. The last option is to rent a food truck. It’s great for those who are just starting their business and can’t afford to currently buy a truck. It’s also great for people to see whether the food truck business is really for them. Renting a food truck can cost between $2,000 and $4,000 a month. 

It’s difficult to give an accurate estimation of how much a food truck will cost because there are many variables to be considered. It goes without saying, but the more modern the food truck is, the more it will cost. 

Can Food Trucks Sell Alcohol In Tennessee?

Can Food Trucks Sell Alcohol In Tennessee?

Generally speaking, no, food trucks cannot sell alcohol in Tennessee. 

There are very few exceptions to this rule, but it is not common. The law does not allow for food truck, or mobile business owners to sell alcohol currently.

The exceptions are private events, such as a wedding, when the food truck is not available to the public — only the event itself. 

There are some special events — like fairs, that allow for vendors to sell alcohol. However, business owners need to apply for a special event permit, and this is not always granted. 

Food Truck Inspection Checklist For Tennessee

It’s important that business owners are prepared for any inspection. If inspections are failed, businesses will not be allowed to legally sell food to the public. 

Here are a couple of factors to consider when preparing for a truck inspection in Tennessee:

  • Is there proper ventilation?
  • Is there adequate lighting?
  • Are there trash cans and recycling bins?
  • Do employees wear gloves?
  • Are cleaning supplies accessible?
  • Are the floors clean?
  • Is the kitchen fully equipped with cooking tools?
  • Does the food truck have a current health certificate?
  • Is the ceiling stable?
  • Is there enough storage space?
  • Does the exterior look safe?
  • Is the interior clean?

Note this is not a finalized or definitive list.  

Food Truck Fire Inspection Checklist For Tennessee 

If a food truck catches fire, it should be inspected by a professional fire inspector immediately.

It is expected that all food trucks will undergo a fire inspection checklist, and in Tennessee — like all states, this is a yearly inspection.

Here are a couple of things to consider when preparing for a fire inspection:

  • Has the fire extinguisher been checked recently?
  • Have the emergency exits been tested recently?
  • Is the roof structurally sound?
  • What about the electrical system?
  • Does the exhaust fan work properly?
  • Does the air conditioning unit function correctly?
  • Are there smoke alarms installed?
  • Is the fire alarm functioning?
  • How do you keep your food hot?
  • Are there any hazards near where customers eat?
  • Is the floor free of grease, oil, etc.?

Note that this is not a finalized or definitive list.  

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Is The Best Way To Start My Own Food Truck Business In Tennessee?

Start small. You don’t want to invest too much money into one career if you’re just starting out.

Should I Quit My Job To Start A Food Truck Business? 

If you already have a full-time job, you may want to think about getting a part-time job. This way you can save up money and see whether the food truck business is for you. 

What Type Of Food Is Popular In Tennessee?

Tennessee has a variety of different cuisines, so there is something for everyone here. In addition to traditional American fare, you’ll find Tex Mex, Italian, Asian fusion, and more. 

 Summary 

Tennessee has a lot of potential for entrepreneurs looking into starting a food truck. There are several types of food truck businesses to choose from, and each one offers its own unique benefits and challenges. 

Whether you’re looking to start a new career, or simply want to try out a side hustle, you’ll find something here to help get you started.

Denise Jones