10.30.2020

Food Truck vs. Food Cart: Which to Choose?

Written by Austin Chegini

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Visit any major city or community event, and you are bound to see a few food trucks and carts. These walk-up dining options make it easy to eat on the go, but operating each of these is a vastly different proposition. 

As you consider starting a food truck vs. food cart, you will need to review your goals, market, and budget. Here are overviews of each option, as well as some advantages and downsides that come with them. 

Food trucks

Food trucks are large vehicles with mobile kitchens. Food is prepared in the truck and served from a window on the side of the vehicle. Menu items typically consist of easy to eat meals, such as sandwiches and tacos.

Most food trucks have a counter running alongside the truck for guests to stand and eat. However, many food truck owners also bring portable tables, seats, and even tents to make a dining area near. 

Pros

  • Larger working area: Food trucks can accommodate 2-3 workers at once, making it easier to process orders and prepare meals.
  • Easier to move about: You can quickly navigate the city and attend local events throughout the area.
  • Better branding: Customizing the side of your food truck allows you to create a billboard on wheels, promoting your brand and making you easy to find.
  • Offer an extensive menu: With bigger storage capacity, you can offer options for everyone and serve more meals in one stop. 

Cons

  • More expensive: Food trucks come at a high price. Additional expenses, like fuel and tires, will increase your operating costs.
  • Harder to maneuver: You may have difficulty parking your truck and navigating through narrow streets can be a challenge. Staff will need to be trained to drive this vehicle. 
  • Not easily replaceable: Compared to food carts with easily replaceable parts, food trucks take longer to repair.

With these considerations, food trucks are best for those who want to start mobile restaurants with diverse menus.

Food carts

Food carts are hand-operated stands that typically serve one or two types of food. Carts typically have two to four wheels so operators can push them through crowds. Carts can be outfitted with different heating elements to cook certain foods. For example, hot dog carts can have rollers, steamers, and boilers.

Pros

  • Compact for sidewalks: Food carts are ideal for navigating walkways in cities and large social events.
  • Low cost: While some food carts cost over $10,000, you can get started with a basic stand for only $1,000.
  • Easy to operate: Carts donโ€™t require much training to use, so you can quickly onboard new employees and expand your business.

Cons

  • Small storage space: You cannot offer a variety of meals from a food cart, and you will need to restock items sooner than you would on a truck. 
  • Requires a vehicle to transport: Food carts are easy to push around and serve food from, but you will need a truck or trailer to drop off your stands. 
  • Harder to brand: Diners may not see your food cart because of its small size, and you will need to buy an umbrella or sidewalk signs to attract attention.

Considering these points, food carts are best for those in large cities with heavy pedestrian traffic or entrepreneurs who want a low-cost way of entering the foodservice industry.

Tips for starting a food truck or food cart 

As you decide between a food truck vs. food cart, keep in mind that there are universal factors of running a mobile food business that you need to consider. 

Read over these tips to run your business better:

  • Research your market: Do other businesses offer similar menus?  Make sure your food truck stands out from the crowd and appeals to local diners.
  • Choose the right point of sale: It is wise to invest in a tablet POS that can process all types of payments, send digital receipts, and track inventory.
  • Hire the right staff: In addition to making sure your employees are excellent cooks, you want to make sure your staff can drive your truck or safely maneuver your cart through crowds. 

For more advice, read our guide on how to start a food truck.