No matter how careful and diligent you may be some day you will disappoint a guest and get a complaint. The complaint may be completely baseless or even completely made up. Those are the exceptions, yet they do happen. Most complaints on the other hand are the guest’s way of asking you to correct a mistake or problem. The calm unspoken part of the complaint is: “Hey, I really like you and your food but today something is wrong. I just want you to fix it so when I come back I can be confident the problem will not happen again.”
When you think of a complaint in those terms it is not so personal and hurtful. A vocal (as opposed to the unspoken complaint that never comes back and you don’t know why) guest complaint is the best thing you can get. Here is a consumer of your food that is pointing out an opportunity for improvement and helping you gain superiority over your competition. Even if the complaint is subjective like something not hot or cold enough or the service wasn’t friendly or fast enough, it is still an opportunity to fine tune operations and get better for the future.
How do you handle the irate, noisy, complaining guest? First thing is to remove them from your other guests. A complainer will influence others to be more critical and even complain as well. This is no different than a line of guests influenced by the person in front of them and creating a “run” on a product. If possible move them to an area away from the serving area to continue the conversation. If you are working alone and you have other guests, get control of the situation as quickly as you can. Calmly say “I don’t ever want to operate in the way you are describing. Would you please give me details about the problem so I can fix it right now?” A calm response from you talking in a lower tone voice than normal, generally, will influence the complainer to talk lower as well, helping diffuse what could be a tense situation.
Your goal in dealing with every guest is create a lasting and profitable relationship. When you have either moved the complainer away from your other guests or gotten the complainer to be detail focused it is time to:
Vendors have vastly differing opinions on offering refunds. A refund simply means the food is counted as waste, the sale is voided and money returned. Every vendor will make mistakes and that food is counted as waste. Every vendor should have a waste budget. Budgeting for mistakes and complaints take the sting out of both. You expect to make mistakes and you should also expect complaint refunds.
This is totally different from a merit-less complaint. The one where the person hasn’t even bought food and is complaining about pricing, food quality, location or whatever else enters their mind. These folks are not guests as they haven’t purchased anything and they are being disruptive to your business. Tell them you would be happy to discuss any comments when you are not open for business and then ask point blank if they are going to order any food, and say it with a smile. Any answer other than “yes, I want a …” interrupt them and ask them to leave so that you may serve the other people in line that are actually there to purchase food. Again, politely with a smile. Any other response other than them walking away or placing a food order, you dial 911 and show them the phone screen. Ask for police assistance with someone disrupting your business by creating a nuisance to you and your paying guests. No further engagement with the complainer is required. As long as you remain calm and in control the complainer usually leaves long before you finish the call.
Engaging a complainer about pricing or if your hot dogs are really ‘all beef’ is pointless while you are in operation. These types of inquiries are designed to get under your skin by implying your products are inferior. A simple “I’ll be happy to discuss business strategies with you after I’m closed” or “Of course they are all beef I am proud to serve this brand” and get back to taking orders from real guests. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone except your health department.
Remember Listen, Apologize, Satisfy and Thank. Budget for refunds and mistakes. Your ultimate goal should be to turn a complainer in to a raving fan not only of your food but your business operation. Ultimately returning often and spending more cash you can actually keep!
Translation: I am a marketer, and I can develop a website pretending to be an expert then the search engines will list it near the top from lack of competition, giving me instant credibility as an “expert”.
Next step: Using an article generator and have it spit out dozens of “unique” articles for a blog. Article generating software takes the search terms you enter and spits out articles based on other articles found on the internet. Depending on the software the articles may need a few tweaks to be readable, but it is a huge time saver. This is one of the reasons you get that “I’ve read this before” feeling when web surfing.
Next, use a content aggregator to create lists of related topics and websites to include as support articles and the all-important “website links” which help generate traffic because search engines like “back-links”. Now get a website, use Ad-Words for monetization, affiliate links for more monetization, a content scheduler and viola, you have a money-making website built in a few hours or days.
Last step is to create a “funnel” page to get people to enter an email address in return for some “freebie” of dubious origin or useless content. Usually some “Must have” report, list, or template.
Internet Marketers have email lists, and they notify the list when the new site is launched encouraging folks to share the new site with people that would be interested in the topic. Of course, their groupies go to the site to admire their guru’s work, giving the website visits, which drives up rankings on search engines. Notice that no one looking at the site so far has any interest in the site’s actual topic.
One of two things happen now the marketer will either, advertise the site for sale or hire someone to provide more content whilst starting another new site on a different topic. Going the route of sale, the marketer will list the assets, hoping to demonstrate value in those assets. Remember two of the assets' “visitors” and “email addresses” are artificially inflated from the groupies checking out what their guru offers.
Hiring someone to provide content means the site did well enough at launch to convince the marketer there is more money to be made. Make no mistake, if the site is meeting the marketer’s monetization goals, they will keep it. Once the money wavers… bye, bye, website. Remember, carpetbagger, no personal stake in, or connection to, the people served.
Since the carpetbagger has no practical experience in the chosen topic the person hired doesn’t either. That person’s job to create content - articles, videos, podcasts, PDF’s, templates and add to the email list. Interviewing stars in the industry is a way to get more visits and views, nothing wrong with that. The problem is the interviewer with little experience in the field cannot determine if the information is valuable or even viable. The interview gets published and newbies to the industry think the information must be true because this website has “industry cred”.
I recently watched a video that was produced by a restaurant CONsultant. This person has a TV show that goes undercover in problem laden restaurants to “fix” them. I can’t watch the show because it is fake, full of paid actors pretending to be complaining guests or troublesome employees, recreated scenes, and stupid restaurant owners. I watched this video because it was linked on a Facebook group for food vendors. The gist of the video was returning guests and developing loyalty. The host spits out statistics as “proof” of his guest retention theories. The stats were 40% of first timers if given great food and service will return for a second visit. Forty-two percent of those second timers if given the same great food and service return for the third visit. Finally, 70% of those given great food and service return and become frequent guests. Hmmm, see a problem? If you don’t, please, hire an accountant to do your bookkeeping.
40% means your great food and service only encouraged 40 people out of 100 new guests to return. Nothing to brag about there and you probably don’t really have great food or service. Now only about 16 of those will return according to this mathematical genius. After that third visit only 11 will come back for more. Another way of say that is 11% of your guests become loyal and frequent.
Retaining only 11% of your guests means you have to go thru 1031 people for every 100 you need to support your food business. While that may like a small manageable number, guest retention simply does not work that way. This TV personality goes on to suggest giving a “new” guest an identifier (like a red napkin) so that you and the staff do things to encourage repeat business, like give special treatment, great food and service. WHAT ABOUT EVERYONE ELSE EATING THERE???
When you focus on one thing something else has to, by default, be ignored. The comments on the video were all along the lines of “great info”, “amazing idea” or “I’m stealing that!”. No one asked for the source of the stats, or even countered the information because it was presented as authoritative and complete. Surveys yielding 40% of something mean that 100% of that something had to be involved in the first place. A survey where you interview every single guest of a restaurant and ask about returning, that act of asking unduly influences the guest to act differently than had they been left alone. They either return because they were asked or they don’t because they were bothered. Food and service have taken a back seat. Surveys and statistics are a dime a dozen and influenced by what result is desired and how the questions are phrased.
Another example of internet marketing at it’s most useless is a recent Facebook sponsored ad for “Ultimate Lead Magnet” for restaurant owners. A three-page graphics heavy PDF freely given in exchange for your email address. The report promises a way to easily acquire 17 “new raving fans” for your restaurant without spending any money on “traditional media advertising”. It uses similar percentages to the video mentioned above. The report says all you have to do is print up 500 free coupons and pass them out to your target guests. The report then runs the redemption percentages and even recommends the same red napkin nonsense to show how you will end up with 17 new raving fans. Like the other CONsultant they recommend your staff focus on the red napkin identifier and then hand them another freebie coupon. Finally ending the report with an offer to do the promotion for you electronically, of course, for a fee.
This PDF claims traditional media costs $40 to $80 per new guest. Let’s look at your expenditures for this carpetbagger restaurant marketing method. They also want the 500 coupons to be for an item with “$5.00 in food costs”.
I have actually worked for companies that turned to sustained couponing as a way to drive sales. Coupons create short term gains in cash flow but so little in the way of creating long term ‘raving fans’. Guests learn patterns quickly and know when and where to find the coupons. Guests also notice things like differences in how quickly tables are served, or the attention a table receives if it is significantly different than their own service. Red napkins get noticed, questions get asked. How long before a server answers with “yeah, the owner makes us pay special attention to tables with red napkins.” How does that guest without the red napkin feel? Think they are coming back?
You want to create Raving Fans? Give 100% of your guests 110% of your best QSC abilities and teach your staff to do the same.
Carpetbaggers, internet marketers, gurus, snake oil salesmen. Whatever the name the result is the same. Nada.
OK, OK, you got a bad review and are panicked. Thoughts of bankruptcy and the poor house become mixed with hurt pride and anger. What to do, what to do? First and foremost, do not take a poor review personally, even if it written as a personal attack. Secondly avoid the temptation to delete it even if you have the ability. Third DO NOT respond in kind. A hateful response to a hateful review only validates the review giving it more credibility.
Guest feedback has grown from comment cards to phone-in surveys to online reviews. In today’s over-sharing world reviews are a fact of business life that simply cannot be ignored. Savvy consumers look for reviews, menus and pricing for that new food truck they heard about. Having a poor review or two hurts your business, right?? Not exactly, according to Harvard Business School the majority of consumers trust review content more when they see a mix of good and bad reviews. An astounding 95% of consumers believe reviews to be fake or screened when all they can find are positive reviews.
Look at each poor review as an opportunity to build a personal relationship with a guest that could lead to a long term profitable relationship. A poor review could only be one of two things. One is a description of product or service as seen through the eyes of the reviewer. Not necessarily accurate, just their side of events. The other is an attack from a competitor or severely disappointed guest designed to hurt your business. Most likely an exaggeration or complete fiction. In either case, your response to the review defines you and your business to person checking you out for the first time. What impression does your response to complaints leave the reader, your potential new guest? Your response to a poor review will tip the scales for that new guest. Which direction the scale tips is up to you.
A hot dog cart vendor in Chicago recently received his first negative review and basically wanted to vent his frustrations to a vendors only forum and seek advice. The review was written on his business Facebook page and he has control over deleting it. The young man in question runs an amazingly clean, attractive cart with inviting signage and an easily read menu board. His surrounding area is clean and the overall appearance his operation is better than many “indoor” restaurants. He is quite friendly and fast with service even when busy. Yet, he received a poor review from a lady purchasing a product he had made 60 of that day. He could not remember the lady specifically but her 300-word essay on the hot dog vendor was a direct attack on him, his quality, pricing and taste.
The advice from the forum included the full spectrum of how not to run a successful food business. Everything from “delete it”, “ignore it”, “answer it the same way she wrote it” and the ‘I am a cheapskate pretending to be a business owner’ answer- “just don’t offer her free food she will take advantage of you”. His venting post received dozens of replies and 80% were on the adversarial side of running a business. One would question whether the folks offering advice actually worked in any type of guest service.
A closer look at the complaint would, in and of itself, only encourage a prospective guest to investigate the hot dog vendor more rather than blindly say “nope, not eating there”. The reviewer's account had no display photo and it was the only entry on from that FB account. It is unlikely that a person so overwhelmed with poor service and food would start a social media account to post their very first online activity as a blisteringly bad review. The lack of any other activity, photos or comments indicate the review is a complete fake. Strike one fake reviewer. A prospective guest would look at the business’s Facebook photos for a menu to see if the prices were really too high. His prices are exactly in line for the area's economy and with his competition. Strike two fake review. Taste is completely subjective and not a factor unless it is mentioned across several reviews. In his case every review that mentions taste or quality give high marks for each. Strike three, you are outta here faker.
Our friendly vendor, once he got over the emotions, answered her review with an apology and an offer to contact him directly and discuss all her concerns in person. Since the vendor did address the review in a professional way, offering an apology and a way to communicate to fix the problem, the review lost all influence over any undecided potential guest. In fact, this review and his response will drive more business to the vendor not away.
Your cart or restaurant business should have a policy for handling all guest reviews, regardless of content. Respond to each and every review, good or bad. People like attention and acknowledgement. Only responding to negative reviews makes them stick out more and encourages more of the same.
Interesting question for someone just getting into street and event vending. Ask that question on a Facebook group or a forum page and you will get answers on both sides with compelling arguments for each.
The most common argument in favor of LLC is the owner is not held personally responsible for company debts. Meaning if the street vending business fails the personal property of the owner of the LLC is protected from being taken to satisfy debts the business assets don’t cover. Considering the failure rates of small businesses this is a smart move if you plan on financing equipment like a truck or cart. Even purchasing inventory on credit could stymie cash flow and cause a business collapse putting personal items at risk if not for LLC protection.
The next most common reason to form an LLC is ease of raising capital. No, not getting loans, but raising money from selling membership interests with voting or profit incentives. A new member’s personal property is protected in the same manner.
The next most common reason is the ability to sell the business as a whole. All the contracts, permits and licenses are in the LLC name and go with the business when sold rather than having to transfer them individually to the new owner.
Those three reasons alone are compelling enough to encourage most folks to opt for a LLC. I am sure you are convinced, too!
It does cost more to form and operate a LLC. Fees are higher for formation and filing paperwork, as well as, annual state fees. These fees are party off set with lower insurance rates, but it still is less money in your pocket overall.
There are more rules to follow and more paperwork with an LLC than a Sole Proprietorship. Paperwork translates into time and how much is your time worth?
Still want a LLC? Seems like the protection is worth the expense, right? Your car and house are safe and if you screw up the business at least you will have a roof over your head. So, take the plunge!
Wait, wait, I forgot to mention one thing. LLC protection is not ironclad. Most cart and truck owners are first time business people, prone to mistakes of naiveté or excitement. Those mistakes include:
Searching for a great hot dog cart can be confusing. There are dozens of manufacturers across the US with new ones popping up, seemly, all the time. You want a well-built, sturdy cart with tons of cooking space that meets your health department codes and sold at a reasonable price.
The reviews are for the “base” model the manufacturer offers with no add-ons or upgrades. This is to get a close as possible to an “apples to apples” comparison. Reviews are listed in order by state. All information is taken directly from the manufacturers website and is correct as of 10/20/2017. Carts I have personal experience owning, working or training will be noted, as well as my thoughts on construction, work flow and durability for those carts.
Each cart will be ranked based on the following system:
Making an informed purchase of any piece of equipment should include work flow, cost, demonstrated durability and useful extras. Scroll to the Bottom Line for the recommended cart.
Disclaimer: I receive no income for the following information. I am not paid for the recommendations or reviews and the opinions are my own. Listed links are not affiliate links like so many pretend “review sites” use.
ThePremier Hot Dog and Food Carts – Model Elite
220 S Country Club Dr.
Mesa, AZ 85210
Premier Hot Dog and Food Carts is an Arizona based manufacturer that offers my personal favorite style of service for a cart. A side serve cart has the most efficient work flow design as long as the sinks are on the same side as your cooking equipment which the Elite does feature. Premier offers an eighteen-page manual for the new owner. The manual is a mix of Arizona specific information and links, as well as, generic food service checklists and basic troubleshooting. The side as you can see are diamond plate. Typically diamond plate is aluminum rather than stainless. Aluminum is a cost and weight reducing method for manufacturers. In practice aluminum is prone to pitting and discoloration when cleaned with degreasers. Anytime you see diamond plate ask what metal is used. Diamond plate design is cool looking just not practical for cleaning regardless of metal used. An interesting side note, the on-demand hot water heater featured on the Elite is made by American Dreams, Inc. American Dreams is owned by Ben Wilson, who also sells carts under The Hot Dog Cart Store out of Tennessee.
Kareen Carts – Model Steamed Hot Dog Cart
5850 Avalon Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90003
call for quote
If you are California vendor your best bet is to deal with a California based cart manufacturer. Not that other manufacturers are not able to meet the very stringent CalCode, they can and do. It is easier to deal with the experts, who build day in and day out for California based vendors. The picture shows a side serve with a reach in cooler. CalCode does require mechanical refrigeration and Kareem provides a generator to power the cooler. Kareem provides commissary services for Los Angeles, making it one of the few manufacturers to do so. They also help with navigating the myriad of required licenses in LA. Since the CalCode is so specific, most used carts made to pass those codes should remain in state to preserve resell value. CalCode requirements are overkill for the majority of the US.
Armenco – Model Hot Dog Cart
11819 Vose Street
North Hollywood, CA 91605
800-345-0104 | 818-768-0400
Call for quote
Another California based manufacturer building to meet CalCode. Built in refrigeration with a generator, gull wing enclosure and side serve, what is not to like? Of course, this and other CalCode compliant carts are expensive. These rarely make it Florida, so I’ve never seen one firsthand. The website has a downloads page with a “coming soon” display, hopefully that gets fixed soon. The company has been in business since 1977 offering parts, service, and design.
UVC – Model Hot Dog Tow Cart
(951) 595-8752 California
(561) 488-2332 Florida
This is a multi-national company with a presence in both the US and the UK. They offer carts made of fiberglass coated with a gel-coat paint, which provides some UV protection. Fiberglass coupled with stainless steel and aluminum creates carts that are lightweight and easy to clean. Fiberglass does break rather than dent like stainless. The carts are expensive for the size, and I question the long-term durability of the fiber glass and exposure to the sun. This would be a cool cart for indoor use, such as a mall. This model has an umbrella holder, but one is not included. Most states do require overhead protection. The manual water pump is a concern as is the limited steam table size. An expenditure of over $5,000 for a cart you should outgrow within a year makes little financial sense. You are paying for the “cool factor” rather than function.
Cart Concepts International – Model #425
1651 B Tolland Turnpike
Manchester, CT 06042
Call for quote
The entry level cart at Cart Concepts International is Model #425. This is a well-made, sturdy cart made to Connecticut Food code standards. They do build custom carts to each vendor’s specific needs. In business for over 30 years, Cart Concepts has earned a reputation for reliability and high quality. I have traded several of their carts over the years and each one had held up to the hot dog business demands quite well. Each time I have inspected a cart for purchase I found it to be, for lack of a better term, solid. The company offers service, as well as parts and custom design. However, the website is very streamline, offering no business operational support or licensing assistance outside the normal schematics for the health department.
The base model is end-serve design, like the street push carts of New York with the sinks on the opposite end. This is poor workflow design but at least the wheels and fenders are recessed. I am not a fan of quilted stainless as the creases create a place for road grime to accumulate and makes advertisements or license numbers look odd. The two full sized steam tables make growing your business or menu with this cart much easier than carts with small steam table capacity.
Creative Mobile Systems, Inc. – Model 325
189 Adams St
Call for quote
This cart is similar in design to the Model #425 from Cart Concepts. As with the #425 every Model 325 I have inspected was sturdy and aged well. The company has over 20 years of cart building experience and that shows in the final product. CMS offers replacement parts for most carts and trailers. The website, while sparse, does have a little more information and links to assist the local buyer. Both CMS and CCI carts have a higher initial cost than other carts, but the difference can is noticed over the long haul. These carts hold up well to abuse and really are tank-like in their build. I am not sure of the weight, but they are among the heaviest, if not THE heaviest cart on the market. Equipped with two full sized steam tables and sound construction this cart is one a budding vendor will not soon outgrow.
Negatives are the position of the hand wash sink in relation to the serving end of the cart and quilted stainless. An unusual feature is the transverse position of the propane tank.
TDC Manufacturing, LLC TheVendor
1355 Bennett Drive, Unit 177
Longwood, FL 32750
Call for quote
Top Dogs Carts have been in business over 25 years and produce a cart with some nice features. On the right side of the steam table is the condiment bottle holding area with a round pan insert. If your area requires condiments under refrigeration with feature won’t work for you as there is no place for an ice bath. The griddle is an awesome feature that really expands menu possibilities. If you are allowed to have one by your health department. I have found these carts to be “wobbly” when I inspected used ones. I am also not a fan of the rivets that seem to be everywhere. The website does offer more information on getting started, passing a health inspection and marketing. The information is very basic and general in nature, basically just enough to make you dangerous. The cart lists at 400 pounds but it is much lighter than the New England manufacturers. The utensil tray I found easy to bend as it is unsupported.
All American Hot Dog Co – The New Yorker
Jacksonville, FL 32234-0541
While the company address is Jacksonville FL according to the website contact page. The carts appear to be manufactured in Miami at this address: 292 NW 54 STREET Miami, FL 33127. The owner, Louis DiRaimondo started All American Hot Dog in 1972 after working for several years as a Hot Dog Vendor in South Florida. As recently as August 2017 updating a YellowPages.com review to reference South Florida. I have never purchased an All-American cart, but I have trained people that owned All Americans. The cart has a single steam table which makes handling sales in volume a challenge. The construction seems less than solid, and the carts are extremely light to the point of wondering why? I found several sharp edges on sides, sinks, and drains. In defense of All American some complaints on the scam/rip off sites have conflated All American with Willy Dogs. Both companies have very outspoken characters for owners. The website is “old” using primary colors and flashing attention getters. The site has extensive business-related material ranging from detailed to basic.
DreamMaker Hot Dog Carts – Malibu
2619 23rd Avenue North
St. Petersburg, Florida 33713
Dream Maker has been producing carts since the 1980’s. I find their carts to be OK construction. The diamond plate side is a huge negative for me as with quilted metal sides there are a lot of places for accumulation of road grime. The steam table is only a full size so limited growth and menu. The manufacturer has been inconsistent with meeting NSF construction standards, labeling carts as NSF that did not qualify as such. I have worked on several different models and found them all to be functional. The steam table has a tighter fit for the pans leading less heat escaping. Dream Maker also provides commissary services for the local vendor at a reasonable price. The website has general information for the vending business and dealing with the health department.
It is recommended the cart be stored inside and a stainless steel polish used often. Work flow, like most base model carts, is still outdated based on designs from 1926 with the hand sink opposite your food prep area. Meaning every hand wash requires avoiding the push handles, walk around the corner, avoid the fenders, round another corner, then wash your hands.
Smokey Hot Dog Carts – Only one model
925 Ocean Ave
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
A fairly new company producing only one model of cart. The owner has 20 years in metal fabrication and uses a very basic cabinet-on-wheels design. The website contains a tiny bit of general business and hot dog related information. Some of the chosen specs are unusual, such as the sink layout with 3 compartments of differing sizes. In Florida you only are allowed either 1 sink for a Hot Dog Vendor or a 3 compartment sink PLUS a separate hand wash sink as a MFDV. At the very least your product should meet design requirements of the home state.
Based out of Fernandina Beach FL, if you live close by might be worth taking a visit and asking a ton of questions.
Dog House Carts – Greyhound
Fort Wayne, IN
This manufacturer uses a modular design for all their carts. The overall design is still from 1926 (like most other manufacturers) just adding hot water and hand wash. The enamel paint adds a distinct look to their carts, sadly it is an up charge. The slide out cooler is a neat feature putting your meat or drinks in easy reach, rather than leaning over the steam table or walking around the cart. With only a single full-sized steam table this cart is a starter that you will soon outgrow. Swapping the water heater with the hand sink would make this cart more work flow friendly. The website has links to all the state’s health departments and an odd link to Niagara that is completely unsafe. (as of 10/20/2017) Also some basic license and business information. One unique program is layaway. I don’t recommend going in debt to purchase equipment and layaway is a path to your business without debt. Their fabrication experience is listed on one page as 20 years and another as 10 years.
Hot Dog Cart Company – Lightning Bolt
4497 Springbrook Road
Jackson, MI 49201
In business since 1998, the owner is a past hot dog vendor and unlike the other companies that make the same claim this owner understands workflow and the necessity of affordable equipment for the fledgling food vendor. The base model, Lightning Bolt, covers everything important. Workflow is efficient, enough steam table space to grow sales and menu, hand wash adjacent to the steam tables and, best of all, side serve. This is my personal cart and I find it to be sturdy and well built. Negatives are no on-board cooler and tons of rivets. Still, even purchasing a cooler, it IS the least expensive 3 steam table cart made in the US. If you grow your sales to properly use all three steam tables, you will need several additional coolers anyway.
Dock Dawgs – Mobile Food Cart
Another new manufacturer located in Michigan. The Dock Dawgs website is a basic Weebly template site containing a mix of cart manufacturing information and purchasing his catered foods. The information is confusing as on one page it lists sinks and water as an “option” while on another it lists sinks as a “feature”. They offer Michigan specific assistance to get started and also a “training” package upsell. The trailer appears to be one of the “infamous” bolt together Chinese made trailers but the website says they are “bolted and welded”. All in all, if you live nearby check it out and make your own determinations. The pricing seems all over the board recently raising the base price to $3999, but listing a "sale" price of $3399. Prices have been listed as low as $2899 in Oct 2017. I would not order sight unseen until they have a larger customer base.
Custom Mobile Food Equipment – Model 525
275 South 2ND RD.
Hammonton, NJ 08037
Call for quote
Custom Mobile Food is one of the oldest manufacturers in the US, having started in 1952. Along with Cart Concepts and CMS, these carts are solid in construction, offer plenty of space to cook and age well. Every cart I have inspected withstood the test of time and daily use. The website is company and product line focused, offering no business or licensing information.
I like the recessed wheels and taillights. Less things to trip over or knock your shins when hustling. This and the, Cart Concepts and CMS, are interchangeable in quality. Each cart is a worthwhile but expensive purchase if you don’t mind the workflow issues.
Willy Dogs – New Yorker
800 Proctor Ave
Ogdensburg, NY 13669
Even with a US address this company is actually out of Canada. The address is actually one mile from the border with Canada. The website is in primary colors, reminiscent of websites from 1998. Also using the annoying flashing background to get attention. The home page takes inspiration from the nonsense internet marketers spout, with ridiculously long, very wordy, very self-serving ad copy. I got bored with it after about a minute. Willy Dogs does have a business guide section that is worth reading if you are just starting out in this business, however the cart is one to avoid. The steam table layout is a minuscule ¾ of a full size, using 3 ¼ sized pans in the photos to mislead you into thinking the cart is normal sized. It is also a very narrow and light cart, feeling flimsy when you work with it.
USA Trailer Store – Cash Calf
1434 Poinsett Hwy
Greenville, SC 29609
“Plus, you can always upgrade features, such as a sink or a sneeze guard, once your business starts making money.” Hmmm? Yes, that is on their hot dog cart sales page. Sanitation is an NOT an optional procedure for a food service cart. Yes, a couple of states do not require a hand wash sink for a hot dog vendor. That neither makes it right nor safe. Read about Chipotle and norovirus, then decide on not having a sink or eating at a cart that does not have a sink for the operator.
As near as I can tell this company is a retailer rather than manufacturer. Twice this year (2017) they have notified purchasers that the “next shipment” would arrive several weeks from the purchase date to their North Carolina facility and then be shipped to the purchaser. My question is if they are a retailer how can they sell so cheaply?
Hot Dog Cart Store – Cash Cow
1012 Old Knox Hwy
Sevierville, TN 37862
$2699.00 Discount offered by joining a $347 group.
The first thing you notice when you go to this website is the pop up ad wanting your email address under the guise of asking you questions. This is the only manufacturer worried about gathering emails before actually establishing a real business relationship. The "free" courses or reports offered in trade for your email are basic common knowledge, similar to information offered on several other manufacturer sites without an email requirement.
The site owner and partner of the manufacturing company, Ben Wilson, is spokesperson and resident “pro food vendor”. If you are a complete novice to food vending this is THE most comprehensive site for information. However, much of the information presented in articles or videos is often rehashed over and over in different formats under different click bait style titles. This rehash increases the article & video count while providing little in the way of new information. That being said, much of the information is good and useful UNLESS it is attached to something they are selling. Then the information is hype to move a product. Ben follows the internet marketing theory of pretend scarcity and much of his “good” information gets moved to behind a pay wall at some point leaving the original video or article as an advertisement of “darn just missed it” and “please pay money and join my group.”
As with The USA Trailer Store, the base model has no sink! The self-proclaimed" best in the business food pro” offering a cart with no way to be sanitary? Makes you wonder about the true depth of experience and understanding of food sanitation. I have traded or trained on several of his higher tier carts with sinks. They were solid carts and held up to abuse from operation. The workflow on the next step-up cart, the Big Dog, still requires walking around a corner and behind a grill to hand wash. Something I would think a real food pro that worked in the field would recognize as a workflow problem.
They do offer parts and small wares on the website. Just be a careful shopper, some items are nicely priced while others are easily obtained elsewhere for a better price. Also, pricing for everything, including carts is dependent on being a part of his “mafia” group. Which is a pay to join group of $347 one time or $457 billed annually?
The next 4 manufacturers offer little information on their website to make a rank determination.
All Star Carts and Vehicles Inc. –
1565 Fifth Industrial Court
Bay Shore, NY 11706
(800) 831-3166 / 631-666-5252
This New York company manufactures a wide range of vending trailers, carts and kiosks. The website is product line focused and offers minimum details about specific types of vending equipment. I have never seen one of their products and with the website offering few details, it is difficult to comment on the construction, work flow or accessories. If you live nearby, go see firsthand the construction process and what a finished cart would contain.
All A Cart Manufacturing, Inc. – Built to your specs
2001 Courtright Road
Columbus, OH 43232
This company out of Ohio has a strong reputation for quality and service. I have never seen one of their carts, but I have talked to several people that owned one. Each person had great things to say about the company and the product. The website is product focused and provides information to make a good decision on your cart’s design. They also offer commissary services for local vendors as well as storage for your cart. One of the few manufacturers to offer local commissary services, this alone puts them ahead of their competitors. Having a working knowledge of the local health department as well as a food service license is a huge plus.
West Coast Custom Carts –
3684 KASHMIR WAY SE STE C
SALEM, OR 97317
Oregon based West Coast Custom Carts is another company whose product I have never seen in person. I have talked to one owner, and she liked her cart and said she planned on expanding her business and buy a second cart from them. The website is product focused with enough information about cart options. They do not have any food or business-related information on the site. They have been in business since 2008 making them a comparative newbie, as it were.
Two choices for build it yourself cart plans.
Read the whole ad then compare the text with the pages of hotdogcartstore.com which is owned by the same guy, Ben Wilson. The ad copy is interesting in that the exact same complaints about the "other guys" are now evident all over his main cart selling site. However, his plans are also easy to follow, requiring basic tools and skills. The cost will be around $1000.00
A very wordy marketing guru type ad, but the product is good and includes a few useful extras. The plans are easy to follow and if you have basic tools and skills, you can build it for under $1000.00 in a couple of weekends. The website is internet marketing heavy with very wordy ad copy, using testimonials and a price that changes too often. Prices range from $47 to $199 at times, so be careful when you purchase. There are also aggressive add-on sales for a website service.
There are a couple of YouTube videos from a wood worker that shows how he built a cart for a friend. The videos will give you an idea of what skills you need as well as tools before you consider purchasing one of the above sets of plans.
I have worked, bought/sold or trained folks on nine assorted brands and considering cost, features and a solid build, the Lightning Bolt is the best cart on the market. Even purchasing a $70 dollar cooler from Sam's Club (making the grand total $3169.00) still puts the Lightning Bolt by far the best cart in features and value. My personal cart is a Lightning Bolt with a grill add-on. This is the only one I would buy new and the only one you will not outgrow.
I have had a passion for helping people since an early age back in rural Kentucky. That passion grew into teaching and training managers and owners how to grow sales, increase profits, and retain guests. You’ll find a ton of information here about improving restaurant and food cart/trailer operations and profits. Got questions? Email me at Bill_Moore@live.com