Every chef dreams of owning a restaurant, but investing in a brick-and-mortar establishment can cost a fortune. There’s also the fact that so many end up going out of business. This is why aspiring restaurateurs are now hitching a ride on the mobile food business bandwagon. Serving food from the comfort of your own vehicle has proven to be an affordable and accessible way to become a culinary business owner. The question now is, which vehicle will you choose to get started on the road to financial independence? To help you choose amongst the two most popular mobile food vehicles, below we have listed the differences between food trucks and food carts.

Food Trucks

One of the most recognizable mobile restaurants, a food truck is a large vehicle with a kitchen on the inside. Staff prepares food in the kitchen and serves customers through a side window. With this type of restaurant, operators get the chance to travel to different locations and attract passersby with a variety of food items.

Most meals available are eaten on the go, such as tacos or sandwiches. Customers tend to favor them because they get to enjoy fresh food at public sites. Food trucks are also thought to be cleaner than most mobile restaurants. Some set up dining areas with tables and seats or have a counter attached to the truck for customers to eat meals.

Pros:

  • Mobility: The biggest pro food trucks offer is their ability to easily move to different locations. Unlike food stands, you don’t have to haul equipment with another vehicle. You simply get in the driver’s seat and hit the festivals, parks, and city streets.
  • Spaciousness: They have enough space for plenty of equipment so you can offer customers more food items. Plus, there’s space for multiple employees to provide quicker service.
  • Free ad space: You can promote your business on the exterior of the truck and grab the attention of onlookers.
  • Easy to clean: There is less kitchen equipment to clean compared to a brick-and-mortar restaurant kitchen.
  • Trendy: They are the most popular type of mobile restaurant.

Cons:

  • Cumbersome: It might be hard finding a place to park and difficult to drive through narrow city streets due to their bulky size.
  • Break downs: If you run into car troubles, your business can’t continue until the vehicle is repaired. Plus, it is challenging and expensive to find replacement parts.
  • Paperwork: They typically require many types of permits before conducting business.

How Much Does It Cost To Invest In A Food Truck?

The price of a food truck ranges from $15,000 to more than $250,000. They have the most expensive upfront cost of any mobile restaurant, but to save money, operators purchase used food trucks. However, used food trucks might need repairs which can turn out to be costly.

On the other hand, new food trucks come with a warranty and are easier to customize to your needs. Keep in mind that customization can be costly. Besides, even if your food truck is new, it’s going to need routine maintenance after a while.

Also, take into consideration the price of kitchen equipment, upgrades, fuel, and tires.

Kitchen Equipment Needed For Food Trucks

The type of equipment needed to retrofit your food truck depends on how you plan to power your equipment, the amount of space in your food truck, and the food you are serving.

You must first choose whether you want to power your equipment with electricity or gas. Electric appliances take up a lot of power and you might need to use two generators. Choose electric if you keep equipment at a constant temperature because electricity is great for maintaining appliances at specific degrees. Gas appliances are cheaper and provide lots of power, but you must be extra careful because they are very dangerous if you don’t keep your eyes on them.

Afterward, take exact measurements of the inside of your food truck to determine how much space you have available. This gives you an idea of how large or small your appliances should be while shopping.

If you don’t already know, research the appliances you need for the type of foods you plan to serve customers. For example, a prep table is necessary for arranging ingredients if you’re making tacos. Most food trucks need this basic equipment:

  • Refrigerator/freezer
  • Range
  • Griddle/grill
  • Worktable/prep table
  • Fryer

Why Do Food Trucks Fail?

Even though they’re popular, the mere presence of a food truck won’t make customers flock to your window. A lot of operators with no experience in the food industry don’t realize that they must first establish a presence, preferably on social media, to attract customers. It’s vital to build a following and gain a step ahead of the competition.

Another issue that leads to failure is the lack of a unique product. Customers visit food trucks to try something new and exciting. Offering commonly found food will make customers turn to other food trucks with more unique and creative dishes.

Lastly, many food trucks fail because operators don't put in the work. Underestimating the amount of work that goes into a food truck is a mistake that is more common than you think. Running a food truck doesn’t just involve prepping, cooking, and serving food. Operators have to research their targeted audience, find where they work, the places they frequent, the best hours of operation, stay up to date with events that attract large crowds, and actively promote their business.

Food Carts

Food carts are small kitchen carts with wheels that are pushed by hand or bike, they can also be towed by a vehicle. With hand or bike-powered carts, the distance you travel is as far as you are able to take it. Operators with these types of carts have a limited radius of operation, while towed food carts can travel a much farther distance. You will typically see food carts during lunch rushes in parks, busy sidewalks, and public events.

Food carts are not full-sized kitchens. Because of this, they are limited to serving one or two meals and a few prepackaged snacks or drinks. Depending on what is being served, they are equipped with one or two heating elements such as steamers, boilers, deep fryers, and warmers.

Pros:

  • Portability: Their small size is perfect for navigating through crowds and city streets. You can reach more places food trucks can’t go such as the inside of malls. You can go practically anywhere and easily move to another location with the right permit.
  • Less management: They only require one person for operation. You don’t have to worry about training employees or payroll.
  • Affordable: The least expensive option for getting into the mobile restaurant business.
  • Build customer relationships: Being eye-level with customers makes it easy to create connections and provide friendly service.

Cons:

  • Physically taxing: They have a smaller range of operation compared to food trucks and only go as far as you can physically take them, which can be tiring.
  • Limited menu: There’s only enough space for one or two small appliances. This limits your menu and ability to be creative with food items. The smaller space also means you can run out of inventory faster.
  • No ad space: They are more difficult to brand which means you might need to carry signs to get recognized by customers.
  • Notorious reputation: Many people avoid food carts because they have a reputation for not being clean.

How Much Does It Cost To Invest In A Food Cart?

Food carts cost from $1,000 to $20,000, depending on the type of cart. The most basic food carts are the cheapest, and the most expensive are bigger and outfitted with more features. The relatively low price means you’ll get a return on your investment and begin earning income quicker than any other type of restaurant business.

Kitchen Equipment Needed For Food Carts

Most food carts have preinstalled equipment for cooking a specific type of food. For example, a hot dog cart will have a propane regulator, water system, and flame adjusters. On the other hand, a coffee cart has none of those things and can simply be equipped with a tap system. If you plan on selling something more unique, you probably have to find a vendor that sells customized food carts. You can work with them to see what type of equipment your menu calls for and if it can be integrated into the cart.

Why Do Food Carts Fail?

Lots of food trucks go out of business because they fail to find good locations and lack consistency. Oftentimes, operators are not doing enough research to find locations with a good amount of foot traffic. However, finding a good location is only half the work. Operators must succeed in consistently showing up at that location. If customers fail to find you at an expected time and you are not there, they buy their lunch from somewhere else.