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6 Types of Mobile Concession That Aren’t Trucks

The fastest growing segment of the restaurant business is food trucks. Food trucks are all the rage, especially in cities, and they offer far more than the standard hotdog and burger fare. Many specialize in gourmet items, local produce, and ethnic specialties, but food trucks are far from your only option if you want to open a mobile restaurant. In fact, a food truck may not even be the best option for you. Here are some mobile concession types to consider:

1. Mobile Food Kiosks

Image via Flickr by Ben Sutherland

Food kiosks are smaller than food trucks, and therefore less expensive. Getting a kiosk license and permit may also be less costly, depending on where you’ll be operating. Malls, sports complexes, and other venues are ideal for setting up a food kiosk. The overhead is low because you’re usually operating in lit conditions where you don’t need to provide your own lighting, and you complete most of the cooking and preparation before you leave, so your kiosk only needs enough power for a warmer, cooler, or freezer unit.

Kiosks are also quick to open and close, so you can serve with little hassle and close up shop in a matter of moments if necessary. This allows you to cash in on crowds and pack up when there’s no business. Pretzels, ice cream, hot dogs, and other pre-made or prepackaged foods are ideal for selling from kiosks. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream kiosks have been quite successful in malls and other venues. The downside is, you’re very limited in how much food you can carry in a kiosk, and the number of menu items is quite restricted.

2. Food Carts

Food carts are typically larger than kiosks, with room inside for one worker plus a food warmer or cooler. It is usually equipped with a window to serve through, unlike the kiosk where the worker is generally standing behind the unit. Some carts are small and light enough to move when pulled by hand, and others are heavy enough to need a vehicle to transport the cart, such as a pickup truck or golf cart.

Since these units are smaller than food trucks, it limits the number of possible menu options to foods prepared or prepackaged ahead of time, such as hot dogs or ice cream sandwiches. However, it’s a lot cheaper and easier to get licensing for a food cart as opposed to a food truck, which has to be thoroughly inspected inside and outside by the health department. Some of the trendy new carts offer kabobs, gyros, salads, and more elaborate fare than simple hot dogs or ice cream.

3. Concession Trailers

A trailer is larger than the cart, usually big enough to accommodate two to three workers. Like the cart, it has a window through which workers can serve customers. These are better suited to large venues where it’s possible to drive the trailer in with a pickup truck. Fairgrounds, sports facilities, carnivals, and festivals are ideal for concession trailers. The larger size allows you to serve more of a variety of foods than is possible from a kiosk or cart.

The downside is, many venues won’t have the room or power hookups necessary to accommodate a concession trailer. Also, it takes longer to set up and break down at the end of the business day. Trailers also cost more to buy and stock than smaller kiosks and carts.

4. Barbecue Trailers

The number one upside to operating a barbecue trailer is the smell factor: folks can sniff out your trailer from across a busy sports complex or fairgrounds, and they’ll pass every hot dog and nacho vendor there to get to your barbecue. You’ll need little more than smoke billowing from the chimney and the smell of delicious meats to advertise your wares.

Barbecue trailers are available in every size from a small, portable unit that fits on the back of a pickup to giant units that need supersize trucks to haul. Licensing for barbecue trailers is sometimes easier, depending on what part of the country you’re in, because states and municipalities are already used to working with barbecue trailers. The most successful vendors create their own special sauce, or specialize in a cut of meat, such as whole chickens or pork butt.

5. “Bustaurants”

Bustaurants are usually operated in two decker busses, using the first level for a kitchen and the second level for customer seating. Like food trucks, the most successful bustaurants specialize in some way, such as offering only local meat and produce, or serving ethnic food like Greek or Thai. Customers are more likely to remember you and come back when they associate you with killer hamburgers from local beef or superior Spanakopita.

Also like food trucks, licensing is sometimes complicated. Buses are also expensive to set up because the bus has to be bought and usually converted into a kitchen and eating area. The buses are also large, so not every venue can accommodate the large parking space and power requirements of operating a restaurant in a bus.

6. Mobile Catering Businesses

A mobile catering business offers a menu from which customers select an entrée, side dishes, and perhaps soups, salads, desserts, and drinks. The caterer then prepares the meal and arrives at the event or venue ready to serve. Perhaps the greatest advantage of a catering service over the others on this list is caterers don’t have to guess about how much food to bring or which types of food will sell well at the event. Since customers preorder, the caterer can arrive with exactly enough food and doesn’t end up with waste.

Caterers are also invited to the event, so there’s no worries about whether they’ll be allowed to set up and serve. The downside is, catering is usually an expensive start-up because the home kitchen has to be thoroughly inspected by the health department, as well as the vehicle used to transport the food. Also, caterers can’t depend on walk up business from traffic at an event, so they need to invest in advertising to generate business.

Owning a mobile concession will depend first on what type of food business you’re looking to get into. Is a food truck right for you or will one of these other options suit your business plan? If so, all these mobile concession options and more are available at Russell Concession & Mobile Kitchens, Inc. Share your startup strategies in the comments below.



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