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Concession Trailer Buyers Guide
There are few things in today’s world that are growing in popularity as quickly as food trucks and trailers. The industry has seen an explosion of growth since the early 2000s and there doesn’t seem to be any ending in sight. What is the allure? Well for one, it is a great way to foray into the restaurant business with only a fraction of the cost of owning or renovating a physical property. Concession operators also get the added flexibility of being able to schedule their own hours, and change them week to week. The purpose of this guide is to help those who have decided to take the plunge, and are now beginning their search for a reputable company to build the vehicle that will drive their business.
Chapter 1; Health Codes
Food trailers are treated like restaurants on wheels, and as such they are required to pass all the same state and local health codes to legally operate. Talk to the health department in every county (and sometimes each municipality) that you plan on doing business in. A setup that one health department may pass, might fail a health inspection in the county next door. Doing your research up-front will prevent you from making costly mistakes. Example; Some health departments require that the wastewater tank is 1.33 times the freshwater capacity of the trailer. Replacing the under-floor wastewater tank after the trailer is already built and delivered could prove to be an expensive and time consuming undertaking, which is easily preventable by simply talking to the health department before having your trailer built!
Chapter 2; Layout
Layout is such an important aspect to building a successful concession trailer. At events and parties expect to get large crowds wanting to be served all at one time. A bad layout will have your staff tripping over each other and failing to fill enough orders to meet demand, costing you in lost sales.
Think about where each staff member will be stationed, and map out how your different menu items will travel from the fridge, to the fryer, the table and to the customer. Remember to consider constraints in the trailer build, such as interior wheel boxes that may affect where your equipment can be placed. You’ll also need to consider your serving window layout. Concession windows aren’t inexpensive, especially if they include integrated glass serving windows, but if you don’t place them in the best location for the venues you’ll be serving at, then you might find yourself serving in the street when your customers are on the sidewalk. Extra doors can help with serving flexibility and are usually recommended to our customers unless they have a permanent location to park their rig planned. Once you’ve decided on the layout that will offer the fastest turns on your menu items, it has to pass the weight test. Figure out what each component weighs and make sure you have the load as evenly distributed as possible from front to back and side to side. You want to be sure to maintain approximately 10-15% of the total weight of the trailer and components on the tongue. If you have your heaviest items at the rear of the trailer and not enough tongue weight the trailer will be unsafe to tow and will cause sway on the tow vehicle.
Chapter 3; Budget –
Although building a concession trailer can be less expensive than opening a physical location, it’s important to consider some other factors that play into this chapter. The statement that rings true in a lot of situations holds ground here; cheaper is not always better. Your concession trailer itself is your most effective advertisement. A clean, sparkling rig tells customers that you care about what you are producing and serving, and that will show in sales. While steel wheels on your new trailer may save you a few hundred dollars, they will start to rust after a few years and signal to customers that the trailer is older and maintenance isn’t paramount to your business. Beware of budget concession trailers or ordering a trailer from a dealer that is not familiar with all the systems needed in a successful concessiontrailer that will pass health codes. We’ve had several customers that chose cheap budget oriented trailer companies only to find that by the time everything was setup to code and fully operational they had spent the same amount on a quality trailer that would have been more turnkey. There are somekey figures that can sway the cost of a concession trailer significantly;
ï‚· Do you require a sink system with on-board water heater & tanks? Sometimes health departments will not require a full 3 bay sink system if you are serving prepared foods that are made beforehand in a commissary or commercial kitchen, or are prepackaged in an approved location. The feasibility of this will rely heavily on what types of food you are serving and if you have access to a commissary.
ï‚· What type of concession equipment will you require? The cost of commercial kitchen appliances will quickly add up. This again is going to be determined by the types of food you plan on serving. Check local sellers for used equipment or scratch-and- dent items that can be had at a significant discount. We often install customer supplied equipment that they sourced this way.
Fuel Sources and Electrical Loads
ï‚· Generator power – Do you have a place to plug in or will you require an on-board generator to power up your appliances and lighting? If you do require a generator, make sure you invest in a good brand that has low decibels and a long service life. If you can afford it, a built-in unit such as a Cummins-Onan is your best bet, and should feature a large in-frame fuel tank so you don’t have to fuss with refilling your portable generator with gas cans while you should be serving food. If your budget doesn’t allow for an onboard generator, Honda offers (we think) the nicest line of inverter series portable units on the market. To size a generator, start by adding up the max wattage draw of each appliance and component in your trailer. The max wattage should not exceed 80% of the max rated wattage of the generator. Example: if your trailer and appliances will draw a max of 8000 watts, you should have a 10,000 watt generator.
Chapter 4; Service Center Access
An often-overlooked factor when deciding on your concession trailer supplier should take into account the accessibility of an authorized service center. We routinely see “backyard” conversions or budget units coming out of the south where manufacturing laws are lax and you’re on your own if you have an issue. You should factor in travel time to an authorized warranty service center and out-of- pocket expenses for repairs that can add up quickly. Read the trailer manufacturer’s warranty carefully; although a salesperson might tell you that you can take it to any service shop and have warranty repairs completed, this is more than likely not the case. Most commonly you will have to take the trailer to the dealer you purchased it from, or back to the manufacturer depending on the scope of repairs and abilities of the service department. More often than not these travel expenses will not be warranted, but will be the owners responsibility. Purchasing from a local dealership with a highly capable service center will help reduce these costs should issues arise. Make sure to ask your dealer about their experience installing and servicing various components found in concession trailers such as over doors, generators, water heaters, AC/DC electrical and plumbing and LP systems.
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