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Food-truck insurance evolves to meet needs of rolling restaurants

Getting the right insurance for a restaurant business is complicated enough, but food trucks have the added dimension of being mobile.

But as the food truck craze has evolved from “roach coaches” back in the day, to gourmet trucks like Cousins Main Lobster, in Napa, and the vegan Seed on the Go in Sonoma, so has the insurance industry.

Previously, owners had to string together an auto policy, general-liability policy and workers’ comp policy in a piece-meal fashion. It can still be done that way, but it’s not advised.

“It depends on who is writing the food truck insurance. Some companies have a program which is all inclusive of coverages. A buyer can also buy individual insurance coverages from multiple insurance companies. The latter is not recommended, however it is done from time to time,” said Peter Picetti, senior vice president at Heffernan Insurance Brokers in San Francisco.

Food truck owners need to consider the truck itself, which needs to be insured for auto liability and damage, generally for about $30,000. There is also the expensive kitchen equipment, which might be insured for anywhere from $100,000 - $200,000, against loss, theft or vandalism.

“You can’t look at it as just an automobile policy or just a restaurant policy,” said Dina Campana Smith, area president Arthur J. Gallagher & Co, that insures Velo Vino’s Bruschetta food truck in St. Helena.

Also, food trucks rely on many pieces of equipment to operate. From the generator, grill, hood, blender, compressor, sink... If one of these items goes down it could put the owner out of business until a repair or replacement is made.

“We’ve had mechanical issues, our generator went out,” said Linzi Gay, general manager of Cliff Family Farm and Winery, which owns Velo Vino’s Bruschetta. “We were out (of business) for a couple of days, now we have a backup generator.”

About three years ago, those in the business insurance industry had an ‘aha’ moment regarding that aspect of the business, Picetti said, and realized that those owners were particularly susceptible to loss of business income.

Before the insurance industry had a lot of experience with food trucks, it did have experience with insuring other kinds of expensive vehicles like technologically decked out garbage trucks, and concrete pumpers, which can be insured for as much as $250,000, Picetti said.

If one of those trucks breaks down, however, the company usually has a back-up vehicle. Not so with food trucks. If something happens to temporarily disable the truck, the owner is out of business until it’s fixed.

“We had never really thought about it. That’s the piece that wasn’t fully implemented. That’s where we had to play catch-up,” said Picetti. “There were no adequate forms for that before. Now, business interruption is built into the policy.”

With business interruption insurance there has to be physical damage to the truck. Regular wear and tear is not covered. An example would be a collision, a fire in the kitchen, or vandalism. There is also a 24-hour waiting period to file a claim.

“It can’t just be a flat tire, or you missed your spot in the parking lot for a day,” Picetti said. “There has to be significant damage.”

While insurers look at the business as a vehicle in that way, they look at it as a restaurant where lot of different things go into the cost of insurance; owning or renting the building, the size of the restaurant, gross sales, and does it serve liquor?

Additionally, in most cases, like with the Bruschetta food truck, it is tied to a commercial kitchen, or commissary, where food is prepared, and the truck is basically a delivery system.

In the case of Gott’s Roadside, which has its storefront and also a food truck, all of that is incorporated into its policy, Smith said.

If all of this sounds a little complicated, that’s why it’s a good thing to have the resources of a national company behind the business.

“It’s having access to carriers who know how to write policies for food trucks, and know the nuances,” Smith said.

Cynthia Sweeney covers health care, hospitality, residential real estate, education, employment and business insurance. Reach her at Cynthia.Sweeney@busjrnl.com or call 707-521-4259.

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