If you live in a city, you probably see many food trucks parked on the streets.
They’re a great place to get a unique meal that’s packed full of flavor.
However, those on a food budget will quickly discover that ordering from a food truck usually means paying for an expensive meal.
Considering that the food comes from a small truck rather than a brick-and-mortar restaurant, you may wonder why food trucks are so expensive.
Why Are Food Trucks So Expensive? (10 Reasons)
Food truck prices can be quite expensive for food you can get much cheaper elsewhere.
However, factors like food truck operating costs, the price of ingredients, and the novelty of eating at a food truck all inflate the price of food.
Let’s look at these factors in more detail.
1. Rental Costs
Food trucks are expensive because the owners pay rent just like any other restaurant owners would.
Back when food trucks first started, owners didn’t always have to pay rent.
Owners were typically able to park for free in a designated area and sell their food.
That changed when food trucks become popular and a staple of urban lunch.
These days, the city wants in on some of the money, too.
In most instances, food trucks have to pay rent to park in a specific area.
They keep their food truck parked in that location and serve customers who walk by.
Food trucks aren’t as mobile as they used to be unless they serve customers in areas that don’t allow overnight parking.
For example, if a food truck has a partnership with a business, then they might be able to park in the business’s parking lot, but only if they pay a rental fee and are only there during lunch hours.
The advantage for the food truck is that they have an easier time finding customers.
If they’re in a good location that serves several businesses from the same parking lot, then they have a large pool of customers that they can serve.
The advantage for the business is that they earn money just for loaning out an area of their parking lot.
A common misconception about food trucks is that they’re cheaper to operate because their owners don’t need to rent a building.
That isn’t the case in many situations.
Food trucks are expensive because they have to pay rent to park in certain locations.
2. Food Truck Loans
Food trucks are also expensive because many owners have loans on them.
Before food trucks became as popular as they are today, many people ended up renovating a truck to fit their needs.
The main expense was acquiring the truck and then adding items they needed to it like grills and water.
Since any truck with a large enough bed was acceptable, people were able to get a decent loan that they could pay back easily.
That isn’t the case anymore.
Food trucks are expensive to purchase.
Some of them have special features or appliances that can make cooking in the truck easier or more convenient.
The problem with those trucks is that they’re very expensive.
Food truck owners these days often need to take out a large loan just to afford to pay for the truck.
That means they have to make monthly payments on it or else they run the risk of having it repossessed.
To ensure they’re able to keep up with the payments, they charge expensive prices for their food.
It’s not unlike a restaurant owner who bought land and has to build their restaurant themself.
They take out a business loan which they then have to pay back.
Depending on how large or advanced the restaurant is, their loan may be quite high.
Food trucks are expensive because the cost of buying a food truck is expensive.
3. Unable To Buy Bulk Ingredients
Another aspect that makes food trucks expensive is the fact that most don’t buy their ingredients in bulk.
Food trucks don’t have a lot of storage.
While some food trucks that are part of a larger chain might have a communal warehouse, most often, someone’s garage or a rented storage space acts as the truck’s storage.
This means that the food truck doesn’t have a lot of space where ingredients for the week can be stored.
Instead, most food truck owners will buy what they need for a day or perhaps a few days.
This is a more expensive way to get ingredients because they are typically bought at retail prices.
The advantage of a restaurant is that it has a lot of space.
Owners can purchase most ingredients in bulk and put them in the fridge or on a shelf.
Buying in bulk saves the restaurant money.
They’re not paying the retail price since they’re able to buy in bulk instead.
Food truck owners have to get their ingredients either on the day of service or a few days beforehand.
While some may be able to get some deals on ingredients, in most cases, they’re paying the full markup price of the ingredient.
Since their food costs are more expensive, they have to make up the difference by selling their food at more expensive prices.
Not all food trucks have water either.
While most do, some of the older models may still require the crew to buy water to fill up a tank.
Water can also be expensive since the crew has to buy it from a store at full retail price.
They’re not able to get the water at bulk prices.
All these costs require food trucks to have expensive prices so owners can still earn a profit.
4. Fewer Customers
Food trucks tend to have fewer customers than some restaurants.
They’re reliant on people stopping by during lunch, in particular.
Not a lot of people go to food trucks to get dinner or breakfast.
Breakfast is usually a meal handled at home or skipped altogether.
Dinner is usually reserved for something deemed “nicer”—like a restaurant.
As such, the busiest time for food trucks tends to be lunch hour.
If the food truck is in a business parking lot, then they’re reliant on people from the businesses to stop by during lunch.
If the food truck is in an area where tourists tend to gather, then they might have a better chance of getting customers throughout the day.
Regardless, food trucks don’t always have a consistent flow of customers.
This makes them expensive because they have to ensure that the customers they do get for that day cover the day’s expenses.
They need to make a profit even if they only have a handful of customers.
Restaurants don’t have to worry about that.
Most restaurants are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—or at the very least lunch and dinner.
Since people tend to prefer to eat at restaurants for dinner, it’s almost guaranteed that the restaurant can expect customers during lunch and dinner.
Because they have a steady flow of customers throughout the day, they’re able to earn money steadily.
Food trucks don’t have that security.
They may get a sudden crowd of people, but once the crowd gets fed, they may be without any more customers for the rest of the day.
The amount that they earned from the lunch rush may be all they were able to make for that day.
If they didn’t sell their food at high prices, then there’s a chance that what they earned wasn’t enough to cover their costs.
Food trucks are expensive because they don’t always have a consistent supply of customers throughout the day.
5. Gourmet Food
Another reason food trucks are expensive is that some of them serve gourmet food.
You’ll often find that food trucks sell generic food, comfort food, or high-end gourmet food.
Gourmet food trucks are often more expensive than generic food trucks.
That’s because they specialize in producing unique food.
Some of them lean toward providing a fine-dining experience.
For example, they’ll use high-quality ingredients to make food that looks great on a plate.
They’re not bothered with portions.
Like fine dining, you’ll often get portion sizes that are small.
The focus is on the quality of the meal that you receive and its artistry.
Gourmet food focuses on high-quality ingredients.
A food truck owner who offers gourmet food tends to spend extra time at the store looking for the very best ingredients.
They may focus on organic ingredients, for example.
They might even form partnerships with local farmers or urban growers.
With high-quality ingredients, they’re then able to create incredible works of art that people can also eat.
Gourmet food trucks don’t exist to get you full.
Rather, they serve those who are looking for a great meal that’s packed full of flavor and looks great on a plate.
Since gourmet food trucks tend to have more costs added to their operations, they need to sell their food at higher prices.
More effort and skill go into cooking the food.
Even ensuring that the food looks good on the plate takes a bit of time and skill.
Because gourmet food trucks hire chefs that have specialized skills, their labor costs are also higher.
With higher operating costs, gourmet food trucks charge higher prices to cover them and make a profit.
6. Unique Flavors
One of the best things about eating at a food truck is that you can sometimes find unique food.
Food trucks don’t shy away from making unique dishes.
They use unique and different flavors that you won’t always find in a standard restaurant.
That’s because food trucks have a bit more freedom to experiment.
Restaurant owners have to work to get as many people into their doors as possible.
They don’t want to alienate people or put people off by offering “weird” dishes.
Food trucks don’t have that constraint.
They’re able to be as wacky as they want.
However, this also means that they have higher costs.
For example, to make unique dishes, food trucks often need to use unique flavors.
That may require them to buy certain ingredients that cost more than standard ingredients.
Since the dish is more expensive to make, it’s going to have a more expensive price tag.
Another reason why unique dishes and flavors make food trucks expensive is that you can only get that sort of flavor and dish at that specific food truck.
Many food trucks tend to have themes.
Like restaurants, you might have a seafood food truck or a food truck that specializes in making vegan-friendly food.
They each come up with a menu that’s entirely their own.
In most cases, you won’t be able to get their unique twist on flavors anywhere else.
Since you can’t get their food just anywhere, food trucks can charge more for their specialty dishes.
They know that if you really want to try it or eat it, then you’re going to pay the higher price that they set.
Food trucks are expensive because they sometimes use unique flavors to make special dishes that you can’t get anywhere else.
Food trucks are novelty places to eat.
Although they are more common today, they’re still relatively new.
They’re also still mostly in downtown areas and city centers.
Because of that, for a lot of people, seeing a food truck is still a relatively new experience.
Because they are new and a bit unusual, people want to be part of the experience.
It’s fun to say you got food at a food truck rather than stopping off at the usual fast-food restaurant.
Food truck crews often make the experience enjoyable, too.
Many of them interact with their customers and have some fun.
It’s different from fast-food restaurants where they try to rush you through eating.
It’s also different from restaurants where the staff are often more formal and professional.
Novelty items are always expensive.
It’s the strangeness and specialness of it all that makes it pricier.
People are a bit more willing to pay for novelty because it’s not something they do or see often.
Food trucks are expensive because they’re still a novelty.
Competition between businesses usually means that prices go down.
That isn’t always the case with food trucks.
There’s no question that there’s a lot of competition between food trucks.
However, instead of lowering prices, each food truck tries to do something a bit different than the others.
This usually means that they offer a different menu or type of food.
For example, one food truck might sell burgers while another one sells seafood.
They’re competing with each other because they’re trying to get the same group of customers to eat at their food truck instead of the competition’s food truck.
However, it comes down to the type and quality of the food and not the price that determines where people choose to eat.
If anything, food trucks will increase the price of their items because it makes them seem as though they’re providing higher quality food than the competition.
People tend to associate high food prices with higher-quality food.
To get more customers, food trucks raise their prices to compete with each other.
9. Fuel Costs
Even mundane things can make food trucks expensive.
Because food trucks are mobile, they spend a good amount of money on fuel.
While some food trucks remain stationary, some still drive from one place to the next.
Food trucks don’t always have the best gas mileage either.
As such, they might burn through a lot of gas in a single day if they have to drive around a lot.
Whenever fuel costs are high, it adds to their cost of operations.
They need to have higher prices because they need to cover those higher costs.
Food trucks are expensive when fuel costs are high.
10. Labor Costs
A final reason food trucks are expensive is because of labor costs.
To make it big in the food truck world, a food truck needs talented chefs.
They have to prove to customers that buying their food instead of going to a fast-food restaurant or sit-down restaurant is worth it.
If the food is subpar, then the food truck isn’t going to make it.
They’re not going to get many, if any, repeat customers.
As such, owners must hire skilled chefs and crews to make delicious food.
That sort of talent typically requires decent pay.
Otherwise, they could just go to work in a restaurant and make a lot more money.
To keep the chefs happy and working in the truck, the food truck owner needs to pay them well.
A food truck is expensive because its labor costs can sometimes be quite high.
Food trucks are a fun and unique way to get food that’s both familiar and strange.
Operational costs and rent are some of the reasons why the food at food trucks is expensive.