Starting Your Own Mobile Tea Business, Part 2: Pre-flight

In our last post, we talked about some of the advantages and disadvantages of owning and operating a mobile tea/coffee business. Today we’ll go over some of the things you’ll need to take care of before you get going.

How Mobile Do You Want to Be?

Even within the label “mobile,” there is a lot of room for interpretation. A “mobile home,” for example, isn’t as easy to move as an RV. So the first thing you need to decide is what type of unit you’d like to operate from. For example:

  1. Pushcart The most mobile of set-ups would probably be a food cart, one that is small enough to be pushed and maneuvered by a single person. It can operate out of just about anywhere, but your offerings will have to be limited by necessity. Weather is a consideration, as well.
  2. Booth Another option would be an easily assembled tent, stall, or gazebo that you could operate at a local street fair or flea market. This can allow you more shelter from the elements, more counter space, and a wider variety of products. On the flip side, setting up will take longer, and you may have to lug your stuff from a vehicle to your station.
  3. Trailer Having your business in a towable trailer opens up a lot of options in terms of storage space and room to operate. Depending on the size of the trailer, you can stock a wide variety of teas and coffees and perhaps even some food items. You can even have head and air conditioning. The downside is that you’ll need a truck to pull it … and you’ll need to learn how to drive with a trailer (including backing it into spaces). Depending on your location and the type/weight of the trailer, you may even need a special license.
  4. Truck A drivable vehicle seems to offer the best of all worlds: comfort, space, ease of set-up, and more. Set out some folding chairs and small tables, and you’ve got an open-air café. Quitting time? Throw everything in the back and drive home. It’s perfect … but perfection will cost you: purchasing even a used vehicle is your most expensive option, as far as startup costs.

Legal and Protected

So you have your operating unit. Now all you need is the actual product, and you’re in business, right?

Well, not quite. There are a few other things you’ll need to acquire before you actually start serving.

  1. License When you provide food for others there are rules to follow, and one of the first is getting a license to operate. Every state, every county, every town–each will probably share at least some of the same licensing requirements, but specifics can differ based on any number of variables. You’ll need to register your company. (Hint: if you’re the sole owner you’ll pay less in registration fees by setting up a sole proprietorship instead of an LLC.) And as we mentioned, every location could be different, so you might need to apply for local business licenses, as well.
  1. Insurance Don’t even THINK about trying to get by without insurance. In many places, it’s illegal, but in any situation it may be your most important expense. First off, you’ll need liability insurance. Our society has gone lawsuit-crazy, so be sure that you (and any employees) are covered if someone gets injured in your space. With the right liability insurance policies in place, you’ll be covered for the costs of damage correction, medical fees for injuries, legal representation, and other related expenses. Beyond that, you’ll need to insure your unit or vehicle–plus all the equipment–against loss, theft, or accidental damage, including acts of God. This is typically straight-forward, but there are some policies specifically designed to insure caterers. 
  1. Other stuff You’ll need a separate bank account, of course, and a separate credit card that you use just for the business is a good idea. If you’re going to take credit cards and/or mobile payments, you’ll need to set up with a processor–your bank can probably help there, as well.

It’s a hassle and an expense, but trying to skip the necessary paperwork will cause way more trouble than it’s worth. Short cuts in this area could put you out of business–and worst case scenarios, land you in serious legal trouble.

In part 3, we’ll start looking at the equipment you’ll need.