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Sep 18, 2014

Street Smarts: Some Helpful Tips On Purchasing The Right Concession Stand Or Food Cart

Posted: Sep 13, 2012

Concession stands and food carts come in many shapes and sizes to meet the needs of the evolving concessions and street / mobile food market in the US.  People are eating street food or concession more than ever, and it isn’t just the same old boring food one could expect New York City circa the 1940’s.  Mobile food and concession stands are beginning to serve up loads of different products, and it is important to be equipped properly before serving.  Here are a few critical elements to look at when shopping for your mobile food cart or concession stand / kiosk.

Mobility & Energy Supply:  Though this seems like a no-brainer, it is incredibly important to recognize whether or not your business will be mobile or stationary.  Regardless of whether you are going to be mobile or not, you must be able to power your cart and maintain proper food and beverage temperatures. 

  • Cold Products - There are numerous “portable” cold carts, such as direct draw beer concession carts; however, though many can be moved while keeping beer at cold temperatures, not all stands and carts have this feature.  Some coolers that refrigerate kegs being housed must be connected to an outlet (whether it be a wall outlet or generator).  The term “portable” in this instance is really meant to acknowledge that the cart can be moved when it is not in use.  Some cold beer carts, as well as portable ice cream carts, are specially insulated and can hold temperature for around 8 hours after they are charged (usually overnight).  It is important to know what kind of cart will meet your needs.  Many carts or stands that do not have built-in refrigeration will just use insulated ice bins to keep products cold (especially when selling items such as bottled water or soda). 
  • Hot Products - Hot food carts will traditionally have cooking and warming equipment that runs on liquid propane, and stationary stands or kiosks tend to operate on electricity and propane.  Many hot food carts come equipped ready for food prep (such as prefabricated hot dog carts with built-in steam wells), and others can be custom built to customer specifications.  It is not uncommon to find mobile food carts with propane charbroilers or gyro broilers. 
  • Concession Stands - Stationary stands and kiosks tend to have fewer issues with their energy supply than mobile stands which can be away from electrical outlets for hours at a time.  Many stationary stands will have access to electricity, however many will use propane cooking equipment as concession stands are not always equipped with gas lines.  These LP pieces are often small countertop pieces and use modest amounts of gas to power their equipment.
  • Water – Often looked over, running water is occasionally necessary (and in some instances mandatory) on concession carts.  Some mobile food carts come equipped with sinks, drainage systems, and water storage.  These carts are equipped with electric water pumps and heaters that operate on battery power, and storage bins for fresh and waste water.  These bins must be filled and emptied (respectively) before and after shifts, and usually are connected to the drains of steam wells and ice bins as well so the cart can be easily cleaned.  These pumps, heaters, and tanks can be equipped to concession carts and stands of all sizes (including food trucks), should running water not be accessible.

Equipment:  Depending on what you are selling at your concession stand or food cart, the cart itself may be your only equipment.  Carts like mobile ice cream cabinets or beer stands are often self-sufficient once they are brought down to proper temperatures.  Many prefabricated hot dog cart models also may feature all the equipment necessary to cook and warm hot dogs.  But, since it is often the case that the stand, kiosk, or cart is only the housing for the operation, some forethought is required to get these businesses up and running.  Here are some things to bear in mind when shopping to for your concession stand or cart.

  • Retrofitting / Custom Cart Builds – Many food carts can be custom built to house specific equipment requested by customers.  For example, if say a vendor wanted a cart for something other than steamed hot dogs, such as a gyro stand or even a charbroiled hot dog cart, a custom piece can be built to meet the exact specification a customer needs.  Or, rather than purchasing a new custom piece (which can’t be returned), some entrepreneurs opt to purchase existing carts or stands and retrofit them with the equipment they need.  Similar to food trucks, retrofitting a food cart or stand can be a less costly way to get your business rolling when compared to buying a new custom piece. 
  • Selecting The Right Equipment – It is critical that a food cart or concession stand have the proper equipment to not only fit in the small area that will be available, but to handle appropriate volume as well.  Mobile concession carts tend to have smaller menus to help limit the necessary equipment that is traveling, and most of the equipment tends to be LP since it is the easiest way to heat cooking elements when electric and gas lines aren’t available.  Some larger mobile stands (such as mobile carnival food concessions) have electric equipment that runs on a generator, and ballpark or concert concessions usually have hardwired electricity and run electric equipment (such as deep fryers and popcorn machines).  It is important to take these power issues, space issues, and the expected volume into consideration when stocking your concession stand or cart.
  • Storage Space – There will need to be a storage area for hot food, cold food, dry goods and paper products (since all of the food is going to be served “to-go” style) in your stand or cart.  Stands can be built to accommodate the extra storage, or shelving / refrigeration can be purchased to suit each stand’s needs.  Carts, however, tend to have a “home base” so to speak; they will need a place to be washed down and restocked at the end of each shift, there will have to be reserves of food and paper goods, as well as a place to charge electricity, and fill up on water or gas.  Food reserves are important because it isn’t prudent to purchase food items individually when they can be purchased from vendors in large quantities for much less.  Some mobile food businesses will opt to keep refrigeration, ice machines, and prep equipment at their home base as well.
  • Local Ordinances / Regulations – Concession stands and mobile food carts still have to operate within laws that govern their localities.  They all must adhere to any and all applicable health codes (a big part of why food carts need running water), and depending on local laws, concession stands and mobile food operations need permits to operate.  In some areas, such as New York City, the aforementioned “home bases” are mobile food parking areas that food carts or trucks must reside in by law when not operating.  It is critical that all applicable laws / regulations be met and permits be acquired in advance to opening your business.


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