When a quick lunch is needed, many head down to the street to pick up a hot dog. Made with the works, it can be a fun and filling way to eat while on the go. If you want to know how to start a hot dog cart business, you’ll need to do more than know how to cook hot dogs and own a cart from which to sell them. You’ll need to determine what legal issues you’ll need to navigate in order to sell food in your community in the first place.
The problem with running a hot dog cart business is this: it is illegal in most parts of the world. It may be legal in larger cities and urban areas. Before investing the thousands of dollars that is required on equipment and inventory, determine if you can even open up your business in the first place. You may be forced to lease a permanent commercial location instead. Then you’ll be ready to follow these additional steps.
1. Make sure that you meet all local health codes.
If you are able to operate a hot dog cart in your community, then you can be certain that local health officials are going to be keeping a close eye on you. There are rules regarding how food can be stored, handled, cooked, and thawed. There are also rules in place regarding the sanitation of your equipment, including all surfaces of your cart. Know these rules by heart in case you receive a surprise inspection.
2. Keep personal protective equipment in stock at all times.
Because there’s a good chance that your hot dog cart isn’t going to come with a complete sink, you’ll need to make sure your PPEs are always in stock. This means protective gloves, hair nets, beard guards, or facial masks depending on local rules. You may need to change gloves with every customer. Plot out this cost and add it to the cost of the hot dog so you don’t lose money.
3. Secure your commissary if it is required.
Most communities that allow for a hot dog cart are going to require that you run your business out of a commissary. Licensed commercial kitchens that will rent out space to you every day to cook your hot dogs can sometimes be difficult to find. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce to see if they have a small business incubator with a commercial kitchen that could be used.
4. Remember that a business license does not give you actual permission to run your business.
A business license is just a paid document that you receive that indicates you’ve registered your business so it can operate. It doesn’t actually give you permission to operate. What you’ll need to do with a hot dog cart is make sure your equipment meets all health codes and that where you choose to sell your products is in line with local zoning requirements. Many communities limit signage and violations of any of these requirements could result in your business being shut down.
5. Develop a solid business plan.
What will set you apart from all of the other food vendors around is a specific plan of action that you plan to follow. It’s more than just your legal structure, ownership percentage, or ability to hire employees because you have an tax ID number. It’s about anticipating future problems, how to solve them, and what you’ll do to continue building revenues. Make sure to keep track of your accounting because many jurisdictions reserve the right to inspect your books at any time.
6. Scout for an excellent location.
There’s a difference between having a high-traffic location and a high-traffic easily accessible location. 20,000 vehicles might drive by a street corner, but people don’t generally get out of their car at a red light to purchase a hot dog. You need to be accessible enough for foot traffic, yet visible enough for street traffic to pull of and pick up lunch if they want it.
7. Only serve the best products.
The flavor of a hot dog is very subjective. What you like might not be what everyone else likes. Have your family and friends try several varieties to see what the best happen to be. If you have a local butcher, consider a wholesale relationship that will let you both make money since local products are usually more attractive to buyers. Take the best, only serve the best, and you’ll have a good experience.
Make sure you have a secure place to store profits, sign up with a credit card processor if necessary, and keep your cart clean. In doing so, you’ll know how to start a hot dog cart business.
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