Back of House Staff | April 15, 2021, 09:00 AM CDT
You may be just fine running a food truck with pen, paper, and a sauce-splattered accounting pad. But scope out the competition across the lot, champ. Guaranteed the owner of that self-ordering taco stand with automated inventory analysis slinging takeout deliveries via a Postmates-integrated POS is sleeping more hours a night than you.
Increasingly, your food truck world is a major market for restaurant tech solutions, and you stand to benefit as a result. Running a competitive food service of any size means snagging the best emerging software for business planning, truck design, point of sale, and accounting. So here are the best and most affordable softwares in the business, so that you can scale up while you still stay lean and, most importantly, mobile. Who knows? Maybe you'll level up and start offering takeout or taking reservations.
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More than a trendy name and landing page, your accounting service needs a reliable general ledger to track transactions, assets, and liabilities. The services here are industry favorites with user-friendly accounting book interfaces, as well as unique suites of features to match your business’s specific needs.
Worth noting: Most major POS softwares either offer basic accounting services (input/output, inventory, cashflow) or allow you to integrate the accounting applications below. As you explore softwares, check to see if there’s a hospitality overlap.
Restaurant 365 is the gold standard for accounting services with restaurant management features. The cloud-based software joins standard bookkeeping with ordering, invoicing, and staff scheduling. Pricing ranges from $249 to $459 per month, per truck location. The cheapest-tier plans cover accounting and general operating, while the more expensive ones include employee scheduling and a gamut of other features.
If you’re looking for a lean, cheap service to measure payables and receivables, complete payroll, and pay bills, Quickbooks is probably all you need to spend money on. (You may be able to integrate it with your POS system, but since it’s not a service made just for the restaurant industry, this process will require a little extra work.) QuickBooks can be as cheap as $15 but can go up to $140, depending on your business structure and number of employees. Look out for subscription deals on its website, as well.
Restaurant Solutions (RASI) is a solid cloud-based service for folks who need a little hand-holding through the accounting process. RASI’s support team will teach you about its payroll services, bank reconciliations, employee management, menu pricing, inventory analysis, and other features under the umbrella of accounting. Unfortunately the company isn’t super transparent with their pricing but, considering the company’s goal is to “[provide] a cost-effective restaurant management system and service for smaller independent restaurants,” you won’t be scared away by the price.
Despite its name and low cost, ZipBooks shouldn’t be mistaken for a store-brand Quickbooks. The comprehensive service offers billing, financial reports, customer communication, expense tracking, document security, vendor management, and organizational tagging for your accounting books. Its price packaging has three tiers — free, $15 per month, and $35 per month, notwithstanding free trials and adjusted prices per employee.
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Yes, you can draft your business plan on a notebook or free template, but the finished product might not be as easy for investors to look at, or for you to refer back on as the business develops.
If you can afford a software to guide you through the draft, it’s probably a good idea to try out one of these two services.
Bizplan’s platform and templates are sexy, making it an awesome tool for appealing to investors and/or skeptical relatives. The software allows you to make financial projections using existing data, and its step-by-step builder feature walks you through the plan template as you go, so you can customize the template to add or subtract data elements. Annual plans range between $20 and $40 a month.
nTask is a popular software that comes with a suite for business and project management. If you run a business and simultaneously host events, introduce a great deal of specials, manage fundraisers, etc., you’ll want a multipurpose planner like nTask. The basic subscription is free and the Premium and Business plans come to a very manageable $3 and $8 a month, respectively.
Now we’re getting to the advanced courses. Matt Geller, the founding president of the National Food Truck Association, says there are more important things to worry about before you blueprint your tiny restaurant. “If I'm starting a food truck,” he says, “the chances that I'm gonna rent a truck that's already put together are pretty high.”
Let’s say you are starting from the ground up, though. If you opt for a new truck, the guys doing the building will be the ones making the floor plan. If that’s you, and you’re not a professional plumber, electrician, and expert on your local health department regulations, you’ll have to talk to a lot of folks before you put pen to paper.
When finally you are, in fact, ready to design your baby, consider a couple of possible routes.
If you’re starting your food truck from scratch and don’t want support from professionals, computer aided design software (CAD) is your best bet. Try looking into free and cheap operating systems, like AutoCAD (free trial), SketchUp, and Onshape. Of course this undertaking involves a fairly steep learning curve, but popular websites like LinkedIn offer affordable CAD training with free trials.
Read guidebooks by industry giants
Food truck culture runs rampant online, so do even the barest bit of searching and you won’t be left wanting for how-to guides. Software companies in the industry often try to win your heart with in-depth instructionals on the basics of the food truck business. This guide on building a food truck by popular POS system TouchBistro, for one, offers a resource for finding best truck types, electrical advice, and even painting tips. You can find similar build-specific tips from Toast, Food Truck Empire, and FoodTruckr.
Legion Food Trucks
If you’re looking for guidance from start to finish, and a place to throw your money, Legion takes you through the food truck planning and building process, helping you to design a new truck based on local health and safety guidelines. They also help you get permits, build out the interior, and continually repair damages. The company’s highly advertised “building tool” software is really just a means to an estimate, which will be anything from $20,000 to $80,000.
Unless you’re cash-only, you’re probably already familiar with point-of-sale softwares. How to choose between the lot in a super-competitive space? Look for an easy set up, menu modifiers, fast loading speed, low subscription fees, and app integration. Four restaurant-specific POS systems that will definitely hit those marks are:
Square is the most popular software among drivers; it’s the one veteran truck owners tell you to get if your system causes issues. The free base subscription allows you to automatically sync your online store, sell products through social media platforms, offer pick-up options, and manage basic aspects of your business, like inventory. You can get a plan for $60/month, or upgrade it to include 24/7 customer support, marketing assistance, loyalty programs, and team management.
TouchBistro works with Square, so its payment processing is a lot smoother than other POS systems. It’s also a hybrid cloud system, meaning you don’t need to be within range of Wi-Fi to operate the software. A monthly $69 covers your basics, as well as perks only offered in other POS premium plans, such as 24/7 customer service, menu management, data analysis, and unlimited integrations.
The Toast platform is the most customizable of any POS, and the company invites users to a “Toast University” for an extra fee, to educate you on its features. Along with useful menu and back of house customizations, Toast boasts capacity for around 70 integrations. That sounds like a lot but at the rate we’re going, your truck will probably need that many by summer.
Harbortouch is the cheapest option for business owners looking to rent or buy hardware along with their POS, because both of its subscription tiers center around a tablet or desktop. Harbortouch offers online ordering options, location adaptability, and a hybrid cloud or “always on” model, which allows you to use it in spots with poor connectivity.
[Photo by James Frid from Pexels]
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