Food Trucks vs. Food Carts vs. Food Trailers: What’s The Difference?

food trucks vs carts

Food trucks, food carts, and food trailers are three different forms of mobile vending. Each has their value, but the perfect fit for your mobile food vending business will depend on your goals and budget.

In this post, we’re listing the pros and cons of each option, helping you decide which foodie path to take.

Food Carts

Food carts, also known as food trikes, are small push carts that can very easily be carted place to place.

Cost: Low. Average price is $4,000 – $10,000

Features:

  • Very Small. Food carts don’t take up much space and are often easier to store than larger trucks or trailers.
  • Food Service Limitations. Carts are more limited to the types of food they can sell compared to food trucks. Exact regulations will vary quite a bit between cities, so check with your local city food truck association to understand the specifics for your region. Because food carts aren’t equipped with a kitchen, some cities require that all food must be pre-packaged and can only be stored in the food cart.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Fairly easy to transport
  • Easier to clean and repair

Cons:

  • Not as much space to cook
  • Not as noticeable
  • Can’t feed as many customers at once, which could be a business problem. Think about food truck festivals or rush lunch hours – customers may see your long lines and go elsewhere.

Ideal for: Mobile food businesses dealing with a single primary specific, regular location.

Food Trucks

Food trucks are the largest and most popular mobile food option. While they’re more expensive, they also allow for increased mobility and more cooking abilities.

Cost: $15,000 – $100,000. Cost varies dramatically depending on features and customizations.

Features:

  • More Expensive. Not only does a food truck itself cost much more to build than a food cart, but food trucks are also susceptible to costly breakdowns and repairs that carts don’t have to deal with.
  • Large Kitchens. Many trucks boast impressive kitchens with enough space to hold multiple staff members while providing trucks with all the tools and food truck supplies they need to cook up a variety of dishes.
  • Better Mobility. Because food trucks are fully equipped motorized vehicles, they can easily travel from place to place, establishing specific routes and stopping at a variety of locations in a single day. This also means that food trucks have an easier time catering events, attending food truck festivals, and meeting the lunch time rush, sometimes all in the same day!
  • More Regulations. Food trucks are often required to meet a significant number of requirements. While all mobile food vendors must get proper permitting for cities, food trucks often need the most permitting. On top of that, you’ll have to deal with food truck insurance, commissaries, housing for your truck, etc. Be sure to research your own city regulations to understand what is required of you.

Pros:

  • More noticeable and attract more attention
  • Large variety of options for food
  • Can be moved anytime, to anywhere
  • Capable of serving larger crowds

Cons:

  • More expensive (for building, repairs, and insurance)
  • More regulations

Ideal for: Mobile food businesses that want to be ultra-mobile and serve higher volume of customers.

Food Trailers

Food trailers are a hybrid of a food cart/food truck. Food trailers can’t be driven – they need to be hitched to a vehicle and towed. However, they’re usually large enough to be equipped with a full-sized kitchen like those found in food trucks.

Cost: $10,000 – $50,000

  • Cheaper Than Trucks. Food trailers serve as a nice middle ground between food trucks and food carts, usually costing less than trucks and more than carts.
  • Equipped With Mobile Kitchens. Food trailers are usually big enough to be stocked with a decent sized kitchens, allowing for many more food possibilities than mobile food carts.
  • Easier on Repairs. While food trailers will certainly need kitchen repairs from time to time and will require specific permitting and insurance, they don’t need to worry about complicated vehicle repairs and car insurance the same way that food trucks do.

Pros:

  • Can serve more customers than carts

Cons:

  • Still need to be towed (and with a hefty vehicle)

Ideal for: those who want a considerable kitchen but are willing to sacrifice some of their mobility.

Things to Consider:

  • Your Financial Goals. How much money do you need to make? Food carts and food trailers are more limited in scope for where they can travel, and food carts can’t serve as many customers as a food truck can. Be sure to consider this when choosing between cart, truck, or trailer.
  • What Type of Food You Want to Serve. Food carts are usually more limited in terms of what food they can serve (although exact regulations depend on local city rules. Make sure you buy a mobile food setup that can legally serve the food you want to cook.
  • Budget. Some mobile food vending setups are cheaper than others – your budget may dictate what route you choose to go down.
  • Where You Want to Sell. If you plan on parking in the exact same spot all day, nearly every day, you don’t need the easy transportation provided by food trucks (a food cart or food trailer would serve just fine). However, if you want a regular route that goes across the city, trucks are your best bet.
  • Your Current Vehicle. Food trailers (and most food carts) need to be towed from place to place. This requires that you have a vehicle that can adequately tow your mobile food vending setup. Remember, depending on how decked out your food trailer is, you might need a very powerful vehicle to pull it. Keep this in mind, as being forced to buy a new car would likely erase any cost savings between food trailers and food trucks.

Just remember, opening a food truck is no easy task – it requires careful planning and forethought. For a sneak peek into the life of a food trucker, check out this mini food truck documentary!

What’s your experience with food truck, food cart, or food trailer purchases? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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