This excerpt is part of Entrepreneur.com's Second-Quarter Startup Kit which explores the fundamentals of starting up in a wide range of industries.

In Start Your Own Food Truck Business, the staff at Entrepreneur Press and writer Rich Mintzer explain how you can get started in the mobile food industry, whether you want to own a food truck, cart, trailer, kiosk or other on-the-go food business. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer tips on the different types of mobile food vehicles you can choose for your new business.

While it's true that the food is what lures most people into the mobile food industry, your truck, cart, trailer, bus or kiosk is a key part of your business equation. Along with mobility, the latest in technology provides you with a marvelous opportunity to compete with brick-and-mortar eateries.

If you're considering taking the plunge, then you need to focus on a vehicle (or kiosk) that meets your needs. Vehicle choice depend primarily on:

  • Size and scope of your projected business endeavor
  • Food or foods you plan to serve
  • How much you are planning to invest in the business
  • The area(s) in which you will be operating
  • Your financial goals and expectations

Carts

"Carts are like cars -- you can build a VW or a Mercedes Benz," says Mike Boyd from Cart King, a major food cart seller that works with buyers to create the best cart for their individual needs. "The features you decide to include will depend on your needs and the state rules and regulations." A new six-by-three-foot food cart typically starts at about $4,000, but they can run up to $20,000 depending on the size, features, and quality.

Ten things to consider when buying a cart:

  1. Included features. Do they meet your specific needs or not?
  2. Ease of handling and comfort of handles or ease of hitching to your vehicle.
  3. Weight of the cart. Is it too heavy to push or tow?
  4. How easy it is to secure everything so that nothing falls or breaks when moving
  5. Does the cart require assembly after you buy it? How easy/difficult will that be?
  6. The wheels. Do they lock? Make sure they're sturdy and don't look worn.
  7. The height and width. A narrower cart can squeeze in tight spaces but may not have enough space to meet your needs.
  8. Can you set it up and break it down easily?
  9. Does the cart feel sturdy and well constructed?
  10. The style and design. You want it to represent the theme of your business.

Kiosks

Typically a little more expensive than carts, ranging from $20,000 to $90,000 or more, food kiosks are generally used indoors in rented or leased spaces in malls, arenas, conference centers, hotels, airports, and similar locations. Larger, outdoor kiosks can be used at amusement parks.

A stand-alone kiosk is typically good for serving simple offerings such as pretzels, donuts, cupcakes and other items that don't need to be heated. Coffee is the one hot product frequently sold in kiosks. To cook in a kiosk, you need a ventilation system so you don't have smoke billowing into an indoor facility. For this reason, kiosks serving cooked foods tend to be restricted to foods court where both ventilation and electricity are available. While your costs will be higher (because you're renting space in the venue), you can do upwards of $2,000 a day at a kiosk in a busy location.

Food Trucks

Depending on the size of the truck, the equipment necessary, the retrofitting and whether you're buying new or used, truck costs can run from $15,000 to more than $100,000. They can also take anywhere from a few weeks to six months (or more) to retrofit properly.

The advantage to a new truck is that you get a warranty, have it designed to your liking, and have it built to meet local regulations from the start. Also, everything is brand new. Of course, it will also cost you a lot of money. 

As a result, many food truck owners work from used, retrofitted trucks. If you decide to buy a used truck, have a mechanic that you trust inspect the vehicle carefully, and make sure that everything works, from the sinks and freezers to the headlights and sound system, if there is one.

When buying a truck, you'ill need to consider these issues:

  • Does the truck handle well? Make sure the truck does not overwhelm you and that it is easy to maneuver.
  • Is it easy to see behind you and alongside of you from the mirrors?
  • Is there enough room to fit the equipment you want into the truck and still maneuver comfortably inside?
  • Is the price within your budget? Are there financing options?
  • What is the weight of the truck? A heavier truck (typically over 26,000 pounds) will usually require a commercial (truck) drivers license.

Mobile Catering Trucks

Mobile catering trucks are those hired to provide food for a gathering at a location of the client's choice. If your catering business is primarily transporting food and not serving it, you face less stringent requirements then if you're preparing and serving food. Along with the concerns about purchasing a good quality vehicle, you need to purchase the right truck for what you do. If transporting food from your kitchen to the location of the event is your number-one concern, then you need to focus on square footage, shelving and ability to secure everything you are carrying. Of course you may need refrigerators, freezers and/or warmers. If you're not serving from the truck, sinks and serving areas are not necessary, minimizing some costs.

Conversely, if you're actually cooking on site, you will need food preparation permits and licensing. Again, you have to determine if legally you can cook on board your vehicle in your town or city. If you cannot, your other option is to bring grills and other equipment and cook in designated areas, such as places where barbecuing is allowed.