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Starting a Mobile Food Concession Business? Be Sure to Follow the Rules of the Road

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Starting a Mobile Food Concession Business? Be Sure to Follow the Rules of the Road

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: April 18, 2012

Want to take your restaurant on the road? Interested in starting a food-service business that affords lower overhead costs than a bricks and mortar restaurant?

Starting a mobile food concession business has its advantages – the rent is cheaper, staff overhead is lower, and you can move to follow the profits. But it also has its challenges – weather, vehicle breakdowns, and seasonality, to name a few. And don’t forget, starting a business or expanding into new markets, particularly with on-board food, means you’ll also have to heed laws and regulations that apply when you take your business to the streets.

Here’s what you need to know about operating your concession business within the law:

1. Apply for Licenses and Permits

Any business needs a license or permit to operate legally, but going mobile requires you to get permits for all the cities and counties where you operate, not just your static business address (which may be your main place of business or your home-based HQ). Food service businesses typically need a food service establishment permit, an alcohol beverage license, a general business license, and a food safety permit. To help you determine which licenses and permits you will need, check out SBA.gov’s Business Licenses and Permits tool.

For more information about the process read: How to Find the Right License and Permit for Your New Business.

2. Insure Your Mobile Business

In certain instances, state law may require your business to be covered by insurance. For example, if you use a car or truck for business purposes, you may need to buy commercial auto insurance. Many fairs and festivals also require that concession businesses have general liability insurance. If you have employees, you are going to need to pay workers insurance. Refer to your state government website for more information about what insurance your state requires, or check out SBA’s guide to business insurance requirements .

3. Comply With Health and Safety Laws

If you are involved in food preparation, you’ll need to comply with laws and regulations that govern concession businesses in the location where you operate. If you are a mobile concession, check food vending laws in the different locations you serve. You may be required to pass a food safety exam, have an official inspection, and so on. 

The National Park Service, which administers more than 500 concessions contracts across the country, conducts periodic inspections of its concession program participants and also checks price lists and tariffs. Get more information about the National Park Service concession program here

4. Location, Location, Location

Many factors impact where you locate your concession business. Here are some market considerations and regulatory factors to bear in mind:

  • What’s your strategy? Do you intend to be mobile and service special events such as festivals or sporting events? Do you prefer a fixed location or a combination of both?
  • Do your research and focus on locations or venues that generate consistently high foot traffic, without the threat of too much nearby competition for your product.
  • Check with the owner or organization that operates that space and find out what fees they may charge – does it fit your budget?
  • What street vending laws apply to your chosen city or county?
  • What’s the process for getting a food permit? Sometimes these are limited and the process can vary. Talk to other vendors about how they got theirs.
  • If the owner of the space you occupy hasn’t already done so, you might also need to check zoning information.

5. Plan for Seasonality

No, there are no legal requirements when it comes to planning for seasonality, but it’s such an important part of operating a mobile concession business that it’s hard to overlook.

Planning where you’re going to take your business ahead of time is critical. Try to get your hands on your city, county, or state calendar of fairs or festivals. Use sites like Festival Network Online or keep an eye on city websites. Don’t overlook your local Chamber of Commerce, home owner’s association, and local city tourist office – these will have more information on smaller, local events in your area.

For more general tips on managing a seasonal business read:

Happy mobile selling!

About the Author:

Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Comments:

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Sure, I can't agree with you more concerning research.Every state has their rules and regulations concerning starting a food concession.
Sure, I can't agree with you more concerning research.Every state has their rules and regulations concerning starting a food concession.
Hello; Many cities are creating areas set aside for the operation of portable food businesses like food trucks and concessions trailers. They promote these areas thus giving the vendors that pay the location fee additional advertising that is always helpful in making a success of any small business. Also, when considering your location don't forget about traders villages, flea markets, and local trade days that occur in the same location on a regular basis such as the first weekend of every month. I have over 35 years of experience in the carnival business and am open to providing any assistance I can to help food vendors make their new or growing businesses a success. Thanks for this post. Keep up the good work, Max
Don't forget about auto insurance! Since your business is mobile, it is extremely important to keep your food truck in working condition. I would suggest speaking with your insurance agent to determine the best coverage for your situation. If your business is solely mobile, make sure that you also create an emergency plan. What happens if you wreck the truck and it has to go in for repairs? What will you do when the weather is bad?
one good thing about mobile food concession is, they can move the business any where, where they feel the market is doing good. One more idea, if they have there own website and have home delivery service than people can easily place order online and deliver the food to their door step. It is wonderful idea
It indeed is so simple to have a mobile concession - be it a small retail or a food concession. Getting in to core franchise deals, negotiating a franchise, complying with laws and regulations can really be tiring. More importantly, mobile concession is much easy to control, operate and manage! Thank you for sharing this information
Hi, Caron (hoipe I can address you in person :) I like the article very much. I think that it is very useful, very elaborate and very well written. You have covered all the necessary points. Congrats and best luck! This post was edited to remove a link. Please review our Community Best Practices for more information about how best to participate in our online discussions. Thank you.
I agree... the most important thing to do is research local rules and legislation pertaining to mobile food vending. Rules very dramatically from one municipality to the next, so don't make any assumptions!

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