May 23, 2019 at 10:15 AM
Food trucks have become commonplace at festivals, street markets and private events across the UK as entrepreneurs look to capitalise on the rising foodie culture and people looking for an alternative dining experience.
When it comes to purchasing your catering van, there's a number of factors you need to take into consideration, including whether you're going to buy a new or used food van and what size van you need.
Once you're able to answer these key questions, you'll know the type of van you're looking for and be able to narrow down the features that will make it the best food truck for your business.
Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages with both options. Ultimately, the decision will come down to your budget to buy the van and the equipment needed to make your mobile food business a success.
If you're on a restricted or small budget, buying a used food van will significantly cut costs compared to buying a brand new model that still needs to be converted.
Figuring out the equipment your catering truck needs can be complex and confusing, especially if you're just starting out. Buying used means that you only need to find a van with a kitchen layout that works for you.
When you buy any used vehicle, it's more likely to need repairing compared to a new one because the parts are older and have been in use for a longer period of time. If possible, have a trusted mechanic look over any prospective food truck before you make a commitment.
As a mobile food business, you need to be able to easily move between locations without the fear of breaking down. A used food van typically offers a shorter life expectancy and will need to be replaced sooner than a new van would.
The way a vehicle is treated is crucial to its longevity. When you decide to buy a used food van, you won't know how well the previous owner looked after it. If you're able to, request a full vehicle history report to get as much information as possible.
A new food van will come with at least a three year manufacturer's warranty which will reduce the worry of having to pay for any costly repairs. Typically, they'll cover at least 60,000 miles, but some vans offer more as standard (e.g. Nissan commercial vehicles have a five year 100,000 mile warranty).
When you buy a new food van, you have complete freedom to set it up in any way you want with whatever equipment you need to make your operation as efficient as possible. Similarly, the exterior is a complete blank canvas that you can brand and decorate as you please.
Unlike a used food van, there won't have been any previous owners so you won't fall victim to a vehicle that's been treated badly unless you do it yourself.
As with anything, it's always more expensive to buy brand new compared to used. Food trucks are an expensive purchase, so you need to be absolutely sure you have the money to fund such a large outlay.
You should also consider the layout and the equipment you need on a day-to-day basis. Try to make sure they will last the business for at least the first few years - it could be a while before you have the money to add new equipment or complete any renovations.
Although a bespoke customisation will benefit you in the long run by optimising the food creation and delivery process, a custom-built food van will have a longer lead time, potentially delaying the date you can start trading.
If you're not going to be serving food from your van, you won't need as much equipment, so you can opt for something smaller (and cheaper).
The Mercedes Vito is a spacious medium-sized van that offers a quality and durable form of transport. The latest third-generation model is available in three body lengths as well as front- and rear-wheel-drive.
In terms of space for the business, the Vito has a traditional load area ranging from 5.5m³ up to 6.6m³ with a payload capacity up to 1,369kg - plenty of weight to carry a coffee machine, fridge and freezer.
As a van, some commercial drivers have previously criticised the Vito for feeling like a converted passenger car rather than a purpose-built van. However, for the purpose of being a mobile coffee or smoothie business, the Vito is a reliable and refined vehicle that is built for travelling.
Piaggio, an Italian vehicle manufacturer, are probably most recognised for their world-famous Vespa scooter. They also produce a collection of vans, including the Ape range, which have been converted by numerous companies to become catering vehicles.
The Ape range offers compact dimensions with a great load capacity that can be customised to your business. Indeed, Piaggio Commercial have a dedicated team for coffee conversions.
If you operate in London, or are conscious of your carbon footprint, the electric version of the Piaggio van is available for conversion. As well as being economical to run, the zero emissions model demonstrates your brand's commitment to a healthier environment.
Serving food from a van requires specialist equipment and a lot of space. As a result, the best vans for food trucks are often large models offering the most amount of space.
The Ford Transit is the most popular van in the UK for a reason: it's robust, spacious and consistently meets owner's needs. With a huge number of configurations available, Ford has suggested that a Transit can be ordered in 450 different ways.
Most importantly, the Transit panel van can be specified in three different load lengths and two roof heights creating work areas from 9.6m³ up to 15.1m³. There's also a chassis cab option which allows you to add a custom conversion on the back.
As a food truck, it’s easy to install an additional awning to help to keep your customers cool in the sunshine and protected from the rain. The rear doors open to 180° making it easy to unload and load your ingredients and any additional equipment.
The large surface spaces around the back of the van are ideal for placing decals and vinyl wraps to advertise your business at events as well as travelling to and from them.
Exclusively available on the used market, the Citroen H has been hailed as 'the King of UK street food' because of its unusual vintage shape that is sure to attract the eyes of customers.
It can be revamped and converted with a drop down hatch; many owners also choose to update the van with new pastel inspired colours and decals to match their business branding.
However, because of their popularity, they can be expensive to buy (around £45,000 plus conversion). You also need to consider how far you need to travel - the Citroen H is an old model that's likely to be more unreliable than something a bit more modern.
If you're willing to take the risk on a well-maintained version it could pay dividends with plenty of business likely to be drummed up by its vintage appearance.
Although traditionally used as a mobile home, a VW Camper is perfectly suited to being converted into a food truck with a surprisingly spacious interior. It's used to travelling long distances as well as having its own systems, including plumbing and electricity.
A VW Camper food truck immediately brings 60's vibes and a boutique feel to any event. Whether you use it to serve street food, ice creams, milkshakes or turn it into a pop-up bar, the VW Camper is a flexible option.
Not everyone has the capital to purchase a Ford Transit van or something similar, so a vintage VW Camper could be a good option if you have funds or the skills and time required to revamp it.
With a splash of bright paint on the outside and a few catering customisations on the inside, a VW Camper is a great choice if you're looking to do the festival circuit and want to get noticed.