Balanced regulations and permitting procedures can help ensure that food trucks have adequate vending opportunities within a jurisdiction without posing a threat to brick-and-mortar restaurants, blocking the public right-of-way, or creating a nuisance.
Most localities adopt ordinances that address mobile food vending on both public and private property. Sometimes, this distinction between public and private locations results in zoning standards for food trucks on private property, meanwhile, standards for vending on public rights-of-way are addressed in the business licensing, streets, or public health sections of local codes.
Also note that most localities limit food trucks to non-residential districts, and it is common to create distancing requirements from existing restaurants, residential districts, or other vendors. Most also establish operational standards such as limitations on hours of operation, mandatory access to restrooms, or noise or sanitation requirements to minimize potential negative impacts.
Some ordinances also provide for food truck courts, where multiple food trucks gather at one site to provide more of a destination experience.
How Food Truck Parking Regulations Vary
First note that towns, cities, and counties tend to have specific zoning restrictions, designating commercial and non-commercial zones. It is always advisable you contact your local motor vehicle department or look for a local website online with city or town ordinances. Howbeit, the various ways these regulations could differ across board include;
It is common to allow mobile food vending in commercial districts, but some communities add industrial districts or specify mixed use districts. In consideration of existing facilities, some communities note there should be a minimum distance between mobile units and brick-and-mortar restaurants. Some communities try to limit the impact on adjacent residential uses through a distance requirement or by restrictions on hours of operation.
Also, note that the length of time food trucks are permitted to stay in one place varies widely by the community and often is related to where mobile food vending is permitted. Some communities allow food trucks on public property but prohibit overnight parking.
Where on-street parking is at a premium, communities may consider allowing food trucks to leverage public parking spaces for the same duration as other parked vehicles. Howbeit, some communities allow food trucks on private property for up to 30 days or more at one location.
For example, Grand Rapids allows concession sales for up to 200 consecutive days over 12 calendar months. Regulations like this may impact vendors in terms of the types of food that can be sold and the manner in which they are prepared, especially when preparation is done on-site.
Number of Units in One Location
Notably, some communities that are getting on board with mobile food vending have started allowing them to congregate for certain events and activities. For instance, Royal Oak, Michigan, started a food truck “rally” at their indoor farmers market during colder months. It is a good way to utilize the facility as well as provide entertaining food options for city residents, however, the city limits the rally to no more than 10 different trucks with a variety of cuisine for the whole family.
Hours of Operation
Some communities in the United States limit hours of operation to around lunchtime (e.g., 10:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.), and others allow sales from early in the morning to late in the evening (e.g., 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.). Some communities place no time limits on these operations in the zoning regulations.
Licenses and Permits
Note that most communities require permits or licenses regardless of whether the trucks operate on public or private property. It is also common for the community to reference compliance with other codes, particularly state or local health codes. These other codes can impact how trucks operate.
Some communities explicitly state that no tables or chairs are permitted, or if they are, then sanitary facilities are also required. There may be flexibility in the permitted arrangements for such facilities (for example, having permission to use such facilities within a reasonable distance of the mobile unit).
For example, Frisco, Texas, prohibits connections to portable water, requiring mobile food vendors to store their water in an internal tank. The city also requires vendors to be located within 50 feet of an entrance of a primary building, and drive-through service is expressly prohibited. While King County, Washington, requires that all mobile food vending in the county be located within 200 feet of a usable restroom
Lighting is not as commonly addressed as other issues, especially if a mobile food vending unit is located in an existing developed area, but it is more or less presumed that other applicable lighting requirements appropriate to the location are to be followed. Consider adjacent uses and the impact of light trespass and glare.
Who Regulates Food Truck Parking?
In the United States, cities and local governments have a broad amount of discretion with respect to regulating and issuing permits for food truck locations. Cities and local governments often require prior approval for a food truck operator to operate in a specific location.
For instance, the City of Lacey designates certain areas in the right-of-way for food truck use and also notes that food trucks may operate in certain zones with the prior authorization of the city. Additionally, some cities, such as Everett specify locations at which a food truck may not operate.
In Tacoma, a partnership between the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department has resulted in a regulatory license that allows mobile food trucks or trailers to legally operate curb side at select zones in the city.
Many communities are updating their codes to accommodate or regulate mobile vending. Faced with inquiries from food vendors, many communities turn to their zoning codes, only to discover that mobile food vending isn’t really defined and may not be permitted in the way vendors might like.
With the approach to regulating mobile vending varying widely in communities, it can be hard to know where to begin when considering starting a food truck business and also choosing the best place to park.