Starting a Mobile Food Concession Business? Be Sure to Follow the Rules of the Road
by Caron_Beesley, Community Moderator
- Created: April 18, 2012, 7:24 am
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:
- 6 Ways to Manage Cash Flow as a Seasonal Business Owner
- Hiring Seasonal Workers
- Running a Seasonal Business – Thriving and Surviving Year Round
Happy mobile selling!
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