HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >

Discussion

Food Trucks - Once they're parked and serving, what powers them?

Do they all have to either run their engine or plug in to a generator?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. Most of the simple ones just use propane and use ice for refrigerant, larger outfits will use a gasoline generator.

    3 Replies
    1. re: mrbigshotno.1

      +1 - propane tanks, you can even run a small generator off propane.

      1. re: mrbigshotno.1

        I don't know what would define a "simple" food truck. Is there an easy answer to that?

        1. re: Googs

          Dirty water dogs, chips & canned soda, simple as it gets.

      2. generator...the squared away trucks have Honda Eu series models, very quiet. Look, you'll see it

        33 Replies
        1. re: BiscuitBoy

          Has the whole concept of solar powered food trucks just dried up and blown away?

          1. re: Googs

            Unless the truck is parking in the desert, or a farmer''s field, solar arrays are useless. Food trucks in my area typically park on city streets, parks etc, where the urban canyons or trees block the sun. Cost, size weight, portability and complexity are issues that also kill the solar concept on a food truck

            1. re: BiscuitBoy

              If I have this right, Food Trucks sit for hours running a generator that burns propane, gas, or diesel. Even when parked on a busy downtown street, its still someone's neighbourhood.

              How does this fit in with the current food culture that's moving towards being environmentally friendly in all aspects from production to delivery?

              1. re: Googs

                It's hard to cook food without a heat source and starting an open fire is against city code in most places.

                1. re: Googs

                  Sounds good up front, but when you have to turn a dollar to survive it 's a different story. Nobody says you have to pour your fryer and grill grease down a sewer drain, but there's some practicality to adhere to.

                  1. re: Googs

                    Most operate without a continuously running generator, that's expensive. Propane heats a grill and cools a fridge, economically and quietly. Some plug in to an adjacent business that leases them space to operate, at painful rents. No quantity of solar will cook your food.

                    Food trucks are not here to save the world. They are here because people are trying to make a living.

                    1. re: Googs

                      There is a food truck that parks in the industrial park where my brother has his warehouse. The owner of the foodtruck approached my brother about a year ago and made the following offer:
                      I will provide you a monthly lunch for your employees (20 people), if you let me plug into your electricity and occasionally use your rest room.
                      My brother, said that they'd give it a 90 day trial. The electric bill for a typical month costs an additional $40. The goodwill this lunch for the employees provided is 'priceless'

                      For many years, I let a Xmas tree vendor set up in one of my retail parking lots and let him plug into my electricity. The increased electric cost was nothing compared to traffic generated and additional business I did, selling the trimming items for the trees.

                      A good foodtruck operator will often work out a barter arrangement when parked on private property.

                      1. re: bagelman01

                        bagelman01, I have a particular fondness for bartering since it favours value over access to cash. Yours is a very practical way of approaching it. The reciprocity seems to benefit all parties including shoppers plus address environmental concerns.

                        Do you have any idea as to how much benefit you and your brother's businesses reaped? Were the food truck operators just as happy?

                        1. re: Googs

                          I don't get figures for my brother's business...
                          The food truck operator seems happy, he told my brother he'd like to stay at that location for years.

                          The retail store that I had that let the Xmas tree vendor set up and use the parking lot experienced a 30% increase in units sold of Tree Trimming items that could be attributed to the vendor's presence.

                          1. re: bagelman01

                            BM....you also realize that the sweetheart deal for the truck is that they do not collect and pay no sales tax to the govenment ....As "bagelman' you know that if you just buy a bagel there is no sales tax, cut it and put butter on it, prepared food subject to sales tax....I have not seen one food truck collect sales tax, ( or indicate that it is part of the price) and it is for that reason I refuse to patronize them. They are in business like you and I, and do not play on a level playing field.

                            1. re: PHREDDY

                              #1 Why assume that every business man is cheating the government?

                              #2 The Sales Tax Code is different in every state (that has sales tax). In Connecticut the sale of an individual bagel at a place such as Dunkin Donuts IS subject to Sales Tax whether is it put plain in a bag, or split and shmeared with butter or cream cheese. Only if the patron buys a half-dozen or more is it considered groceries (as opposed tol a meal or snack item) and not subject to tax.

                              #3 There are many Food Trucks near Yale New Haven Hospital that have posted on their signs that the prices include sales tax. (I have personally observed this).

                              #4 That fact that it is not posted on the sign doesn't mean that the food truck operator is not paying sales tax as a percentage of gross sales as permitted by the CT Tax Code.

                              #5 The food truck operator may not be playing ion a level field with other business. If I open a retial store here in CT, I need a sales tax permit. I don't need a permit to operate from any particular town or city (we don't have county government). The food truck operator, being mobile, requires not only the state sales tax permit, but a food service license from each Health District in which he operates, and may require 'Itinerant Vendor Licenses' from multipe municipalities. The operator may be subject to health/cleanliness inspections in multiple municipalities as well.

                              1. re: PHREDDY

                                Sales tax is collected by the food trucks in Minnesota. I bet it is in your city as well. Just because they don't price it the way you think it should be does not mean they don't pay the tax. I bet it's done the way it is to save time on the transaction which is crucial in the food truck business.

                                1. re: PHREDDY

                                  they may not be paying property tax or utilities, but I bet the vast majority are paying sales tax, depending on state or local laws, i know the food trucks in Honolulu do, even though it is usually included in the posted prices. Here there is sales tax (they call it General Excise Tax) on every business transaction. EVERY business transaction. Food, Medicine, Professional Services. And food trucks are not exempt.

                                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                                    Everyone has to pay something, whether it is based on exact sales or not. But something reasonable, most don't keep books per se.

                                    1. re: coll

                                      If they don't keep 'books' they are idiots. It will catch up with them and they'll have a lot of trouble with the IRS.

                                      1. re: John E.

                                        So far, all the vendors I know have balanced out fine. Then again they're extremely seasonal, so probably not in anyone's sights big time.

                                        1. re: John E.

                                          I really don't see what you people are so worried about...lol what makes you think they aren't keeping books? Just because you aren't doing their taxes?

                                          1. re: GrandmaJos

                                            Why are you responding to me with your post? My post suggested that operators of food trucks were keeping their books and paying the appropriate taxes.

                                            Yours is is a curious first post.

                                            1. re: GrandmaJos

                                              Have you ever had a cash only business/food truck?
                                              Yes or no?

                                      2. re: PHREDDY

                                        In DC they pay sales tax, passed this year instead of the flat fee they were required to pay. I don't doubt that there are other inequities between brick and mortar restos and trucks but, hey, doesn't the law often trail reality?

                                        http://dcist.com/2012/05/food_truck_s...

                                        1. re: PHREDDY

                                          In Toronto The Cash Grab where there's a fee and a training course for eve-ry-thing, you can bet they're paying their share.

                                          What has me scratching my head is that Toronto has an Idling Bylaw wherein you may not idle your engine for more than 60 seconds in a 60 minute period. How can we then say running a generator all day as the Plan A for operating business is okay?

                                          1. re: Googs

                                            The trucks I know that use generators only turn them on as needed, for example using a microwave for a minute or two. Most equipment is powered by propane.

                                            1. re: coll

                                              coll, that doesn't seem to be the practice here, but if anyone from the Greater Toronto Area cares to shed more light on that, please feel free.

                                              1. re: coll

                                                Because I sell those quiet little generators I always take a look when I pass a food truck. Most of them keep the generator running non stop and have it running in a compartment on the non serving side of the truck.

                                                1. re: Motosport

                                                  Not my cheap skate customers! And the one in particular I'm thinking of, you can't even talk while it's running, he gets all his equipment on Craigslist. Mine are mostly on town beaches, one is even lucky enough to have a plug on the electric pole. The deal of a lifetime!

                                                      1. re: coll

                                                        Then, of course, there's propane's little explode-y problem.
                                                        http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto...

                                                        1. re: Googs

                                                          Explosions such as that one only happen with faulty equipment or operator errors.

                                                            1. re: John E.

                                                              I'm guessing operator error. Pretty scary that it can happen at all. It shows a need for proper training and licensing. I don't want the answer to my original question to be "rocket launcher".

                                      3. re: Googs

                                        How environmentally friendly really is the manufacture of solar panels and batteries? The mining and refinement of the toxic chemicals/metals in them, the politics of the country of origin, the poor way the workers are exploited. From your spelling of "neighborhood," you may already know the angle and duration of sunshine in your country isn't optimal. Sure, the generator may be running for a few hours, and if it's in your neighborhood already, maybe that means it saves you and all those in your area burning more fuel to travel for a bite. Besides, they may be running propane or nat gas exclusively for cooking and use very little electricity. Lots of things to consider, instead of getting all 'al-gore' and thinking the sky is falling and wringing your hands. Then again, I don't operate a food truck...could be they'd be happy to charge you 4x more for a taco, because they run solar ;)

                                        1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                          I may not be Al Gore, but I play him on TV. Kiddin'.

                                          I fully realize that business must go on. In my city of Toronto, Food Trucks are a relatively new craze. They will be having their first annual awards show soon. True.

                                          I'm not insisting that this should all stop and go away. I can see how the easier start-up costs can benefit many people wishing to go into business for themselves.

                                          I think it a fair question to ask as these truck programs go forward in many cities, is there a better way of doing this? Can it be made to fit in with all the needs of a city, from the small business people, to the shoppers, to the local residents of the neighbourhoods in which they park?

                                2. We sell small (1000-2000watt) very quiet Honda generators to many food trucks.
                                  They power the lights and minimal electric needs of the food trucks. They use Propane for heating the grills and fryers.

                                  1. Haven brothers in Providence, RI plugs right into a light post. I think that Beansie's of Burlington, VT does the same.

                                    1. A 4-stroke generator can be quiet and used to power the lights and a few other things such as blenders that are not powered by propane such as grills, fryers, and possibly the refrigerator.

                                      1. "What powers them?"

                                        Simple. Customers.

                                        1. Old thread pero, "Propane and propane accessories."

                                          3 Replies
                                            1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                              BiscuitBoy, keep your paws off my animated, Spanish speakin' substitute teacher girlfriend.

                                          1. On our big truck, the cooking equipment is propane, but the warming and cooling equipment is electric and is powered by an on-board generator, which runs constantly when we are on-site and is fueled by the gasoline from the main tank. It is quiet but not silent.

                                            We also have a plug-in outlet for "shore power" but have never used it, as no site has a compatible outlet and no one makes a long enough extension cord for 240v.

                                            On our little truck, all heat is propane, but cooling is powered by the engine, which must remain idling at all times.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: acgold7

                                              "but cooling is powered by the engine, which must remain idling at all times."

                                              That system could prove problematic in jurisdictions with limitation on idling. Here in CT there is a three minute limit and specific provisions to even ticket idling school buses. Exceptions to the law are made for certain extreme weather related occurrences, certain service vehicles (ambulances), and medical necessity, but just keeping the cooling working on a food truck would not likely be tolerated.

                                              1. re: bagelman01

                                                But yet, as a former truck driver, in CT I have seen police cars (yes, plural) idling at weigh stations with no occupants. Just another case of "all animals are equal but some are more equal than others".

                                                1. re: PotatoHouse

                                                  Ready for hot pursuit........department Protocol and exempt

                                                2. re: bagelman01

                                                  Good thing I'm at the other end of the country.