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The vehicle you choose for your mobile food business must meet your local permitting office’s requirements as well as your own personal kitchen needs. Before you begin shopping for your vehicle, determine the amount and types of kitchen equipment you’ll need to prepare your menu items.

You need only a general understanding of your necessary equipment at this point so you can determine the types and sizes of vehicles you can choose from. Some of these vehicles can be restricted in their use, depending on the vehicular codes and laws that regulate food trucks in your area.

Food trucks

Food trucks

Food trucks are the preferred choice of most vendors in the mobile food industry because of their range in sizes and their mobility. By definition, a food truck is a licensed, motorized vehicle or mobile food unit that’s used for selling food items to the general public. This definition is quite vague, but that may be because the definition of a food truck varies from city to city.

In some cities, you may find that a food truck is a set of heating units sitting in the back of a pickup truck. In other areas, a food truck is a mobile kitchen built into a truck the size of a standard delivery truck (this definition has become the most common one since the surge in the mobile food industry in 2008).

These trucks can range in length from 14 feet all the way up to 30 feet. The kitchens in these trucks are fully functioning kitchens that are regulated just as any other commercial kitchen, with additional inspection requirements to make sure all this equipment is safe to travel with in between uses.

The pros of using a food truck over a cart or trailer are that a truck is far more mobile and can use parking spaces designated for one or two cars. Food carts are typically dropped off and parked in a single location and, like trailers, require a secondary vehicle to tow them.

The kitchens you can have installed in food trucks are nearly the size of those in some trailers, so using a truck instead of a cart also gives you more space.

Food carts

Food carts

Food carts are different from food trucks in that they don’t travel under their own power. These carts are towed by a vehicle and are typically dropped off for the time that they’re permitted, in some cases, multiple years.

A major downside to food carts is their size. The average food cart ranges in size from 120 to 200 square feet, which severely limits the amount of equipment and staff you’ll be able to fit inside.

Food carts are much smaller than their food truck counterparts; yes, you can see this fact as a negative, but it’s also their key advantage. With less space, you’ll have lower costs in powering your cart (propane and electricity), so with a lower overhead to operate, you’ll have the opportunity to keep your prices lower than those of more mobile platforms.

Food trailers

Food trailers

Much like food carts, food trailers lack a drivetrain system and thus require a vehicle to tow them to the locations where vendors plan to sell their fare. However, these trailers are much larger than food carts (some reach the size of cross-country semitrailers).

The vast amount of space that these trailers have allow their owners to install much larger kitchens, which in turn allows them to cater to much larger crowds than the average food truck or cart can handle.

The downside to being this large is that in most cities across the country, trailers are unable to park on public streets, so they’re either forced to park in a static location or restricted to only serving customers at large events, such as festivals and sports arenas.

Bustaurant — a restaurant within a bus

Bustaurant — a restaurant within a bus

Up to this point in the mobile food industry’s history, eating at food trucks in many locations of the country is still a unique dining experience. But diners in the Los Angeles, California, or Sarasota Springs, New York, areas have an opportunity to dine somewhere that’s the epitome of unique. Diners in these two cities now have another mobile food option: the bustaurant, a restaurant within a bus.

Instead of the typical standing at a curb, ordering, and eating, the customers of these new eateries are given the option to step onboard and be seated at tables inside the bus. Although these buses are outfitted with state-of-the-art kitchens, the ordinances that regulate them prohibit kitchen operation while they’re moving.

For this reason, most of the food is prepared off-site, or in the kitchen only while the bus is stopped in a designated parking area.

One of the biggest differences between the bustaurant and its land-locked restaurant brethren is that if you get seated with a bad view, you may have a better one shortly. The other big difference is the price involved in purchasing a double-decker bus (prices start in the $250,000 range for a standard bus without a kitchen).

Using a double-decker bus to operate your food truck business will clearly differentiate you from your competitors, but it has its fair share of problems as well. You must have a commercially licensed driver, and the size of the bus alone can cause issues of parking on the streets because most shop owners won’t take too kindly to having their entire storefront blocked by the side of your bus.

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