Like the title says: location, Location, LOCATION! These are the three biggest factors in finding a good spot for your hot dog business! Unless you are only going to be catering special events (more on this later), you’ll need a good location.
Find a Location FIRST!
Before you even THINK of buying a hot dog cart, trailer or truck, GET A LOCATION. What good is the best cart, trailer or truck if it sits in your driveway? Get the location wrapped up FIRST! I have heard HUNDREDS of stories about people who went out and spent a lot of money on equipment, only to find they either didn’t have a location or the spot they picked isn’t zoned for mobile food. PLEASE FIND A LOCATION FIRST!
What is a Good Location?
The first thing you need to do is find a good spot. Anywhere there are lots of people is good. If you are in an urban area where parking is limited or you can locate in a park, you may want to consider a hot dog cart. Urban areas with lots of foot traffic are some of the best locations for a hot dog cart. A beach is always nice too! If you’re in a suburban setting, look for areas where there is a lot of vehicle traffic and a ready supply of regular hungry customers. Good parking is a must for this type of setup. If you have the space in your spot (and the money) you may want to consider a truck or trailer for your biz. I like having a truck-mine is a “mobile kitchen”-because there is more room, shelter from the elements and a decent amount of food prep and storage space. If you are going to be on public property, check with the local police department for any restrictions you may face regarding locations or any special site permits you may need. Most municipalities have websites these days (check links from the state by state Board of Health list on this site)and oftentimes that type of information is available there, if not the cops are a good place to start (cops like hot dogs-I have many as regulars).
Locating on private property eliminates the need for many site permits, but you’ll have to pay rent. You also need to check with the local building inspector to see if there are any site permits required for private property. This is the arrangement I have. The advantages of my location are plenty of parking, good visibility on a well traveled route, proximity to a large industrial/office park and lots of construction in the area (construction workers like hot dogs too). I also know my location will be plowed on snowy mornings and, since I am in the parking lot of an office building, I know there will always be steady traffic in and out. One other plus is that there are few eating places nearby. The rent is worth it. If you can find a site with these characteristics-you’d be well advised to snag the location. This will involve some networking and sleuthing on your part.
You may also have several “regular spots.” You can contact companies with big office buildings and arrange “Hot Dog Days” where you mutually agree to park your truck in their lot on certain days to sell hot dogs to the employees. If you get enough of these types of gigs, you might not need a regular spot. This method involves some planning, but you can save paying rent (some companies may even pay YOU to be there and buy all the hot dogs for the employees too). Large construction sites are GREAT for this too-contact the local Union Rep for the project, feed him some hot dogs and you’ll be IN! For office parks you’d want to start with the local property management companies that manage multi tenant parks or the facilities manager of single company campuses. I know one hotdogman who does his entire business this way and is very successful. I personally like having one regular spot and supplementing it with the occasional evening or weekend event (more on events and “other gigs” later).
Once you’ve found a spot, figured out if you are allowed there and agreed to terms with the property owner, it’s time to introduce yourself. I’d recommend introducing yourself to other tenants in the building and adjacent properties. Offer everyone a free hot dog on opening day. This will get the word out and create good will. If you are going to be in a fixed location, you need to be consistent. You need to be there at the same time every day. If you’re not, customers won’t go out of their way to eat at your spot. The more consistent you are, the more money you will make. Obviously there will be the occasional day off, but you can let people know about them in advance.
ALWAYS KEEP YOUR AREA CLEAN! Nothing pisses off landlords, tenants and local officials than a lot of trash blowing around because of YOU! A clean spot reflects well on you and keeps everyone happy!