Cart or Trailer: Making the Right Decision for Your Mobile Business


When starting a concession business, it is important to consider where you will be selling your products and how you will get them to the desired location. Some stands are static and built to stay in one place. Many concession stands, however, are built to move easily from one place to another, as the demand for concession foods in certain locations changes from day to day. There are two types of mobile concession stands: carts and trailers. Before starting your business, it is critical to choose which will be better for your business model.

In This Article You Will Learn:

  • How menu size and amount of preparation required will affect whether you choose a cart or trailer.
  • Whether food preparation should be done on site or in rented commercial kitchen space.
  • What type of transportation you will need to consider if you are buying a cart or trailer.
  • How to choose the right location for selling.

Size Matters: Menu Size and Offerings

Of course the more food you decide you want to serve, the more space you will need to store all of the food you are offering, but do not simply think that less food means less space is needed. There are several other aspects you should take into consideration before jumping to conclusions:

  • Will the food be prepared on site? So you only have a few menu items that you are going to be offering, but they will require a lot of assembly on site. This is something you need to consider. Menu items like sandwiches cannot be prepared off-site for maximum freshness, so you will need extra space for preparation.
  • How many ingredients are in each menu item? Using the same example as above, sandwiches will require a lot of different condiments and ingredients to be stored in your cart or trailer. If you are only offering a few sandwiches the extra storage space may not be needed.
  • What is the size of the food being offered? Consider the size of the food you will be selling. For example, barbequed meat will require more space for preparation, cooking and storing than, say, hot dogs, which need very little space to be cooked and stored.
  • What type of equipment is needed? A few pieces of equipment will fit easily into a concession cart, but, once again, your menu will dictate what type of equipment is needed. Depending on the menu, you could need only a small countertop warmer, or you may need to purchase an entire restaurant range for cooking on-site.

Food Preparation: On-Site or Separate Kitchen

There are two ways of preparing food for sale in concessions. You can do most of the prep work in the stand itself, or you can rent or buy separate commercial kitchen space. Of course, the more prep work you decide to do in the stand itself, the more space you will need, but there are other factors to consider:

  • How much will be prepared each day? If your volume requires continuous food preparation throughout the day, a trailer will be best since there will be more space for additional equipment. If you will be able to have an adequate amount of food
    with just one round of food preparation, it is best to invest in a cart and rent commercial kitchen space for the storage and preparation of bulk ingredients.
  • How much storage space will be available? If you decide to purchase a vendor cart (or even a small trailer), you will need to have commercial kitchen space elsewhere, as you will not have room to store and prepare all of your ingredients in the cart. Trailers offer more space for storage, but you still may need to have outside storage space for bulk ingredients.
  • Is the cost of renting commercial kitchen space worth it? Sure, a trailer costs more initially, but after the cost of commercial kitchen space comes into the picture, trailers may end up being the more affordable option in the long run. There are several factors to add in besides just commercial kitchen rental. There is also the cost of gas to power larger equipment and possibly a generator throughout the day
  • Are there additional health code requirements for preparing food on location? Check with local health codes before you decide on a trailer. Food preparation on the trailer may require the purchase of extra sanitation equipment that you will not need on a small vendor cart.

Transportation Considerations

Trailers are, of course, significantly larger than carts, so it is important to consider your transportation options before purchasing a trailer or a cart. You do not want to get caught unprepared for the costs of storing and transporting your cart or trailer. Consider the following decisions before you make your selection:

  • Can my car or truck handle the weight of a trailer? Trailers come in various sizes, so it is important to make sure that your current vehicle can handle the size of the trailer you purchase. If it cannot, then you will need to factor in the cost of a new vehicle into the initial start up costs for your business.
  • How much is vendor cart storage going to cost? Many outdoor vending areas have an area for the vendor carts to be stored overnight. The storage is typically located nearby so the cart owners do not have to go through too much transportation to get their carts to the space. There are also private storage companies that can be used. If you rent commercial kitchen space in a commissary, they may allow you to store your cart or trailer there as well.
  • Can I keep my trailer in my driveway at home? Familiarize yourself with zoning laws in your city before you deciding to bring your business home with you every night. While it is somewhat of a gray area, if a neighbor complains, there is a good chance that they will have a better case with a zoning committee than you will.

Selecting the Right Resale Locations

There are areas where a cart is best, and there are spots best suited for trailers. There are also certain locations that do not permit the use of trailers or carts, so it is best to scout your desired locations before getting your heart set on one location. Consider the following before making a decision:

  • Is the spot on private property? An empty lot may look unowned, but always make certain that the lot is public property before you begin setting up there. Occasionally, some owners are willing to allow concession carts or trailers on their property, and all it takes is simply finding out who owns the property and asking them politely.
  • Are there size restrictions for vendor carts and trailers? Areas like outdoor walking malls are great places for street vendors to set up shop, but many places have fairly strict specifications that the carts and trailers must meet. Before purchasing a cart or trailer, talk to relevant authorities to determine appropriate specs (size and color) for trailers, as well as any limitations.
  • How accessible is the area from the street? If the setup is going to be in a parking lot, a trailer will be easy to get and out of the spot, but other areas may prove to be a big challenge, even an impossibility, for a trailer. If you plan to be selling on sidewalks or in the middle of a crowded outdoor mall, a cart will be the logical choice.
  • Will there be travel to multiple locations? If you plan on taking your concession to the day’s hot spots, ease of transport must be taken into consideration. While carts are smaller than trailers, they are still very cumbersome to move more than several blocks. If travel is going to be extensive, a trailer makes much more sense. A simple hitch to a truck and you are on your way.

For any concession business startup, the largest investment will more than likely be your mobile stand, so it pays to consider all aspects before you jump into the purchase of something this large. Trailers are a great investment if your vehicle and budget can support it because they allow for more storage space, and more preparations can take place on site. If you prefer to start small and work your way up, carts are a great option. They are also a smaller investment for business owners who only plan to work a few days out of the week, rather than every single day.

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