My first exposure to the tasty delights that can be found on a catering truck was on a military base overseas. Every noon hour, the chow wagon (affectionately referred to as the “roach coach”) rolled onto the tarmac in front of the hanger where our two C-123B cargo planes where based.
This was almost 40 years ago and I can still recall the taste of their Asian fried chicken lying on top of a bed of fried rice — all packaged up in a neat little box that served as both a delivery container and serving bowl.
Over the years, I’ve worked at many different locations that were faithfully serviced by a shiny chrome truck bringing snacks, quick meals, and often local specialty dishes that you just couldn’t get anywhere else. One thing that all worksites have in common is hungry workers. No matter if it’s a construction site, a sales lot, or even a multi-story office building — wherever more then a dozen people are employed, a catering truck of some sort is likely to include those locations on their daily route.
Catering trucks that service job sites throughout the work day usually come in 2 styles:
- The lunch truck — a stainless steel catering unit, mounted on a pickup truck cab and chassis. The vendor stands alongside and the truck’s sides open like wings to display the products. Usually, one side of the truck is the cold side with the display case filled with ice, and sandwiches, cold drinks, fruit, and anything else that requires refrigeration would be located on that side. The other side of the truck would likely be equipped with a large coffee urn, and warming oven to keep heated items ready to serve.
- The catering truck — a full service stand-up rolling kitchen. Usually this type of catering truck is manned by 2-3 people. One may work the crowd outside collecting money and passing orders to those inside who are doing the cooking and packaging. This is where burgers, fries, breakfast specials, and other specialty items are cooked to order on the spot.
Rules & Regulations
Getting into the catering truck business requires a close relationship with:
- the local Health Department (search “[your state] department of health” in Google);
- your local License & Tax Office (find your state); and
- your state Department of Agriculture.
In most instances, you will be required to provide a business plan and submit plans for the type of equipment you intend to use, as well as the type of food you plan on selling.
Depending on your particular state, you may also be required to have a certified commercial kitchen for food storage, as well as to cook any products you intend to sell.
Mobile catering isn’t something you can get into without considerable research and asking a lot of questions. Getting off on the right foot is very important because if the Health Department doesn’t approve your business, you’ll be shut down before you even get started.
Be sure to check out Mobile Catering & Food Concession Businesses — the only website and online forum exclusively devoted to mobile catering, food concession, and vending cart businesses.
Food Catering Products
The equipment you will need for a food truck business depends greatly on what you will be selling.
For example, if you only plan on reselling snacks, soft drinks, and sandwiches which have been purchased from a wholesale distributor pre-packaged (and thus require no actual cooking), then you may only need a permit from your state Department of Agriculture to open your business.
On the other hand, if you will be producing food from raw ingredients, the requirements will be considerably more complex.
Most important is to realize that every state (and even every city) may have different permit and licensing requirements. If you think you found the perfect deal on items for your business on eBay, make sure the Health Department is on the same page first. Buying something from out of state may not meet the requirements of your location. You could be making a very expensive mistake if your plans aren’t pre-approved.
It is also recommended that you get a good publication like How to Start a Lunch Truck Business that will describe in detail what is really involved in setting up your mobile catering business. It’s a small investment up front that will save you lots of headaches (and money) during in the process of running your business.
See how to plan a menu for a food catering truck.
Where To Buy Catering Truck Equipment
If you’re interested in getting into the catering truck business, here are some resources for trucks and equipment:
- Armenco Used Catering Trucks For Sale
- Used Lunch Trucks
- Mobile Catering and Carts
- Plano Catering Trucks
In this video tour of a modern catering truck, they explain lots of new conveniences that will increase your sales and make your venture more profitable: