How to Start a Food Truck Business in South Africa

This article discuss the basic steps to start a food truck business in South Africa and is written by our CEO, a former successful food truck owner. We will look at the legalities, menu design and much more. We also invite you to join our free webinar!

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Written by: Mthokozisi Nkosi (CEO and founder of ASC Consultants)

Food truck businesses have exploded onto the South African scene during the last few years, and for good reason! I’ve seen firsthand the excitement and potential this industry offers.

More and more people, impacted by the economic realities, are asking me: “How can I turn my food truck dream into a reality?” The desire for a fresh start, a chance to be your own boss, and the freedom to share your culinary passion – it’s no surprise this resonates. Let me tell you, with the right approach, your food truck journey can be more than just a hobby; it can be a thriving business.

In this article, I’ll draw on my experience as a successful food truck owner and share everything you need to know about launching your South African food truck venture. We’ll navigate the legalities, explore smart menu planning, and equip you with the tools to navigate this exciting world.

I’m not a food truck owner anymore, but I still fondly remember my food truck endeavour. So, buckle up and get ready to turn up the heat on your food truck dreams!

My team at ASC Consultants regularly presents a free webinar providing helpful information to small food business owners. You are welcome to join our very popular free live webinar if you still have questions after reading this article.

How to Start a Legally Compliant Food Business

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Many successful businesses have been started by emerging food business entrepreneurs without any background in food businesses. One of the easiest businesses to start is a Food Truck. Food trucks offer a particularly accessible entry point with lower overhead costs compared to traditional restaurants.

My Journey

Like many entrepreneurs, I took the plunge and started my own food truck business with a friend who was a very good cook, specialising in traditional Xhosa food. We named our business Xhosa Xulture.

To be honest, it was hard work and took a lot of perseverance. More than I anticipated, but it was worth every single minute. I was mostly responsible for operations and financial management as I am not much of a cook. It was quite an experience!

To start, we made contact with event organisers in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth). In our case, we contacted the Baakens Valley Food Truck Friday organisers, who then asked us to bring a sample of our food to a tasting panel.

To our advantage, we wanted to sell traditional Xhosa food that no one else was selling at the time. The organisers were impressed with our menu and the food and approved us to be part of the market. Once that was ticked off, we then went back to real work.

I have outlined a few steps below one can follow based on my personal experience.

Do you want to know the basic steps to start a legally compliant food business in South Africa? CLICK HERE

Step 1: Determine Your Target Market

Traget Market

It is important to outline your target market and check if anyone else is doing what you are doing. After that, if you have competitors, visit them, taste their food (preferably go with someone you are sure will give you an honest opinion), and make notes. This is important!

You do not want to enter a saturated market and be worse than the businesses already trading. We learned quite a lot from this exercise. We saw how our competitors package their food, the portions they serve and how they present their food. Most importantly, TASTE! Once this is done, compare your notes and discuss how you can improve.

Step 2: Formulate Recipes and Cook Up a Storm!

Our second step was to cook up a storm! We experimented with different recipes to create delicious, yet “value-for-money” dishes.

If you are used to cooking with expensive ingredients, you may want to consider using more budget-friendly substitutes provided the taste and quality of the food are still good. This is perhaps one of the most important things to do because it directly impacts your operational costs.

After developing your recipes, carefully evaluate them to curate a focused menu. A concise menu is key. With too many options, controlling the quality of your food becomes a challenge. Plus, a limited menu allows you to establish a strong identity and become known for specific dishes.

Our customers raved about our signature dishes – dumplings, tripe, and samp. They were so popular, it was hard to convince them to try anything else. We introduced options like pap, rice, and chicken stew, but they didn’t take off. It made sense to focus on what our customers loved, so we streamlined the menu. Later, we decided to add a traditional African touch with UMQOMBOTHI, a unique African beer experience.

Xhosa Xulture Meals

Step 3: Mastering and Designing Your Food Truck Menu and Branding

Once you’ve picked out those amazing recipes, you must turn them into foolproof instructions. Here’s how and why:

Write it down, step by step:

Imagine you’re explaining the recipe to someone who’s never made it before. List all the ingredients you’ll need, with exact quantities (think cups, tablespoons, or grams). Then, break down the cooking process into clear steps. This ensures everyone making the dish gets the same result, ensuring your dishes taste the same every time.

Costing it out:

By knowing exactly how much of each ingredient goes into a dish, you can easily calculate the cost per serving. It helps you figure out how much to spend on ingredients (which can change depending on how many people you’re cooking for) and ultimately, what price to set for your amazing creations.

Menu Magic: Making mouths water!

Xhosa Xulture Menu

Now that you’ve got the recipes down to a T, it’s time to design a menu that’ll have people begging to try your food. Imagine a menu that’s clear, easy to read, and uses words that make their taste buds do a happy dance! Don’t forget the power of pictures – a delicious-looking photo can be the cherry on top of your menu masterpiece.

Branding and Visual Appeal:

Don’t forget to create a logo and work on your branding. What visual aspects will you use to attract your customers?

By following these steps, you’ll have a menu that not only tastes fantastic every time but also helps with budget planning. Remember, your menu and branding are a powerful marketing tool. By using them strategically, you can attract customers and turn them into fans!

Step 4: Get Quotes for Food Truck Rental

Before diving in, get quotes for renting a food truck. This will help you build a realistic budget. Consider renting first, especially if you’re new to the food truck business. You can always explore buying a truck later after gaining experience.

Here’s a tip we learned: We rented a food truck, branded it for our events, and then removed the branding afterwards. This allowed us to test the waters and build our brand without a huge upfront investment.

Where can I get quotes for renting or buying a food truck?

There are a few companies in South Africa renting and selling food trucks. A simple Google search should give you a list of possible options or you can try Food Truck Shop. They supply throughout South Africa and have lots of useful information on their website.

Step 5: Comply With Food Safety Laws and Regulations

Food trucks are also considered food premises and all food premises must have a Certificate of Acceptability (COA), also known as a food-handing business licence, in possession. The Certificate of Acceptability is governed by Regulations R638.

An Environmental Health Practitioner (EHP) will visit your kitchen and food truck and conduct a Food Safety and hygiene inspection before the COA is issued.

Examples of what they will check for in your kitchen:

  • Cleanliness of your kitchen.
  • Space and ventilation where you prepare the food.
  • Pest activity (cockroaches, rats, flies or any other pests including signs of activity).
  • Waste management practices in your kitchen.
  • Raw materials storage (including packaging).
  • Utensils and equipment you are using (they will be focusing primarily on cleanliness and suitability of these facilities).
  • Water availability in your kitchen.
  • Handwashing facilities.

Examples of what they will check for in your food truck:

  • Water availability (normally, the food truck will come with a water container at the top).
  • Sufficient space for food preparation.
  • Waste control measures (normally, the waste bin will be outside but still close to your food truck).
  • Pest Activity (The inspector may even request proof of a pest control certificate from a pest control contractor).
  • Health and Safety (A fire extinguisher is a must, especially if you are using gas and a griller).
  • Temperature control of high-risk foods during storage, preparation and holding.
  • Protective Clothing (mostly headgear to cover your hair).

Food Safety training:

In addition to the above, they will want to ensure you have received the necessary accredited food safety training as the person in charge.

Our accredited Food Safety training course incorporates all the requirements of Regulations R638. Gain a thorough understanding of food safety regulations and fulfil your training requirements with our accredited R638 course. The best of both worlds!

Our options:

  1. Online self-paced (a budget-friendly option and you can start any time and finish it at your own pace).
  2. Virtual 2-day classroom via Zoom (more expensive than the online self-paced course, but still very cost-effective).
  3. Physical 2-day classroom (only available for in-house on-site training and a minimum classroom size applies. Most expensive of the 3 options).

IMPORTANT! – Other legal requirements:

This section only covers the requirements for Food Safety legislation. It is important to ensure you also comply with all other legal requirements. Contact relevant legal and financial professionals, as well as the relevant government departments and municipalities to find out what else you need to comply with.


Step 6: Decide on Portions, Packaging and Presentation

Finding the Perfect Portions: We learned a valuable lesson early on. Originally, we served generous portions not in line with our asking price and this resulted in significant losses. We realised we needed to adjust either the portion size or the price. We decided to reduce portion sizes while still ensuring customer satisfaction.

Smart Packaging: Packaging should be the right size for your portions, avoiding excessive space. The size of your packaging should be in proportion to the size of the portions.

Food Packaging

The Power of Presentation: Now for the enticing part! Don’t underestimate the impact of how you present your food. A sprinkle of fresh parsley, a drizzle of sauce, or a creative arrangement can take your dishes from good to crave-worthy.

Step 7: Expand Your Reach: Events and Beyond

Secure Vending Opportunities at Events

Food trucks thrive at events! Reach out to local event organisers, universities, schools, and businesses to inquire about vending opportunities during their events. They’ll provide details on their requirements, including:

  • Space availability: Ensure your truck can fit comfortably and safely.
  • Costs: Be aware of any fees associated with vending at the location.
  • Regulations: Familiarise yourself with any permits or licenses needed for the event.

Be Prepared to Impress:

Most event organisers will require specific documentation before approving your participation. Be sure to bring:

  • Certificate of Acceptability: This proves your food truck meets all hygiene and safety regulations.
  • Event-Specific Requirements: Some events may have additional permits or licenses needed for participation. Obtain these beforehand.
  • Menu and Portfolio: Dazzle event organisers with a visually appealing portfolio showcasing your food through high-quality pictures.

Make a Personal Connection:

Once you have your documentation in order, schedule a visit with the event organisers. This personal touch allows you to:

  • Discuss your Food Truck Concept: Explain your unique selling points and how your food complements the event’s theme or audience.
  • Showcase Your Professionalism: Present your menu, Certificate of Acceptability, and any relevant training certificates.
  • Highlight Your Team: If you have trained staff, mention their qualifications and experience.

This personal interaction can significantly increase your chances of landing a spot at an event.

Beyond Events

Don’t limit yourself to events! Here are other prime locations to park your truck:

  • High-traffic areas: Look for busy streets near office buildings, parks, construction zones, or popular neighbourhoods.
  • Lunchtime hubs: Find areas with a high concentration of office workers or students needing a quick and delicious bite.
  • Private partnerships: Collaborate with businesses like, car washes, fuel stations, or retail stores to park on their property in exchange for attracting customers.
  • Market Days: Participate in established market days that draw crowds seeking diverse food options.

With our food truck, we preferred events and market days.

Remember: Always check local regulations regarding vending in public spaces. Don’t hesitate to get creative and find locations that complement your food truck’s concept and target audience.

Cost-effective online self-paced accredited Food Safety training for food truck owners

Step 8: Budget And Cost Analysis For Your Food Truck Business

Having a solid grasp of your food truck’s financial health is crucial for success. This step involves creating a detailed budget that considers all your expenses and projected income.

Key Cost Factors

Production Costs: This encompasses everything it takes to create your menu items. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Ingredients: Factor in the cost of all ingredients for each dish, including potential fluctuations in market prices.
  • Equipment and Supplies: Account for expenses like cooking utensils, disposables, cleaning supplies, and other non-perishable items. Don’t forget about the packaging materials and single-use (servers, plastic forks, spoons, knives, straws, etc.)
  • Food Truck Expenses: Include any leasing or purchase costs with your food truck, along with maintenance, fuel and gas (where applicable).
  • Labour: Consider wages, salaries, and payroll taxes for yourself and any employees.
  • Permits and Licenses: Research and budget for all necessary permits and licenses to operate in your desired locations.
  • Overhead Costs: Don’t forget about insurance, waste disposal fees, and any marketing or promotional expenses.

Beyond Production Costs

  • Sales Projections: Be realistic about your expected sales volume for each menu item.
  • Break-Even and Profit Analysis: Calculate your break-even point – how many units of each dish you need to sell to cover production costs and start turning a profit. Consider factors like menu pricing and potential customer traffic at various locations.

Tools and Resources

  • Utilize spreadsheet software like Excel or Google Sheets to create a comprehensive budget template.
  • Research industry benchmarks for food truck costs in your area to establish realistic figures.
  • Consult with a financial advisor or accountant for personalised guidance on budgeting and cost analysis.


  • Regularly review and update your budget as your business evolves and market conditions change.
  • Maintaining a healthy profit margin is critical for long-term sustainability.

By creating a thorough budget and cost analysis, you’ll gain a clear understanding of your financial situation and make informed decisions that drive your food truck’s success.

Cost-effective online self-paced accredited Food Safety training for food handlers

Step 9: Marketing Of Your Food Truck and Menu

Social media was our only marketing tool and proved very effective. But before our social media pages, we decided on our logo and branding. We ensured that we sought second opinions in everything we did, including presentations. After we were satisfied with the feedback, we started marketing our products on social media from preparation to the final product.

This proved very effective as we showed our clients how clean our kitchen was and how nicely we prepared our food. It is important to market well in advance before you start serving. In this case, it could be weeks before your first event. See this as a build-up!

Another option is to hand out flyers. It will cost a little more.

Step 10: Launch Day! – Start Trading

It’s finally here! The day you open your food truck doors (or windows) to the public. I have found that for your operations to be effective, you need at least two people to be involved. Also, ensure your food truck is clean, wear something that identifies who you are as a brand (it makes your customers curious about you), and most importantly, be clean.

Here are some tips to ensure a smooth and successful launch:

  • Be Prepared: Arrive at your location at least 2 hours before opening. This buffer time allows you to double-check everything – ingredients, utensils, equipment, and your menu board. You can also use this time to prep any last-minute items and finalise your roles for the day.
  • Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Having at least two people on board is crucial. Assign tasks beforehand, like who will handle cash, who will serve food, who will clean, and who will greet customers. This avoids confusion and keeps things running efficiently.
  • Presentation is Key: First impressions matter! Make sure your food truck is sparkling clean inside and out. Consider uniforms or branded t-shirts for your staff to create a professional image.
  • Serve with Style: Be neat and attentive while serving customers. Hot food should be served hot, and cold food should be served cold.
Food Truck Staff Uniforms
  • Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Having at least two people on board is crucial. Assign tasks beforehand, like who will handle cash, who will serve food, who will clean, and who will greet customers. This avoids confusion and keeps things running efficiently.
  • Presentation is Key: First impressions matter! Make sure your food truck is sparkling clean inside and out. Consider uniforms or branded t-shirts for your staff to create a professional image.
  • Serve with Style: Be neat and attentive while serving customers. Hot food should be served hot, and cold food should be served cold.
  • Menu Magic: Having a clear and attractive menu board is a bonus. Consider a chalkboard decorated with eye-catching visuals. This not only displays your offerings but also adds a personal touch.

Bonus Tip: Be enthusiastic and friendly with your customers! They’re the reason you’re here, after all. A positive attitude goes a long way in creating a memorable dining experience.


Food trucks are exciting ventures, but like any business, success requires dedication and planning. This guide provides a roadmap, but remember – there will be additional challenges you’ll face as a food entrepreneur. Be prepared to invest significant time to turn your vision into reality.

Don’t fall into the cost analysis trap! Many businesses struggle initially because they underestimate expenses. Before you launch, create a detailed cost analysis to ensure your pricing reflects true production costs.

Food safety is paramount. Improper food handling can endanger your customers. Prioritise a comprehensive food safety plan to guarantee the well-being of everyone who enjoys your food.

By following the steps outlined here, you’ll gain a strong foundation in:

  • Identifying your target market and crafting a unique menu
  • Complying with food safety regulations
  • Securing vending locations and marketing your food truck effectively
  • Launching your business and ensuring a smooth operation

So, are you ready to turn up the heat on your food truck dreams?

I wish you all the best in your new endeavour!

Not many things in life are free, but we are dedicated to helping small food business owners. Join our free webinar to help you navigate the complexities of starting a food business in South Africa. Sign up today to learn more about the regulations, permits, and other important considerations for food truck businesses.

Comments and Questions

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2 thoughts on “How to Start a Food Truck Business in South Africa”

  1. I’m glad I have come across this information. I’m planning to expand my business to a bigger space, currently, I own a student accommodation and a food truck business, where I sell kota, chips, Russian and; other cold meat to University students in Vanderbijlpark.,so I would like to move my business to a more busy area which is close to Traffic department and also @ main road.
    Can you please advise? thanks


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