Food trucks are a popular mobile food catering choice for all kinds of events, from weddings and rehearsal dinners to themed parties and corporate shindigs. Food truck businesses and food carts have recently surged in popularity in urban centers across the United States and have a near-cult following in areas such as New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, but they have been a fixture in certain parts of the country for decades. Cities like Austin and Portland have long had entire blocks dedicated to food truck culture, and the Economist reports there are over 4,000 licensed modern food trucks currently operating around the country.
Fortunately, food trucks aren't reserved solely for hip, outdoor markets and city street corners or low-end street food. Great food trucks are also available to cater parties and events. Traditionally, food truck chefs specialize in one type of food — anything from po' boys or lobster rolls to sushi or Korean BBQ — and offer a limited menu that complements their theme. Thanks to the growing popularity of food trucks at events, catering companies all over the country have tapped into their allure, dispatching food trucks staffed with kitchen crews to prepare and serve specialty cuisines made to order for public and private events. This means you can find a food truck for your event with almost any type of menu to suit your needs.
The fun of having a food truck at your event is in the guest interaction and playful aesthetic they provide. Unlike a traditional catered buffet or plated meal service, guests walk up and order directly from a pre-set menu at the food truck counter. Much like the festive environment at an outdoor market, this provides a natural opportunity for your guests to talk and interact. Visually, food trucks add to your event, as they are often painted in colorful and unique ways to represent the cuisine they serve. Food trucks not only give guests something to talk about, they provide fantastic photo opportunities for your parties. On top of all this, food trucks prepare food made to order, so meals are fresh.
Several factors determine the average cost to rent mobile food trucks to feed your event guests:
- The type of food being served
- The number of guests
- The number of staffers needed on the truck
- The number of hours the truck will be open to take orders and prepare made-to-order meals
- Any extras such as beverages and dessert
The average food truck cost can vary from $8 to $30 or more per guest. Cost will depend on the ingredients used, the amount of food being served, and the number of extras included, such as multiple cuisines, beverages or dessert.
Food truck menu costs depend on the company you hire. Food trucks may specialize in a distinct cuisine — such as dim sum, tacos or falafel — or may be owned by catering companies that have started providing mobile services via trucks and carts and offer a wide range of menu items to be prepared fresh from the truck at the event. They may also be an extension of a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant that can come to your event.
You can incorporate food trucks into your event food offerings in a variety of ways. You can hire one food truck to provide all the food for your entire party. For example, if you love pizza, hire a food truck with a wood-fired pizza oven inside — first confirming they can accommodate the volume of guests you need to serve in a given timeframe. For larger parties, you may want to hire multiple specialty food trucks to create a festival-like dining experience at your event. This allows guests to choose from a range of food options. Hiring multiple food trucks also helps speed up food service if you have many guests, because a single truck preparing food to order may not be able to feed the entire party fast enough. Another option is to hire a traditional catering company to serve a buffet or plated meal, then have a dessert food truck come at the end for a special treat. For wedding receptions or birthday parties that run late into the night, bring in an after-hours food truck for a midnight snack, such as doughnuts or sliders, that will send guests home happy and full.
Your food truck menu costs will be reflected in the number of people served, the range of menu items provided and the quality of the ingredients. Companies typically charge based on the number of people they are feeding and which menu, cuisine or theme is chosen. Carefree Catering in Mesa, Arizona, offers what it calls "site dining" with a variety of buffet meals — from taco carts to burger bars — at an average cost of $8-$10 per person, depending on the menu choices and number of people served, plus a delivery charge that varies depending on the distance from their location to the client site. Sometimes they charge flat rates for a certain number of servings of a specific dish and bring enough ingredients to prepare that much food for the event. Flat rates start at $600 and go up.
Jerry's Kitchen and and Farmstead Foods, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, offers three tiers of themed menus that include a variety of food truck fare. Some examples of menu items and food costs are are as follows:
- Tacos: $14-$29 per person
- Cheesesteaks: $15-$29 per person
- Cutlet sandwiches: $14-$29 per person
- Hummus bar: $8-$18 per person
If you have dietary preferences, always ask if a company provides alternatives. You may be able to accommodate both your vegetarian and omnivore friends with just one food truck. For example, Jerry's Kitchen and Farmstead Foods also offers a vegan version of its cheesesteak menu featuring seitan (a wheat-based meat substitute) "steak" and vegan "cheese whiz" for the same price as the meat option.
Scholz Hospitality Group in Denver, Colorado, owns and operates two food trucks: Street Frites Mobile Eatery and the Royal Hustle Gourmet Taco Truck. The Street Frites menu is inspired by global street food, says owner Jason Scholz, and typically costs $20-$25 per person to provide food for weddings, parties and other special events. On a recent weekend, the Street Frites truck provided food for a 95-guest wedding held on a ranch outside of Denver for $2,400, including taxes and gratuity. Scholz uses locally sourced ingredients, including organic, sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken. You can often see examples of a food truck business' recent events by checking their social media accounts.
Many food truck owners will include nonalcoholic beverage options for an additional fee of $2-$3 per person. Often, the types of nonalcoholic beverages offered complement the type of cuisine being served, so be sure to ask if you have special drink requests. Communicate about special requests for napkins, plates and silverware. A food truck's starting rate may include their standard paper options, so let them know if you want to upgrade in any way or if you want them to use rental plates or silverware you have arranged. Alcoholic beverages will cost more, of course, so in many cases it makes more sense to set up a separate area and hire a bartender to mix and serve drinks. This keeps the party flowing and prevents congestion around the food truck area.
Wedding receptions are a wonderful place to have a food truck. They add to the festive environment and allow couples to personalize the experience and share their love of their favorite foods with their guests. There's no wrong way to incorporate food trucks into your wedding reception. You can feed your entire party via food trucks and food carts. If you have a smaller wedding reception, one food truck may suffice. For larger receptions, talk with food truck service providers about how many people they can serve at one time — you don't want guests standing in line too long for their food. Some couples opt to combine the formality of a seated meal with the excitement of a food truck. In this case, you can have arranged seating with formal place settings and a plated salad to start, then announce to guests when it's time to get up and order their entree from the food truck. Guests will bring their entree back to their seat and eat there. Some couples choose traditional catering for their entire meal, and then have a dessert cart in lieu of a traditional wedding cake. Delicious options for dessert carts could be an ice cream or popsicle cart, a truck frying up fresh doughnuts, a cupcake truck, or even a gourmet coffee and hot chocolate truck.
Hiring a food truck to provide food for your wedding may cost less than hiring a full-service caterer. Nationwide, the average per-guest cost for wedding catering is $68, but by hiring a food truck, you can probably cut that cost to $20-$25 per guest. If you host 168 people at your wedding (the current nationwide average), renting a food truck would cost $3,360-$4,200, compared with $11,424 for catering. Alcoholic beverages will add to this cost, of course. Scholz adds that while a food truck for your wedding or special event is likely to cost less than a full-service catering contract, food trucks that offer high-quality ingredients and menus designed by experienced chefs aim to provide fresh, delicious food, not just fast food or a cut-rate catering option.
Typically food trucks operate on generators fueled by propane, so access to an electrical hookup is not usually necessary. However, your food truck service may take advantage of electricity if it's available. Be sure to confirm what power supply hookups your food service requires when booking. It's also important to verify with your event location that a food truck can drive onsite. Some private venues have rules regarding catering service, so be clear on what you can and can't do before you put down any deposits. If you're hosting the event in a private residence, plan ahead of time where the food truck will park. You'll want a level surface that also provides open access to large numbers of guests. This way people can come and go from the ordering and pickup windows without creating congestion.
Some trucks may charge an operations fee, which they will include in the total quote for your event. Scholz says his fee for his Street Frites and Royal Hustle trucks runs from $250 to $350, which covers fuel and overhead costs. Other food trucks roll the operations costs into the price per person; be sure you understand what goes into each component of the budget when you're putting down a deposit and signing a contract. Food trucks may also charge a minimum service fee to ensure their business overhead is met. Some food trucks will also need access to fresh water; confirm ahead of time what hookups or resources your truck will need. Some areas may require a food truck permit before the truck can set up, so be sure to ask about this before you sign an agreement. The last thing you want during your wedding or event is a visit from the health department to your food truck.
- The beauty of hiring a food truck to cater your event is that food truck fare is prepared onsite, so the food may taste even better than catered meals, which are typically prepared beforehand, then delivered to your event site, heated and served.
- Read client reviews and follow up with references to make sure you're choosing the right food truck vendor for you. For more, check out our tips for smart hiring.