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5 Food Truck Licenses and Permits Needed in Tennessee

Learn about the licenses and permits you’ll need to open a food truck in Tennessee.

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DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.

In order to be compliant with local laws, food trucks in Tennessee will need to get many of the same permits as restaurants, including a business license, food handlers permits for every employee, and a seller’s permit. 

In addition to these, they’ll also need to get a food truck license (also known as a mobile food facility permit). 

Many permits are administered by local government agencies at the city or county level, so food trucks (and food carts) will need to consult with local regulatory bodies as well as their industry peers in their area to ensure they’ve applied for every permit they need.

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How to start a food truck business in Tennessee

Starting a food truck in Tennessee can take many months to over a year. 

The process involves building a strong food truck business plan, applying for all your licenses and permits, finding food truck funding, choosing a vehicle and ensuring it’s ready to prepare and serve food, renting an additional prep space, planning your ideal parking locations, building a food truck marketing strategy, finding and hiring a great team, creating your menu, stocking the ingredients you’ll need, receiving your permits, and finally, opening your (figurative) doors. 

If you’re savvy about your costs and you deeply research the market you want to reach, making sure you’re in high-traffic areas on each day that you operate, food truck businesses can reach the top end of the average restaurant profit margin range, which is 3-5%, or even exceed it. Food trucks have lower startup costs, smaller teams, and lower operational costs, so they can be more easily profitable than typical restaurants. 

And once you’re open, success can look different for various types of food truck businesses. Some restaurateurs aim to open just one food truck and keep their local community fed. Others aim to open a fleet of trucks to operate across the city or even across a whole region, or specialize in event catering. Others still use a food truck as a way to test their concept before opening a restaurant. 

No matter your ultimate goal, every food truck in Tennessee will need specific licenses and permits to operate. Check out our guide to food truck opening and operation, and then read on for details on how to start a food truck in Tennessee. 

Business License in Tennessee

What is it and why do you need it?

A business license is one of the first licenses you’ll need as you start laying the groundwork of your business. Also known as a business tax certificate, it helps your business stay compliant at tax season.

How to get a business license in Tennessee

In Tennessee, business licenses are controlled by the city or county you live in. If you operate a restaurant with multiple locations across cities and counties, it’s important to get a business license for each business in different jurisdictions. To get a business license in Tennessee, you’ll need:

  1. An EIN
  2. To choose what classification of business you’ll be (LLC? Sole proprietorship? Partnership?)
  3. A business name
  4. An address and phone number,
  5. A thorough restaurant business plan
  6. A COI for your business insurance policy

How much does a business license cost in Tennessee?

Tennessee business license costs vary depending the county, type and scope of the business. Business licenses in Tennessee need to be renewed and paid for regularly, so check with your jurisdiction about how often yours will need to be renewed.

License Name

Cost

Link

Business License

Varies depending on county

Tennessee State Government

Mobile Food Facility Permit in Tennessee

What is it and why do you need it?

A mobile food facility permit ensures that the space where you plan to prepare and/or serve food is compliant with local food safety and worker safety standards. You cannot operate a food truck, food cart, or any other kind of mobile food business without one.

How do you get a mobile food facility permit license?

Different counties will dictate the factors that need to be considered, including what types of foods are prepared on the truck vs. at an offsite prep kitchen, what types of foods are sold (and how high-risk they are in terms of potential to cause food-borne illness), what kind of cooking will be done on the truck (Deep frying? Griddle only? Microwaving?), and how much preparation will need to be done at all (very little for ice cream vs. a lot for burritos).

In order to be approved, a mobile food facility will need to be able to show they are creating a safe and nonhazardous work environment for their workers, providing safe food for their customers, and following safe protocols for disposal of grease and other waste.

How much does a mobile food facility permit cost?

The cost of a mobile food facility permit will vary across cities and counties, and even within a city depending on the type of food truck operation. 

License NameCostLink

Mobile Food Facility

Varies depending on county within the state

Tennessee Mobile Food Establishments

Public Health Permit in Tennessee

What is it and why do you need it?

In most counties, food trucks will need to fill out a Public Health Permit/License application as food vendors, or risk being shut down for not being up to the Tennessee Health and Safety Code. 

How do you get a public health permit/license?

Fill out the application from your local public health department, prepare your facility for inspection, and review all food safety requirements. Once you’ve passed inspection, you can obtain your public health permit.

How much does a public health license cost?

It depends on your risk level — selling prepackaged food is cheaper, and less risky, than preparing meats and other foods on your premises. These license costs vary by county and can range from $100 to over $1,000. 

License NameCostLink

Public Health Permit/License

Around $100 - $1,000+

Will require application to your local public health department

Food Seller’s Permit in Tennessee

What is it and why do you need it?

Any business that plans to sell tangible goods that are subject to sales tax needs a seller’s permit. This permit allows them to charge sales tax.

How to get a seller’s permit?

You can register for a permit online through the SBA License and Permits portal.

How much does a food seller’s license cost?

There’s no fee to apply for a seller’s permit, but you may be asked to pay a security deposit to cover unpaid taxes if the business eventually closes.


License Name

Cost

Link

Seller's Permit

$0 (but a security deposit may be requested

SBA Licenses and Permits

Liquor License in Tennessee

Can food trucks get a liquor license in Tennessee?

In most states, food trucks cannot obtain a full liquor license. The best they can do is to get short-term liquor licenses for special events, but selling alcohol regularly should not be part of your Tennessee food truck business plan. 

How much does a liquor license cost in Tennessee?

A liquor license in Tennessee can cost from $300 - $1000. See the full fees associated with different types of liquor licenses in Tennessee here.


License Name

Cost

Link

Liquor License

$300 - $1000

Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission

Employee Health Permit (also known as a Food Handlers License)

What is it and why do you need it?

A food service license, also known as an employee health permit, allows food trucks to safely sell and serve food onsite. These licenses ensure that every employee knows how to do their part to keep your diners safe from foodborne illness. They’re often referred to as ServSafe, after the company that administers most food handler’s tests, or as a Tennessee Food Handler Card.

How to get a food handler’s license in Tennessee

Every employee who prepares or serves food in Tennessee must get their Food Handler’s license within 30 days of being hired 

And if managers have already gotten their Food Protection Manager Certification, they’re also exempt from getting a Tennessee Food Handler card. Some jurisdictions have their own food safety training programs and standards, so they’re exempt from requiring employees to get a Tennessee Food Handler card.

To get their food handler’s card, employees must pass a test about food safety and preparation with a grade of at least 70% (or higher in some jurisdictions).

How much does a food service license cost in Tennessee?

Tennessee state law requires that the test and license not cost more than $15, in order to make sure anyone working in a restaurant can afford to get certified.


License Name

Cost

Link

Food Handler's License

Up to $15 per employee

Tennessee Food Handler Training

Food Truck Laws, Requirements and Regulations in Tennessee

In addition to all the above permits and licenses, food trucks will need to comply with food safety ordinances, OSHA regulations, proper waste disposal regulations, driving regulations, public health laws, tax laws, regulations about temperature control for food (as well as for running water), parking regulations, drivers license laws, liquor laws, and many more. 

Get ready to bring your food to whenever your customers are

Opening a food truck is a process that takes many months. You’ll need to start with a thorough food truck business plan, and then, one of the most important tasks to tackle early is the licenses and permits process. Some permits will require you to have a different permit ready to submit with your application, so use the state specific websites to determine exactly which permits your business needs. Map out the requirements for all of them, and go through them in cascading order.

Once your permits are in progress, you can move onto other tasks that will require your attention, including finding a great team, planning your pay structures, finding food truck funding, figuring out your menu and testing recipes, and choosing ingredient vendors. 

Finally, you can compare your options for the best food truck point of sale system. Ensure the platform you choose has capabilities that will help you grow sustainably for years to come, like online ordering (and order-ahead), email marketing to let your customers know where you’ll be and when, payroll, and inventory

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Food Truck Business Plan Template

Use this free food truck business plan template to easily create a great business plan that organizes your vision and helps you start, grow, or raise funding for your food truck.

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