How to Start a Hot Dog Cart Business in 3 Effortless Steps
“Hot dogs! Get your hot dogs here!”
Who has not had a hot dog from a cart or stand at some point in their life? They are easy to eat, convenient, inexpensive, and when done right, delicious!
If you have ever looked at a hot dog cart business and thought, “Hey, I could do that!” then you are right – you probably could! You do not necessarily need a lot of business or cooking experience to run a successful hot dog cart (though it does help), but there are some good things to know before getting into the hot dog cart industry.
Want to know more about how to start a hot dog cart business? Keep scrolling for our guide.
Step 1: Do Your Research
Do I Need Any Licenses or Permits to Open a Hot Dog Cart Business?
Nearly every business requires a business license, but the requirements for one can vary depending on the location of your business. You may also be required to obtain other permits and licenses depending on your area, so check with your county clerk or other local government officials to find out everything you need.
One type of permit your hot dog stand business will likely require is a health department or agriculture permit. Call up your local health department and speak with the individual that does the health inspections for restaurants. They will be able to tell you everything you need to know to obtain your permit, so be sure to listen closely and ask questions. This will likely be the same person who will be inspecting your cart after you have everything up and running, so pay attention – you do not want them shutting you down or charging you fines when trying to get your business off the ground.
What Are Some Skills or Experiences That Will Help You Build a Successful Hot Dog Cart Business?
While you are not required to carry any special kind of credentials to run a successful hot dog business, some skills and experiences may prove valuable.
First, it is important to know how to safely cook and handle food, so food preparation and handling experience is certainly helpful. You may actually be required to pass a food safety course before opening up your hot dog stand business, depending on where you live, so be sure to check with the authorities.
Second, you should be in good physical health. You may be spending long hours out there in the hot sun, so you need to be sure you are physically up for the challenge.
Finally, it is helpful to have good customer service skills. There are typically a lot of other choices around when it comes to buying food, so people may be more drawn to your cart if you are more charismatic and outgoing. And if you manage to develop good relationships with people, they will likely keep coming back.
Step 2: Figure Out Your Costs
What Are the Startup Costs for a Hot Dog Cart Business?
Perhaps the most expensive thing you will buy as a part of your startup costs is the most obvious: your cart. A brand-new food cart typically goes for between $1000 and $3000, but if you are looking to save a little money, you may be able to find a used food cart for around $500.
The other costs are mostly to fill out your mobile food cart: hot dogs, buns, drinks, chips, condiments, toppings, etc. You will also probably need propane for your grill, ice to keep the drinks cold, foil to wrap up the food, somewhere to keep your cash, and napkins and sanitizer to help keep both you and your customers clean.
You will also need extra cash on hand as a hot dog vendor for your operational costs, such as insurance, business license, and permits, rental fees, etc.
Depending on your area, you may not be allowed to prepare your food items at home, so you will also have to rent out a commissary. A commissary is a licensed and inspected commercial kitchen where vendors can legally prepare their food and clean the mobile food cart each day.
Ask your local health inspector if a commissary is required and if they have any recommendations as to where you can rent the space for your food business.
What Are the Ongoing Expenses for a Hot Dog Cart Business?
The ongoing expenses are pretty minimal. You are mainly going to focus on keeping all your food and other supplies and hot dog equipment in stock on your cart and paying the fees for insurance, permits, and perhaps a commissary. Your hot dog cart will require some kind of maintenance at times, like replacing worn parts, but this will hopefully not be on a regular basis.
Step 3: Make a Profit
How Much Can You Make Running a Hot Dog Cart Business?
This depends on many factors, such as the cart’s location, menu items, profit margins, and more. Because of this, estimated annual salaries vary widely, but one survey found that full-time vendors made about $67,400 per year, and part-time food vendors earned about $19,700. Then again, another survey found that some cart owners and food vendors earned up to $164,110 a year! If you know what you are doing, there are many opportunities to make money with a hot dog vending cart.
How Do You Market a Hot Dog Cart?
First, identify your target market. Hot dogs can appeal to both young and old people from all walks of life, so you can really market toward anyone who would appreciate an inexpensive snack or meal. Try and get your cart in a busy area that sees a lot of foot traffic to make your business as visible as possible.
One of the nice things about owning your own business is that you can set your own hours, so use this to your advantage. If you can set your cart up near an arena, for example, make sure you are out there when putting on sporting events or concerts.
A lot of these places mark up their concessions quite a bit, so people who may not be willing to pay the inflated prices may come to you after the game or concert if they are hungry or thirsty.
You can also consider setting up a social media page for your hot dog cart where you can post your hours and location so customers know where they can find you at all times. Also, if you offer specials, make an especially delicious-looking hot dog, or serve someone famous in your area, snap a photo and post it on your page. You may get people actively seeking you out for your hot dogs.
How Much Should I Charge for Hot Dogs?
Do your research and see how much other hot dog vendors are charging for their items to remain competitive. In an arena, they may sell hot dogs for around $6, but it could be closer to $3 on the street. The average price for drinks and chips is usually around $1.50 but again, check with other vendors in the area.
These prices may not seem like much, but profits from a hot dog cart business can be as high as 80%! The net margin may not be so high, though, as you have to take out your overhead like the stand, permits, and insurance, and if necessary, rental fees for a commissary.
Any Other Tips for Jump Starting a Hot Dog Cart Business?
You bet! Here is some other potentially helpful advice:
- Your first day on the job, throw an opening party. Get some balloons and other decorations for your cart and offer some kind of promotion. For example, you can cut up some hot dogs and offer free samples.
- Do contests on social media to encourage people to get out there and find your hot dog cart. For example, you can make a post saying that the first person to get to your cart that shared your social media post on their account will receive a free hot dog. If people share your posts and, by extension, your business, you will reach a wider audience. Best of all, it will just cost you the price of a hot dog!
- Consider offering different kinds of hot dogs and unique toppings to stand out from the competition. For example, vegetarian hot dogs will appeal to those who do not eat meat.
- Rent out your hot dog stand for events. Company barbecues or family birthday parties may be happy to pay for your services for an afternoon. If you are offering delivery and setup free of charge at the rental price, even better!
- Always try and up-sell your customers. For example, if they are ordering a hot dog, ask if they would also like a drink or chips.
- Use the smell of hot dogs to lure people to your cart. Keep them cooking throughout the day as much as possible, even if you have to throw out a few in the process.
For more tips and general help, and advice for your side hustle, read our guide on how to start a business. We will walk you through the steps required for getting your business off the ground.