It is very important that you (as the business owner), fully understand and own this portion of your start-up process. Surprises can delay your opening, and you will be the only one liable for these delays.
Typically speaking, there are four levels of regulations – federal, state, county, and city. Your local county and city officials should have a good handle on all regulations that you will need to be familiar with in order to start and run a successful mobile food business.
Because each local area has different codes and regulations, you’ll want to engage your local officials by asking the following questions:
- What licenses do you need to operate a food trailer? Business license? Food Service Establishment Permit? Tax registration (EIN)?
- What kind of health codes do you need to follow? This is a huge topic, so make sure you reach out to your health department to learn, in depth, everything they require. To start, keep these basic questions in mind: Do you need a commissary kitchen? Where can you prepare food? Are you required to have a food handlers license? Where can you store food? What kind of water access do you need? How will you dispose of waste? Does your trailer need to be parked in close proximity to a bathroom at all times? What type of fire extinguisher or sprinkler system does your trailer need to have?
- What are the fire safety codes you’ll be required to follow? Everyone thinks initially about health codes, but contacting your local fire marshal to make sure you understand what they will be looking for moving forward.
- How do you get permits in your city? Some cities will require you to fill out a simple application, while others might have a lengthier process before you can get a permit. Find out how much permits and licenses cost and whether or not there is a waiting list in your city them.
- You need different licenses and permits for each city you want to operate in—but will you also need some from the county or state? Even if you get fully certified for each city you want to take your trailer to (or even if you choose to only operate in one city), you may also need state and county licenses and permits. Find out what kinds of documentation you need to sell food or operate a business in your state and in multiple counties.
- Where can you park? Again, parking restrictions vary widely in each city. Find out whether you can park in any open spot, only on private property, only at a particular distance away from brick and mortar restaurants, or in areas where other food trailers/trucks have congregated. Can you park at metered spots? How long can you park in each type of location?
- What kind of insurance do you need? You’ll also need insurance for your business (another topic that we’ll cover more in-depth later) so that you won’t be held personally liable for any lawsuits or actions taken against your trailer.