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Should You Get a Food Truck or a Food Trailer? 5 Considerations

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Visit any city, large park or festival and you’ll likely spot a food truck or trailer serving something tasty. Perhaps they’ve inspired you to open your own mobile food service. 

If so, deciding whether to use a food truck or food trailer can be challenging. These five considerations will help you choose the correct setup for your business.

1. Budget

Although the initial costs of purchasing a food truck or food trailer are undoubtedly less expensive than starting a restaurant business, that doesn’t mean either option is cheap.

New food trucks range between $175,000 and $150,000, while used trucks might cost you $50,000 to $100,000. You could also rent a food truck for about $2,000 to $3,000 a month. Conversely, food trailers are less expensive — they run as low as $15,000 or up to $50,000. However, their prices vary depending on the size and work it needs.

According to Toast, some of the other costs of purchasing and upgrading a food truck or food trailer are as follows:

  • Customization (electrical, plumbing, cooking equipment): $50,000 to $200,000
  • Rent for commercial space and parking: $500 to $1,000 per month
  • Permitting and licensing: A few hundred dollars to more than $1,000 yearly

A realistic budget for starting your food truck or food trailer business should be between $75,000 and $200,000. But you might think about a food trailer if you want to save money.

2. Financial Goals

With food trucks, you can earn an average of $290,000 annually before deducting operating expenses — approximately 10 times lower than conventional food establishments. On the other hand, concession trailer operators that work 300 days a year, fulfilling 100 orders per day for $5 each, might earn about $37,000 per season. Of course, those who work larger outdoor events or festivals full-time could earn up to $50,000. 

There may be the potential to earn more with a food truck, but that depends on how often you serve the public. You may prefer a food trailer if you plan to operate your mobile food service for some side cash.

3. Safety Precautions

Remember that food trucks are highly combustible — they carry propane gas and are vulnerable to fires sparked by kitchen appliances and grease buildup in compacted hoods. As such, you should look into special fire suppression features and prioritize a design accounting for potential hazards and proper ventilation.

In addition to health and safety requirements, ensure either a food truck or trailer is durable. Many manufacturers sell trailers with the standard 0.025 to 0.035 inches of aluminum roofing and siding despite being thin enough to cut through with a pocket knife.

Always opt for higher quality components, such as 0.040-inch aluminum for enhanced security when deciding between a food truck or food trailer. Other cargo safety features might include radial tires, diamond-plated fenders and strong welding.

4. Current Vehicle

Food trucks have their own mechanical setup and steering system to operate. You can drive your food truck directly to a location or event and set up your operations. Like any vehicle, you’ll be responsible for fuel and maintenance.

In comparison, you must tow a food trailer from place to place, meaning you’ll need a strong enough vehicle to do so. A concession trailer measuring 8 feet by 16 feet usually weighs 1,500 to 2,000 pounds with a tongue weight — the downward force of the trailer when latched to the hitch — of 5,500 pounds.

As such, you’ll likely benefit from larger vehicles that weigh around 8,500 pounds or heavy-duty pickup trucks that weigh about 10,000. Always add roughly 1,000 to 2,000 pounds to your vehicle to ensure it’s powerful enough to withstand the weight of the food trailer. If you don’t own a car that can withstand a food trailer, investing in a new one will be an additional expense you likely weren’t planning on.

5. Type of Food

With a small kitchen, you’ll likely be limited on what you can serve from a food truck or food trailer. Food trucks are typically 16 to 18 feet long compared to food trailers at 35 to 53 feet long. Figure out what you hope to achieve and sell from your mobile dining establishment to clarify your purchase decision.

You can install a kitchen in both food trucks or concession trailers — the amount of room you have to work ultimately depends on how big of a truck or trailer you invest in and the layout. Generally, food trailers tend to have a little extra space for a larger kitchen setup. If you know that your menu requires ample room to prepare the food, a few additional feet in a concession trailer is probably your best bet.

The truck or trailer’s kitchen must comply with your state’s food safety and health requirements, just as any brick-and-mortar restaurant would. Some states even require you to obtain a seller’s permit.

Choose What Best Meets Your Needs

Entering the mobile food business is an excellent alternative for those who love cooking and serving the public but don’t want to deal with the obstacles of opening a restaurant. Before deciding between a food truck and a food trailer, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons to determine which option best meets your needs.

Author Bio: Oscar Collins is the managing editor at Modded, where he writes about food, fitness and more. Follow him on Twitter @TModded for frequent updates of his work.

Oscar Collins is the managing editor at Modded, where he writes about food, fitness and more. Follow him on Twitter @TModded for frequent updates of his work.

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