People who want to open restaurants often dream of owning a brick-and-mortar place, but the high costs and chance of failing can be scary. Many new chefs and operators are jumping on the bandwagon, sometimes literally, when it comes to the business of mobile food because it offers a more affordable and accessible way to become a culinary business owner. The two most popular mobile food vehicles are food carts and food trucks, each with pros and cons. This blog will explore the differences between these two mobile food options, starting with food carts.
Food carts are small, portable kitchen carts with wheels that can be pushed by hand, bike, or towed by a vehicle. They’re typically seen during lunch rushes in parks, on busy sidewalks, and at most public events. Food carts have limited space and usually serve only one or two meals and a few prepackaged snacks or drinks. The equipment used in the food carts depends on the type of food being served and may include steamers, boilers, deep fryers, and warmers.
The Pros of Food Carts
Food carts are easy to navigate through crowds and city streets. They can access areas where food trucks can’t go, such as inside malls, and can be easily moved to another location with the proper permit.
One person can operate a food cart, so there's no need to train staff members or keep track of their pay.
Food carts are the least expensive options for entering the mobile restaurant business.
Being at eye level with customers makes it easy to create connections and provide friendly service.
The Cons of Food Carts
Food carts have a limited range of operation compared to food trucks and depend on the operator’s physical capacity.
With space for only one or two small appliances, food carts have a limited menu and may need more inventory quickly.
No Ad Space
Branding food carts can be more challenging, requiring additional signage to attract customers.
Food carts have a slight reputation for needing to be cleaner, causing some potential customers to avoid them.
Food Cart Costs & Equipment
Food carts can cost between $1,000 and $20,000, depending on the type of features you’re looking for in your cart. Most carts come with preinstalled equipment for cooking specific types of food, like hotdog carts or coffee carts. For a unique menu, you might need to find a vendor that sells customized food carts and work with them to integrate the necessary equipment.
Common Causes of Failure for Food Carts
Food carts can fail due to poor location choices, a lack of consistency, unoriginal menus, and inadequate hygiene practices. To succeed, operators must research high-traffic locations, maintain a consistent schedule, offer unique and creative dishes, and above all else, keep the cart clean and sanitary.
Beverage carts offer an attractive alternative to food carts for entrepreneurs looking to enter the mobile food business with a focus on drinks. These specialized carts are designed to serve a variety of beverages, such as coffee, tea, smoothies, or even craft cocktails. With lower startup costs and a streamlined menu, beverage carts can be easier to manage than their food-based counterparts. Moreover, they have the potential to cater to niche markets or complement other food vendors at events and gatherings. As with food carts, the key to success with a beverage cart lies in offering unique, high-quality products and finding the right locations to attract customers.
Food trucks are large vehicles with an internal kitchen where staff prepares and serves food through a side window. They’re popular for their mobility and diverse menu options, often serving meals that can be eaten on the go, like tacos, sandwiches, or other handheld foods. Food trucks can go to different places, like parks, festivals, and busy city streets, where they can attract many customers.
The Pros of Food Trucks
Food trucks can easily move to different locations without the need for additional vehicles or equipment.
With more space for equipment and supplies, food trucks can offer a wider variety of food items and accommodate multiple employees for quicker service.
Free Ad Space
The exterior of food trucks can be used for branding and promotion.
Easy to Clean
Food trucks have less kitchen equipment to clean compared to traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant kitchens.
Food trucks are currently the most popular type of mobile restaurant.
The Cons of Food Trucks
Parking and driving through narrow city streets can be challenging due to the bulky size of food trucks.
Vehicle problems can halt the business entirely until repairs are made, and finding replacement parts can be costly and difficult.
Food trucks typically require multiple permits before they can start operating.
Food Truck Costs & Equipment
The price of a food truck can range anywhere from $15,000 to over $250,000. Operators can save money by purchasing used food trucks; however, these can often require some type of repair, which can be costly. New food trucks come with a warranty and are easier to customize, but they can be more expensive. Additionally, you must also consider the costs associated with kitchen equipment, upgrades, fuel, and tires.
The necessary kitchen equipment for your food truck depends on the type of food being served and the space you have available inside. Common equipment includes refrigerators/freezers, ranges, griddles/grills, work tables, prep tables, and fryers. Operators must also decide whether to power their equipment with electricity or gas.
Common Causes of Failure for Food Trucks
Food trucks can fail due to a lack of online presence, unoriginal menus, and underestimating the amount of work involved. Successful operators must build a following, offer unique and creative dishes, and be prepared fo the various tasks associated with running a food truck, such as researching target audiences, finding ideal locations, staying informed about events that attract large crowds, and actively promoting their business.
To wrap it all up, both food carts and food trucks offer unique opportunities for aspiring restaurateurs. Food carts are a more affordable and portable option, making them ideal for those who want to start small and focus on a limited menu. Food trucks, on the other hand, offer more space and equipment, allowing for a wider variety of dishes and greater mobility. When choosing between the two, consider your budget, desired menu, and location preferences to determine which mobile food business is right for you.