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What Is a Food Cart?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 16, 2024
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A food cart is a mobile food service operation that generally offers various types of fast food to walk-up customers. It may also be referred to as a mobile kitchen, a food booth, or a food kiosk. This type of street food is a popular staple in many cities around the world -- such as the hot dog carts in New York City, for example -- and is rapidly spreading to other locations due to its convenience factor, and the fact that it often represents a great way to get local, relatively inexpensive food rather than visiting a chain fast food restaurant. The cart may be self propelled, as in a food truck, or it may be towed by another vehicle.

In many cases, a food cart will only offer one particular type of food. For instance, a taco truck is a relatively popular type of food cart, offering customers one very specific food, but in a number of different creations or combinations. Some might serve a few different types of foods, more similar to a rolling restaurant or bakery than a simple hot dog stand. Food carts exist for any meal of the day, with different ones offering selections for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In many cities, food carts are becoming an integral part of street culture, with people even taking food cart "tours" to visit the different options an area has to offer, or going on late-night searches to find the changing location of a favorite cart.

A food cart often represents an excellent and lucrative business idea. Operating costs are fairly low, and only require the purchase of the food cart, the ingredients for preparing specific dishes, and paying a limited staff; many cities will also require the vendor to purchase a license. Some food carts will also capitalize on late-night business in a city, parking outside of bars, for instance. This allows them to find built-in clientele without a great deal of advertising costs or effort.

Additionally, some couples are now even having food carts cater their wedding. Referred to as mobile catering, this allows the food cart to simply arrive at the wedding, and allow guests to make their selections. This is a more popular option for casual, outdoor events; it is not necessary to limit this to weddings, either. It is an easy way to ensure convenient catering and easy clean-up at any type of large party or business event. It is important to keep in mind when eating at any food cart, however, that cleanliness can be an issue, so be sure to look around and make sure that food is being handled properly, and that any food safety certifications are displayed and up to date.

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Discussion Comments
By Cageybird — On Oct 24, 2014

I had a chance to buy a food service cart as a possible fundraiser for my church's youth group last year, but I thought the asking price was a little steep. I was going to set it up as a hot dog stand during community events. I discovered that mobile food carts in my city are highly regulated, and vendors need to prove they have food safety certification and a special business license.

The food vendor cart I looked at was not actually up to code as far as my county's health department was concerned. It didn't have a working sink for hand sanitation. I did find other food carts for sale that would have worked well for my fundraising idea, but the upfront costs would have been prohibitive.

By RocketLanch8 — On Oct 24, 2014

I pushed a food cart around my city's downtown square for a few years, and it was pretty popular for a while. I sold Greek gyro sandwiches exclusively, which meant I needed some hot and cold storage containers and a place to store the paper goods, like wrappers and plates. The food cart's design was surprisingly efficient, with no wasted space. I had to plug it into an electrical outlet in order to run the food warmer and refrigerator, but the city provided that service for free.

Some vendors liked to use a portable food cart and move around the block from time to time, but I found it easier to stay in one spot and let the customers come to me. I stayed at a spot just outside a popular college bar, and I sold a lot of gyros right after it closed for the night. It was more convenient than walking two blocks to the 24 hour diners.

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