Food truck vs food cart vs food trailer, which is the best? And which of them is most profitable? Here is a quick comparison plus pros and cons of each of them.
The mobile food business became quite popular among entrepreneurs because it is cheaper than opening a restaurant. People love mobile food because they create a special atmosphere, and they sell delicious food and drinks at affordable prices. Swarms of people who want to try something delicious on the go are your potential customers.
Mobile foods have become a wildly popular and an important part of the hospitality industry. Customers are flocking to these mobile food businesses in droves. The relatively low cost of entry as compared to conventional restaurants combined with free and low cost ways to market them to the masses via the many social media platforms that are available are some of the many selling points of the mobile food business.
In addition, the ability to participate in events like concerts or festivals is one revenue stream that is not available to restaurants. Mobile food vehicles can also become a complimentary addition to established businesses like catering companies wanting to increase revenue or expand their market without the need for drastic changes of operations.
Here are some other advantages of mobile food businesses;
- You are free to modify your menu whenever you like.
- It is a good introduction into the food industry (especially if you want to later own a restaurant).
- It is easier to cater at different events (you have the ability to sell your food at concerts and festivals, and you can get your food there easy).
- Quicker customer service.
The mobile food industry is also very competitive as more businesses take the plunge. Margins can be low and sometimes, the business may even lose money. Because customers will be out in the open to buy from a food truck, the weather can affect revenue. Food truck operations can be seasonal in places with cold climates while even in warmer locations, unexpected rain can put a dent on sales.
Food vendors are nothing new but the industry’s surging popularity offers great opportunities and potential for success to innovative and passionate entrepreneurs today. Every business venture has its risks and rewards, but knowing where you want to go and striving to get there despite the challenges makes a difference.
It is not unusual for entrepreneurs who want to go into the mobile food business to be confused as to which one to go for; hence the question of a food truck, food cart and food trailer which is better, usually arise. In order to attempt to give an answer to this question, there will be need to first analyze the various aforementioned mobile food businesses and compare and contrast their pros and cons.
Food Truck vs Food Cart vs Food Trailer – Pros and Cons
- Food Truck
This is a type of mobile kitchen in which the kitchen and vehicle are in one unit. The kitchen is built out in the “box” space of a step-van. The size of the kitchen space can vary in size anywhere from 10’ to 26’. The most common size is 16’ or 18’ of kitchen space.
The biggest advantage to choosing a food truck over a food trailer or a food cart, is that it is one unit, making it ideal for making multiple location stops. You needn’t worry about towing anything, and your overall size will be smaller (than a food trailer not a food cart) making it easier to navigate through tight city streets and sharp turns.
Food trucks are generally allowed on more city streets than trailers, thus allowing for a wider range of serving locations. Without having to tow anything, it makes it less of a hassle to switch serving locations throughout the day.
Food trucks are generally more expensive than their competition, the food trailer. However, with a food trailer you will need a vehicle with the towing capacity to tow your trailer. This can be a hefty added expense which sometimes can exceed the cost of a food truck.
Since food trucks are one unit, if your truck has mechanical issues and needs to be in the shop, your business will be in the shop too. This usually is a nonissue when you purchase a new step-van. If you purchase a used step-van to build out your mobile kitchen, it is very important to have a mechanic look it over first to avoid costly repairs and time off the road.
- Food Trailers
Food trailers are the middle ground between food carts and food trucks. You can’t drive food trailers like you can food trucks, but you’re able to hitch them to a vehicle and tow them where they need to go. Food trailers also tend to be substantial enough to have a kitchen akin to one you would find on a food truck.
Food Trailers are generally somewhat more affordable, allowing for a lower entry cost into the world of mobile kitchens.
The greatest advantage to the food trailer is the various size options. Food trailers can be anywhere from 8’ to 53’ long. The width of food trailers is commonly 8.5’ wide unlike the food truck which is usually only 7’ wide. In a tight kitchen space any extra width is much appreciated.
Food trailers generally carry more storage space. In a food truck the generator is almost always built inside the kitchen space; on a food trailer however, the generator is placed on the “tongue”, allowing for more interior space inside the food trailer. The extra space can positively impact the speed of the food business and quality of service.
Food trailers are best for stationary or longer-term parking locations.
Though it seems that food trailers are the best of both worlds, entrepreneurs need to consider its potential disadvantages. The larger space of food trailers may be great for ease of operation, amount of equipment that can be installed, and storage space for ingredients or inventory, but the initial and overhead cost will also be larger. One must consider that the towing vehicle will require maintenance in addition to the food trailer.
Also, its size prevents a food trailer from parking in public streets and may be restricted to only vending at certain locations that have large crowds like concerts, festivals, and other similar events. Changing locations can also be a challenge and just like food carts, food trailers cannot just suddenly move when not enough customers come.
Also on the on the flip side, trailers are generally always larger when you factor in the vehicle towing the trailer. This makes it difficult for novice drivers to navigate in tight spaces.
- Food Cart
Food carts are a good option for you if you have a smaller menu as they cannot contain as many food types as a food truck or trailer. The food cart’s main strength is its price. It is cheap, which is why it is used by street vendors the world over from New York to Mumbai, and allows you to start operating with minimal investment.
When it comes to Maneuverability, food carts also have an edge over food trucks and trailers in the sense that if you need to move around the street during the day, all you have to do is push it. This makes it perfect for any town center locations that you may have in mind.
Another advantage of a food cart is that when you operate from a cart you’re on the ground with the customer – there’s nothing between you and them, meaning that you can build a relationship with them and serve them quickly.
Food carts also require very little space, which can be helpful if your event is in a tiny venue.
On the flip side, food carts are not as mobile-friendly since they need to be attached to a vehicle to be towed to places. As mentioned previously, food carts require less space, however along with the smaller space comes the fact that food carts cannot serve as wide a range of cuisine as food trucks can. Food carts also lack kitchens, so check with your locality’s requirements about preparation. Some places mandate that the food for food carts must be prepackaged.
Operating a cart means that you have very little shelter to protect you from the elements, a factor which needs to be a serious consideration in all countries of the world.
Also, unless you are going to get a town center location and have a secure compound nearby, you will need some additional way to transport your cart to and from your locations. This will probably require some form a vehicle to tow your food cart on, which then requires additional towing licenses.
In addition, not all food products could be sold from a cart as you are limited on how much you can store and serve. Typical favorites tend to be items that require little preparation, such as Ice Cream, Jacket Potatoes or Candy Floss. However there is no reason why you shouldn’t consider other options and take your inspiration from around the world e.g. Hot Dogs (New York).
Food Truck vs Food Cart vs Food Trailer – Which is the Best?
The initial cost of a food truck may be more expensive than the food trailer, however you must have a reliable vehicle with the proper towing capacity for a food trailer. But the fact still remains that a food cart is a lot cheaper than a food truck or trailer and as such it is more suitable for potential entrepreneurs who do not have a lot of startup capital.
Food trucks are ideal for routes, and they have the capability to make multiple stops throughout the day unlike a food cart or trailer. Food trailers and carts are ideal for events or areas where they can be stationary for long periods of time.
Food trucks are one unit vehicles and as such they can move on their own without the need of being towed. In addition, they are also more compact, making them easier to navigate on city streets. Food trailers have various size options and will offer more storage and cooking space than food trucks or food carts. Food carts come with zero cooking space.
All in all, the best mobile food vehicle varies from situation to situation, depending on the amount of money you have at hand to start the business, the number of meals in your menu, the amount of kitchen space you need, how many locations you intend to visit daily et al.
It should be noted that there are some peculiar problems that are faced when trying to start a mobile food business. An example of this can be the challenges that are involved in getting a bank loan. Banks are skeptical when lending money because some believe that the food vendor trend is just a fad and may suddenly vanish. It might be easier to get a loan if you have a substantial business history, some form of collateral, or if the loan is cosigned by someone with a good credit record.
Another challenge is the regulations. Some states and municipalities have clear rules regarding mobile food businesses while others do not. Entrepreneurs need to research and contact relevant agencies on individual locations they plan to operate or sell at and obtain business requirements. In addition, local restaurants may lobby against food trucks due to the increased competition and unclear regulations, which makes starting a mobile food business a bit more challenging.