Starting a food cart business can be quite an undertaking, so it’s essential to understand the cost involved in setting up your business. This includes the cost of purchasing a food cart and other necessary equipment like cooking utensils, refrigeration equipment, and food prep tools.
In this section, we’ll look into the costs associated with buying a food cart, what equipment you’ll need, and any ongoing costs that you’ll need to consider.
Types of Food Carts Available
Food carts are a popular way to start a food business due to their low start-up costs and flexibility. There are different types of food carts available depending on the type of food you want to sell and your budget.
Hot dog carts: Hot dog carts are the most basic type of food cart, and they are a great option for those starting in the food business. They typically come equipped with a hot water heater, a grill, and a cooler.
Food trucks: Food trucks are larger and more expensive than hot dog carts but offer more space for cooking and storage. They can also offer more menu options to customers.
Concession trailers: Concession trailers are similar to food trucks but can be detached from the towing vehicle, making them easier to park and store. They usually feature more equipment and space for cooking and storage.
The cost of a food cart can vary depending on its size, equipment, and location. On average, a hot dog cart can cost between $2,000 to $5,000, while a food truck or a concession trailer can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000. The equipment needed for a food cart depends on the type of food you plan to sell, but some key items include a generator, a refrigerator, a griddle, and a cash register.
Factors that Affect the Cost of a Food Cart
Several factors can influence the cost of a food cart, including the type of equipment needed, the size of the cart, and the customization required. The total cost of a food cart can vary greatly based on these factors, among others.
Some of the most significant factors that affect the cost of a food cart include the number and type of appliances required, such as grills, ovens, and refrigeration units. The size of the cart and any customization options, like custom branding or exterior design, may also increase the cost. Additionally, the cost of permits and licenses needed to operate a food cart may vary by location and can add to the final expense.
When determining the overall cost of a food cart, it’s important to consider both the upfront investment and the ongoing costs, like maintenance and restocking costs.
Pro tip: To ensure the best value for your investment, research different food cart options, compare prices, and consider consulting with a professional to determine the optimal cart size and features for your business needs.
Typical Price Ranges for a Food Cart
The cost of a food cart ranges from $2,000 to $10,000, depending on the size, design, and equipment you need. A basic food cart comes with a few essential components such as a grill, a fryer, storage space, and a sink. However, the cost of additional equipment such as a refrigerator, a ventilation system, and a generator can significantly increase the price of a food cart.
Before purchasing a food cart, it’s essential to identify your specific needs and budget, and shop around for different options. You should also consider the cost of licenses, permits, and insurance, which vary depending on your location and the type of food you plan to serve. By researching different suppliers and carefully calculating your costs, you can find a food cart that fits your needs and budget and start your own mobile food business.
Essential Equipment for a Food Cart
Starting a food cart business can be a great way to introduce yourself to the restaurant industry, but it’s important to ensure you have all the right equipment before you launch. Knowing what equipment you need and how much it will cost can ensure that you’re on the right track.
Let’s take a look at the essential equipment for a food cart and how much it will cost.
Cooking Equipment and Appliances
Starting a food cart requires investing in some essential pieces of equipment and appliances to ensure effective and efficient service to customers. Here’s a list of the must-have equipment for your food cart:
Griddle: A flat top griddle and a scraper are necessary for grilling meats, making sandwiches, and sautéing vegetables.
Steam table: This is ideal for keeping precooked foods like hot dogs, sausages, and sauces hot and ready to serve.
Refrigeration unit: Depending on the size of your cart and your menu, you can opt for a compact fridge or a chest freezer to keep your ingredients fresh and cool.
Prep table: A workspace is a valuable addition to your cart. It can have a built-in cutting board, storage shelves, and sinks.
Propane tank with a hose and regulator: A propane tank is vital for powering up your griddle, steam table, and other cooking appliances.
Cash register: A digital or mechanical cash register is necessary for receiving payments from your customers.
Pro-tip: Before purchasing any equipment or appliances, determine the power source requirements, the size and weight of the equipment, and whether or not it’s easily portable.
Griddles and flat-top grills
Griddles and flat-top grills are essential equipment for any food cart. These versatile appliances can cook a wide range of foods quickly and efficiently, making them perfect for street vendors and mobile kitchens.
Here are some benefits of using griddles and flat-top grills:
- They have a large surface area, allowing you to cook multiple items simultaneously.
- They can cook foods at high temperatures, which is important for achieving a nice sear on meats and vegetables.
- They are easy to clean and maintain, which is important for keeping your food cart sanitary.
Griddles and flat-top grills come in a variety of sizes and styles, so you can choose one that fits your specific needs and budget. They can range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on the size and features.
Deep fryers are crucial pieces of equipment for any food cart that serves fried food items like French fries, fried chicken, or fish and chips.
When looking for the right deep fryer for your food cart, consider the following factors:
Size – Choose a fryer that can accommodate your average order size.
Power source – Decide whether you will be using propane or electricity to power your fryer.
Temperature control – Opt for a fryer with adjustable temperature controls to ensure consistent frying results.
Price point – Choose a fryer that fits your budget but is also reliable and easy to clean.
Some popular options for a food cart deep fryer are countertop models, electric fryers, and propane fryers. Make sure to follow all safety guidelines when using your deep fryer to prevent any accidents.
Convection ovens are an excellent essential piece of equipment for any food cart as they are versatile and offer efficient cooking methods. Convection ovens use fans to circulate hot air, ensuring that your food is cooked evenly and more quickly.
Here are the benefits of using a convection oven in your food cart:
- Versatility: Convection ovens can roast, bake, and even dehydrate food, perfect for a food cart with limited space.
- Efficient: Convection ovens cook food about 25% faster than traditional ovens, allowing for higher production and faster customer turnover.
- Space-saving: Most convection ovens are compact and can fit in tight spaces, making them an excellent choice for food carts.
- Temperature control: Unlike traditional ovens, convection ovens offer precise temperature control, ensuring that your food is cooked to perfection every time.
If you’re looking for essential equipment for your food cart, invest in a convection oven, and provide your customers with delicious and well-cooked food.
Storage and Food Preparation Equipment
Operating a food cart requires essential equipment for food preparation and storage. Here are the four essential pieces of equipment for a food cart:
1. Refrigeration Unit: A refrigeration unit is necessary when it comes to food storage. It keeps the beverages, raw materials, and other perishables at a safe temperature.
2. Cooking Equipment: Your food cart must offer full-course meals, so you’ll need cooking equipment such as a flat-top grill, a deep fryer, and a stove.
3. Food Processor: A food processor is an essential tool for chopping herbs, slicing vegetables, and shredding meat.
4. Handwashing Station: You must install a home-based handwashing facility inside your food cart to prevent contamination.
The cost of a food cart depends on its design, size, and location. On average, a new food cart ranges from $5,000 to $20,000. Second-hand food carts can be less expensive, but it’s essential to consider their overall condition, cleanliness, and upkeep history.
Follow these tips when it comes to your food cart equipment to give customers the best experience possible.
Refrigeration units and freezers
Refrigeration units and freezers are essential equipment for any food cart as they ensure the freshness and safety of the ingredients used in the food preparation process.
Here’s what you need to know: Refrigeration units come in different sizes and types. Undercounter refrigerators are ideal for small spaces, while walk-in refrigerators are better for larger food carts.
Freezers are needed to store frozen ingredients, such as meats and vegetables, and they are also available in different sizes and types, including chest freezers and upright freezers.
When choosing a refrigeration unit or freezer for your food cart, consider the size and layout of your food cart, the amount and type of ingredients you plan to store, and your budget.
Keep in mind that investing in high-quality refrigeration and freezer equipment can save you money in the long run by reducing food waste and ensuring that your customers are satisfied with the quality and freshness of your food.
Sinks and plumbing equipment
Sinks and plumbing equipment are essential for any food cart as it ensures food safety and hygiene. Depending on your menu and location, you may need a specific type and number of sinks and plumbing equipment.
Here is a list of common essential equipment:
Handwashing Sink: This is mandatory and the most important sink on your food cart. It should be supplied with warm water and soap.
Triple Sink: This sink is used to wash, rinse and sanitize dishes and utensils.
Mop Sink: This sink is used to dispose of dirty mop water.
Fresh Water Tanks: Store clean water in a tank to use for cooking, cleaning, and washing.
Waste Water Tanks: Store wastewater and food scraps in a tank to dispose of in a safe and environmentally-friendly manner.
Pro Tip: Before purchasing equipment for your food cart, research your local health codes and regulations to ensure you’re meeting all the requirements.
Food storage containers and shelving
Food storage containers and shelving are crucial components of a food cart. A food cart is not complete without the right equipment, and this includes high-quality storage containers and well-designed shelving to ensure that your food is kept safe, fresh, and easily accessible.
Here are some essential equipment details you need for a food cart:
1. Food Storage Containers: You need food-grade containers to store your ingredients, cooked food, and other supplies. These containers must be easy to clean, resistant to stains, and should come with airtight lids to keep your food fresh for longer periods.
2. Shelving and Racks: A well-designed and efficient shelf system is critical to ensure that everything is organized, and there is no wastage of space. This takes careful consideration of the size and weight of your equipment and supplies, along with the cart’s available space.
Investing in durable, high-quality equipment will ensure the longevity of your food cart and keep your customers coming back to you.
Additional Equipment Options to Consider
When considering essential equipment for a food cart, there are a few additional options you may want to consider to optimize your operation.
Deep Fryer: Ideal for making fried chicken, fish, onion rings, and french fries. A countertop deep fryer with temperature controls and easy to clean baskets is recommended.
Refrigerator: A compact fridge is indispensable for storing raw ingredients and perishable goods. Look for an energy-efficient model with adjustable shelves and temperature controls.
Freezer: A small freezer can help extend the shelf life of your products and keep them fresh. A chest freezer with adjustable temperature controls and a locking lid is best for food carts.
Griddle: A commercial-grade griddle with temperature controls and a built-in grease trap can be used to cook pancakes, eggs, burgers, and grilled sandwiches.
Beverage Dispenser: A beverage dispenser that dispenses hot and cold drinks is a great addition to your food cart. Choose a model that is easy to clean and has temperature controls.
Additional equipment like a blender, food processor, and microwave can also be considered based on your menu items.
Pro Tip: Ensure the equipment you invest in is easy to clean and maintain, and meets the safety guidelines issued for food carts in your area.
Point-of-sale (POS) systems
Point-of-sale (POS) systems are an essential piece of equipment for food carts to conduct sales, track inventory, and manage customer orders.
A standard POS system includes a computer or tablet, cash drawer, and payment processing peripherals such as credit card readers or mobile payment options.
The cost of a POS system varies depending on its features, capabilities, and the size of your food cart business. Some POS systems offer advanced features such as inventory management, employee tracking and analytics, and can cost upwards of several thousand dollars. Alternatively, smaller, more basic systems are available for a few hundred dollars.
Pro tip: When looking for a POS system, consider your budget, the size of your business, and your specific needs. Shop around and compare different systems to find one that best fits your requirements.
Menu boards and signage
Menu boards and signage are essential equipment for a food cart, as they help to attract and inform customers about your offerings. Here are some tips for choosing and designing effective menu boards and signage for your food cart:
Keep it simple and legible, using easy to read fonts, and colors that contrast with your background. Highlight your most popular items and any specials, using images or descriptions to entice customers.
Make sure your menu boards and signage are easily visible from a distance, using bright colored markers or LED lights. Use durable and waterproof materials that are easy to clean and maintain.
A well-designed menu board and signage can help make your food cart stand out and attract more customers.
Portable generators and power sources
Portable generators and power sources are essential pieces of equipment for any food cart. They provide the necessary power to run your equipment, such as fridges, freezers, warming trays, and lights, enabling you to serve a wide range of menu items.
When it comes to choosing a generator, here are three recommended portable generators for your food cart:
Honda EU2200i: This generator is known for its reliability, quiet operation, and fuel efficiency, making it ideal for outdoor events.
Champion 3500-Watt Portable Generator: This generator provides ample power to run multiple pieces of equipment simultaneously and comes at a reasonable price point.
Briggs & Stratton P2200 Power Smart Series: This generator is portable, easy to use, and comes with multiple outlets, including USB ports to charge your phone or tablet.
When selecting a power source for your food cart, consider the power requirements of your equipment and the number of hours you will be using it. Pro Tip: Always have a backup power source on hand.
Required Permits and Certifications for Food Cart Equipment
Operating a food cart means you’ll need to have the necessary permits and certifications in place based on your local jurisdiction regulations. You’ll also need to have the proper equipment as determined by the type of food you plan to serve and the volume you’ll be producing. The equipment needed for a food cart can vary but some common items include a generator, cooking equipment, refrigeration, and storage.
Here are some permits and certificates you should acquire before starting your food cart:
- Food Service Permit: This permit certifies that your food cart meets local food safety regulations.
- Business License: A license to operate your business provided by your local government office.
- Fire Safety Certification: This certification ensures your food cart meets fire safety standards.
- Health Department Inspection Certificate: An inspection certificate to verify that the food you serve meets health and safety standards.
Pro Tip: It’s important to research and obtain all necessary permits and certifications before buying equipment for your food cart. Not having the proper permits can result in costly fines and delays in getting your business up and running.
Obtaining necessary permits and licenses
Before purchasing equipment for your food cart, it is important to obtain the necessary permits and licenses to avoid any legal issues later on.
Permits and licenses include:
Health department permits: Most state laws require a health department permit to sell food to the public. This permit ensures that your food meets health and safety standards.
Vendor’s license: Some states require a vendor’s license before operating a food cart. This license grants permission to sell goods and collect sales tax.
Business license: A business license is required in most cities and states to operate a food cart legally. This license is issued by the city or state where your business is located.
After obtaining the necessary permits and licenses, it is essential to purchase the right equipment for your food cart based on your menu and business needs. The cost of a food cart varies depending on the type of equipment and materials used.
Pro tip: Research the necessary permits and licenses for your area before purchasing equipment for your food cart to avoid any legal issues.
Adhering to health and safety regulations
Operating a food cart requires strict adherence to health and safety regulations, especially in the preparation and handling of food. Here are some essential equipment items that every food cart owner must have to ensure compliance with such regulations:
Handwashing station: A portable sink with hot and cold water and soap is necessary to maintain proper hand hygiene.
Refrigeration: A refrigerator or an ice cooler can help keep food at safe temperatures and minimize the risk of spoilage.
Cooking equipment: Food carts usually require cooking equipment such as a griddle or a fryer to prepare food.
Utensils: Ensure that disposable utensils, such as napkins, cups, forks, and spoons, are in ample supply.
Cleaning equipment: To maintain cleanliness and hygiene, a food cart must have cleaning supplies such as sanitizers, wipes, trash bags, and mops.
Bonus: A food cart can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over ten thousand dollars depending on the equipment being used and other factors like location, permits, and licenses.
Pro Tip: Make sure to check with your local health department to ensure compliance with health and safety regulations before setting up your food cart.
Maintaining and servicing food cart equipment
Maintaining and servicing the equipment on your food cart is crucial to ensure that it keeps running efficiently and avoids breakdowns. Here are some essential tips to consider:
Clean your grill after every use to prevent the buildup of grease and grime.
Regularly check and adjust the pilot light on your propane tanks to ensure consistent fuel flow.
Clean and sanitize all surfaces and equipment daily to prevent cross-contamination and foodborne illnesses.
Inspect all equipment regularly for wear and tear, and replace or repair any damaged parts.
It is recommended to have a backup generator to avoid power outages.
The cost of a food cart varies depending on the type and size, ranging from $2,000 to $20,000.