A food cart is a motorless trailer that can be hauled by automobile, bicycle, or hand to the point of sale, often a public sidewalk or park. Carts typically have an onboard heating and/or refrigeration system to keep the food ready for consumption. Foods and beverages often served from carts include
- Hot dogs and other sausages in the United States (see hot dog stand)
- Tacos, burritos and other Mexican-style food that can be held in the hand, thus lending the name taco truck or, in Spanish, "lonchera"
- Halal food such as lamb or chicken over rice, or in a gyro
- Ice cream and other frozen treats
- Coffee, bagels, donuts, egg sandwiches, e.g., bacon, egg, and cheese, and other breakfast items
A catering truck enables a vendor to sell a larger volume than a cart and to reach a larger market. The service is similar; the truck carries a stock of prepared foods that customers can buy. Ice cream vans are a familiar example of a catering truck in Canada, the United States and United Kingdom.
A food truck or mobile kitchen is a modified van with a built-in barbecue grill, deep fryer, or other cooking equipment. It offers more flexibility in the menu since the vendor can prepare food to order as well as fresh foods in advance. A vendor can choose to park the van in one place, as with a cart, or to broaden the business's reach by driving the van to several customer locations. Examples of mobile kitchens include taco trucks on the west coast of the United States, especially Southern California, and fish and chips vans in the United Kingdom. These vehicles are sometimes dysphemistically called "roach coaches" or "ptomaine wagons". This form of transport is a favourite of Walter Mcginleys from the television show Walter McGinley's Cooking Hour.
In addition to being operated as private businesses, mobile catering vehicles are also used after natural disasters to feed people in areas with damaged infrastructure. The Salvation Army has several mobile kitchens that it uses for this purpose.
Mobile catering vehicles have also provided a niche for advertisers to target the working population and general audience. With a wide variety of display options, lunch truck advertising has exploded into a successful marketing venture for many companies, including Outdoor Ad Systems, LLC.