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How Much Do Food Carts Cost

How Much Do Food Carts Cost? All You Need To Know

Last Updated on June 17, 2024 by Shari Mason

A common belief is that launching a food cart enterprise is less costly compared to establishing a conventional street-side eatery.

As a seasoned home cook, I’ve been curious about how much do food carts cost, so I interviewed industry experts like experienced food cart owners and consultants about their take.

If you are looking forward to opening a food cart, let me break down the cost to see if it is worth investing in. 

How Much Do Food Carts Really Cost?

Infographics of a Food Cart Business

In general, food carts cost around $70,000 to $250,000, but the ballpark figure may vary in different instances. 

The cost may vary depending on how you acquire the food truck. On average, a used food truck costs as low as $30,000, while a new food truck for your food cart may cost around $175,000. 

Aside from the truck, the licensing requirements, local permits, kitchen equipment, serveware, ingredients, and operating and overhead costs significantly affect how much food carts cost. 

Read:

Food Cart Essentials To Consider & Their Costs

Licenses & Permits

Infographics of Licenses & Permits of a Food Cart Business

Zoning

In one of my conversations with a food cart consultant, he mentioned that zoning regulations significantly impact the food cart business cost.

Not all zones and areas share similar requirements and restrictions, so when planning to start a food cart, you must consider where to operate and how much the associated fees are. 

Administrative

Administrative filings and fees vary widely depending on the city you will operate in, so administrative permit costs may vary too. 

The administrative fees like accredited food safety facilities and notaries are paid in the city government offices and can differ depending on the state. 

“Administrative permit costs, including fees for food safety accreditations and notaries, vary widely due to differing regulations across cities and states. These expenses are typically handled at city government offices and can diverge based on the specific locale.”

– Eat Pallet Restaurant & Food Advice

For instance, administrative permitting in Boston costs roughly $17,066, while in Denver, it is around $811. 

Vehicle Requirements

Another thing considered in food cart costing is the vehicle requirements, which vary depending on the state. 

In general, food carts should be self-contained and have a fully-operational kitchen. It should have cooking appliances, sinks and storage, refrigeration, and ventilation systems. 

For instance, in Los Angeles County, a certification sticker and Letter Grade are issued on food trucks to indicate they are permitted [1]. 

The vehicle should meet safety standards and comply with the sanitation and health codes of the state. Also, the vehicle should be registered and insured. 

Health/Menu/Food Safety

Food service and health department permits must be obtained when operating a food cart in the US, and the fees can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. 

In addition, the US Food and Drug Administration requires everyone in the food business to be subject to federal, local, and state permits to ensure food safety [2]. 

Employment

As a home cook and a small business owner, I make sure that everyone on my team has a food handling certificate, which is required when working in food service. 

Yes, this may cost a few dollars, but a food handling license is a legal requirement that guarantees the safety of the consumer. 

A friend of mine referred me to an ANSI-accredited training provider [3], but you can also get a food handler’s permit from the local health department. 

Every employee should get their Food Handler’s license within a month of being hired. 

Safety/Hazard Prevention

Another permit you should secure is the safety and hazard prevention permit and public health permit, which costs depending on the risk level and location. 

A food truck should pass the facility inspection and the food safety requirements to obtain the public health permit. It may cost you roughly $100 to over $1000. 

Sample Licensing Cost In Some Cities

Permit/LicenseRochester, NYNew Orleans, LABoston, MA
Vehicle License$40$10$40
Food Truck License/Permit $1000$400.25N/A
Fire Permit$100$50$110
Food Truck Application$7$50$500
Health Permit$200$100$100
Hawker and Peddler PermitN/AN/A$62
GPS ContractN/AN/A$299 + $89
Business Certificate$25$150$65
Vendor Identification Badge$24$5N/A
Sales Tax DepositN/A$50N/A
Total$1,396$815.25$1,265

Vehicle

Infographics of a Vehicle Using in a Food Cart Business

Rented

If your operating budget is tight, it does not mean that your food cart game has to be delayed because I found a rental food truck for $2,000 to $3,000 per month. 

I understand that buying a truck is expensive, so you are more likely to save more if you rent a vehicle for a lease of at least half a year or longer. 

Purchased

  • Used

A used or pre-owned food truck can cost between $30,000 to $100,000, but a used trailer can be even cheaper, but you need to tow it, which can be another expense. 

Another reality is that since you save money on the used truck, you may need to put some work on it, like a fresh coat of paint or a total overhaul if need be. Be sure to inspect the truck before purchasing it to avoid unnecessary expenses. 

  • Brand New

If you want the best and don’t want to worry about your vehicle’s state, you can buy a brand-new food truck for roughly $175,000 from a dealer. 

A new truck is not cheap, but you can be sure that the equipment will work at its best, plus it comes with warranties. 

Building It From Scratch

If you are talented and a handyman, you can buy a vehicle and convert it into a food truck instead.

Of course, the cost of the van and your vision vary, but you can expect it to drop at least $50,000.

Aside from the cost, customizing your food cart guarantees that the layout is exactly what you like (but it has to be to the government’s liking too). 

Since the state highly regulates food trucks, you should check the requirements before building one to serve your food legally. 

Kitchen Equipment & Decor

Infographics of Kitchen Equipment & Decor

Another factor that might affect the cost of your food cart is the kitchen equipment and the decorations. 

The equipment depends on the type of food you want to serve, which may cost thousands of dollars, not to mention the typical equipment like knives, pots, pans, and utensils. 

Commercial Kitchen Space 

Serving meals on your food cart is one thing, but preparing the meals on wheels is another one.

With this in mind, based on a food cart consultant that I interviewed, some operators rent a space or a commercial kitchen space to prepare and store food. 

Sometimes, the commissary space is essential because many cities in the US require it as part of the food truck application process. 

According to a commissary space near me, the rent can run up to around $1500 a month, and can serve different small food businesses.

Food Truck Parking

Infographics of a Food Truck Parking

Unlike mortar and brick establishments, food trucks do not pay rent, but where do the trucks go after they are done for the day? 

Based on my insider, many cities strictly regulate food truck parking when they are serving and when they are closed. 

If you have a private property to park your food truck, it’s an option, but if not, some commissaries offer overnight parking, which means another expense of around $500-$1000 per night. 

Ingredients

How will you serve the crowd if you need a budget for your ingredients? Ingredients cost around $1,000 or more depending on what you offer and the volume of your customer. 

Serveware

Another startup budget you must prepare is the serveware cost- plates, lids, cups, napkins, and utensils. You can prepare around $300 for a serveware startup. 

Food Truck’s Operational Costs

Infographics of a Food Truck's Operational Costs

Gas

The expenses for the truck do not end after acquiring one because it will not work without gas. The gas cost may vary because some leave their spots for required inspections, private parties, etc. 

Maintenance

Your food truck is a food service establishment that needs maintenance, but the good thing is the maintenance is less expensive than a restaurant establishment. 

Fortunately, maintenance costs revolve around oil changes and appliance repairs. 

Insurance

Your food truck is a business, so you must secure insurance for your protection and not just for government requirements. You can expect to spend at least $1,000 per year on insurance. 

Permits & Licenses

In the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation study, an average food truck owner spends $28,276 [4] on licenses and permits in their first year, but the payment varies depending on the state. 

Professional Advice & Support

Starting and running a food cart alone is not simple, so consider professional advice and support for your startup. 

Today’s food trucks are far from cheap eats on wheels, there are some seriously gourmet offerings on four wheels.

-Tyler Florence, Professional Chef 

A business attorney or accountant can advise you; the consultation fee ranges from $37 to $400 per hour. It’s an investment worth trying, especially if you have yet to gain experience in the restaurant industry. 

FAQs 

u003cstrongu003eIs a food cart a good investment?u003c/strongu003e

Yes, a food cart is a good investment. It only requires a low initial investment, low operational cost, attracts customers, and can experiment in different locations. 

u003cstrongu003eHow much does it cost to run a food truck monthly?u003c/strongu003e

Running a food truck monthly may cost around $10,000 to $15,000. However, the monthly cost varies depending on the menu complexity, location, and operational expenses. 

u003cstrongu003eHow much does a food truck make?u003c/strongu003e

A food truck can make $20,000 – $42,000 monthly or $250,000 – $500,000 annually. 

u003cstrongu003eHow much does it cost to rent a food truck for a week?u003c/strongu003e

Depending on the variables, renting a food truck for a week costs around $1500 – $2500 or more. 

In Summary 

Starting and running a food cart business costs around $70,000 to $250,000, but the cost may vary depending on the state, permits, acquired vehicle, operational, and overhead costs. 

It is indeed cheaper to start a food cart than a restaurant establishment, but it is not as cheap as I expected, especially in the first year. 

Is it worth investing in? A food cart is a good investment because of the low initial investment, operational cost, and staffing cost. However, each choice comes with its price tag, so consider all the factors. 

References:

  1. http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/eh/business/food-trucks-carts.htm 
  2. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-industry/how-start-food-business 
  3. https://anabpd.ansi.org/Accreditation/credentialing/certificate-issuers/AllDirectoryListing
  4. https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/reports/food-truck-nation-us-chamber-commerce-foundation-food-truck-index 
Shari Mason

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