How Much Money Can You Make on a Coffee Truck?
The most amount of money I’ve made on my coffee truck in a single day is $6,770. But I didn’t keep it all and a lot of work went into it. If you are trying to find out if coffee trucks are profitable, here’s the story on the most money I ever made in my coffee truck business including how I almost walked away from the deal, the most efficient way to move product in a large crowd and some ways I screwed the pooch.
I was invited to a concession at the New Mexico Bowl, also known as the Gildan Bowl. Initially, I was approached to do some small catering for the company Levy. They run the concession stands at the University of New Mexico football stadium. They wanted me to do some VIP stuff with them, like box seat espresso catering for their VIPs...
From there, it evolved into setting up at the Gildan Bowl and serving coffee to the attendees (20-40k participants). One of the main hesitations was their concession stands also served hot drinks, which would cut into my profit. At first, the negotiation for being the sole provider of hot chocolate and hot coffee did not happen. I went back and forth with the general manager for a while. I was at the point where I was stepping away from the deal because it was just too high risk for me. I would have to carry the cost of the product, mainly milk and coffee, which was non-returnable. So, if I didn’t sell the product, I would be left with disposable products. To put in perspective, we ordered 150 gallons of milk for the event. Imagine throwing that away because you couldn’t move the product? So, it was either they remove the coffee/chocolate from their menu or I was walking away. Somehow, we created a deal where the concession stands would not do hot chocolate or hot coffee, and I would be the sole provider of hot beverages to the attendees.
Playing Good Defense
Making money isn’t always about the opportunities. Its also managing the risk. Good entrepreneurs do both. They see the opportunity to create income but also assess the risk of losing money. I had to pay a significant amount of money to set up the event. So, in hopes of making some money, I had to ensure there was no other competition at the event. This included both the concession stands and any other food trucks.
I need to pay for the labor cost and the costs of my goods (milk, coffee, and other materials needed). Those I expected. One expense I didn't expect was the insurance. I thought my general liability insurance would be enough. But when you're dealing with the big boys, they require substantial liability insurance, like a policy that carries 5 million dollars. Now, the good news is your insurance company usually doesn’t require the policy to be paid all at once, but the did require a down payment. That put me back 500 bucks. Which 1. ate into my profits and 2. made the event riskier.
How I Set My Coffee Truck Up For The Event
Before I signed anything, I made sure I had the best location. And I mean the best. I set up my coffee trailer immediately in front of people when you walked in. I mean, you couldn’t miss us.
Key: Zombies = Customers. Chefs = Baristas. Frantic Running Man at Bottom = Me. Trash Can = Cooler for Milk.
I had to set up two days prior for the health and fire inspections, which meant I couldn’t do any catering Thursday and Friday (normally busy days for us). I didn’t see that coming. It wasn’t in the contract and they never mentioned it. Week of, they told us to be there 48 hours prior to the event. I was so deep in, I couldn’t say no. But still, that was lost income from other events I could have done.
My setup mimicked the framework of concert beer stands. My crew consisted of four baristas* standing behind the cashier table. Behind the cashiers was another table where we would line up the hot beverages. Inside the coffee trailer were another two baristas making the beverages. Behind the coffee truck was another barista who was managing the camp stove and airpots for boiling the water. We used a big trash can and filled it full of layers of milk and ice; that’s how I refrigerated my milk at this event. I didn’t have a specific job at the event. My job was to put out any fires, get water if needed, get milk for someone, count the drawers, change credit card machine rolls and fill in for my crew if they have to go to the bathroom.
*My baristas were contracted from a FB group that I run, “Green Joe Catering”. Anytime I meet a barista at a coffee shop and I like their style, I ask if they do side hustles and then add them to the group. I also run hiring ads routinely and good candidates get added to the group. It's part of how I do my hiring. For more information, consider purchasing my business plan where I discuss in detail how to find, hire and keep good people. https://www.greenjoecoffeetruck.com/pages/business-plan
How the Event Went Down
So, the event was on December 17, 2016, and it was Saturday when I set up at this event. It was 37 degrees cold that day, and the total attendance was 30,000.
The event went well. I projected the bottle-neck of the work flow would be the transactions, which is why I hired 4 cashiers. However, they were so damn fast! They clocked in their transaction well under 45 seconds each. I was truly blown away by that.
The hot chocolate was a shit-show. We made milk based hot chocolate and although we kept up with the volume, we worked our ass maintaining volume.
Coffee wasn’t an issue. At this point, I was not using my cold-brew hack (see Starter Guide for Recipe) so I had every coffee pot brew I owned cranking coffee. But we never took a hit there. My brewers brew 64 oz per 10 minutes and we started the event off with 10 gallons of coffee.
I also had caramel macchiato and mocha on the menu. Boy, was that a mistake. We sold 2. But it was the largest consumer of energy on my generator and I had one barista dedicated to the machine. Epic failure. Lessons learned: Simple is better.
Here’s the Break-down of my Coffee Truck Profits
The total gross sales was $6,770. We sold hot coffee and hot chocolate for five bucks each, a total of 1354 cups sold. More hot chocolates were sold because of the cold weather. Since we already started at 11 AM, most people had their morning coffee. I didn’t keep track of which product sold the most because I had my cashiers just input “$5.00” into the credit card machines (for efficiency sake) but I did keep an eye on which product was moving (because I needed to ensure we kept up with the production).
I didn’t get to keep all of that $6,770. Let me show you the numbers:
$ 6,770 - Total Gross Sales
- 25% - Concession Cost
$1,050 - 7 Crew Labor Costs ( $150 each)
$1000 - Cost of Goods
$ 3,015 Total Net Profit
I think the “concert beer” assembly line worked well. I’ve used the model since and every time I’ve had great success. However, I do things a little differently now.
- Large events, I use water based hot chocolate instead of milk based. Its faster, great output and cheaper. You loose quality. I agree. But trying to steam milk for thousands of people is a mess. With water based, I can boil water, add chocolate and serve. Most people just want something hot to drink on a cold day. Plus it lets me keep my cost down and still make money. Win-Win.
- I cold brew coffee and then heat on a camp stove prior serving. This allows me to brew the day before so that my production isn’t based on the heating element of my coffee pot.
- Sample. Sample. Sample. Your income is directly related to your sampling. I use ½ ounce sample cups and hire someone to walk in front of my truck handing out chocolate samples with little whip cream toppings. They’re so cute!!!
- Too much labor. I could have gotten away with just 3-4 people. But it was my first time doing a huge event like this. Live and learn.
Rules to Make Your Coffee Truck Event Profitable
- Always choose a prime location to set up your coffee trailer, the close to people the better.
- It’s better to start earlier in the morning because you’re more likely to catch people that haven’t had a cup of coffee .
- Have a big sign you can stretch out in front of the coffee trailer for more visibility. Use small signs at congestion points, like bathrooms and registration tables.
- Choose events with no competitor.
- Pay attention to labor costs. If you can minimize your crew with the same productivity, that’s better.
Managing my labor and managing my cost of goods will gain me a net profit of four thousand dollars. I lost a thousand bucks because of inexperience. But from that experience, I’ve learned my lesson and applied it through many events. As I see it, I’ve paid my tuition at Hard Knocks University.
As a business owner, you better learn from your mistakes. But what’s even more important, is learning from others' mistakes. I hope you can learn a little from mine.
Thanks for Tuning in and as always, Keep Truckin!
Links to other Resources:
Green Joe Coffee Truck Ebook
Watch the full video:
My Highest Gross Profit Event
More Blogs to read
Should I start a Coffee Trailer? Pros and Cons
Why I decided to open a coffee truck: Chasing the Dream