Mobile Food Vendor Regulations

A long fight to develop fair mobile food vendor regulations has finally ended with the city council agreeing on a monthly lottery system to determine which trucks can access popular pedestrian areas of the city. We detail DC’s battle and provide links to other cities and their current codes and regulations


What Happened?

Washington DC passed new rules legislating the use of food trucks in and around the city. Operators will now have to apply to a monthly lottery in order to win the right to park in high-demand areas of the city.

The Goal

With the new rules, the hope is that up-and-coming food trucks, numbering more than 100, will avoid the wrath of long-time restaurants. The established businesses have been pushing for significantly greater restrictions against the food trucks. Ultimately, DC’s city council decided to upgrade its mobile food vendor guidelines.

A Sticky Situation

The NYTimes reported that due to the stakes, and that this took place in Washington, lobbying became an important part of the debate. The food trucks created an association and groups outside the debate including conservatives and libertarians lobbied against further government regulation.

Other City Food Fights

Chicago’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection office offers mobile food licenses at $700/2 years for dispensers and $1k/2 years for preparers.

San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District inspects and licenses all vendors selling food and drinks from mobile units. The list of do’s and don’ts is very extensive and Gov1 recommends any city or town contemplating mobile food vendor regulations take a look at SA’s site. For instance, vendors are not allowed near schools one hour prior to the opening nor one hour after the close. Additionally, mobile vendors cannot set up within 300 feet of an existing food license holder without permission of all food license holders.

In Oakland, CA, one of the first cities to create a mobile food permitting program, the city offers a map and weekly schedule of where mobile vendors will be located. As recently as 2012, the city updated its regulations to adopt “Group Sites” to allow clusters of three or more vendors to use public and private spaces. You can find examples of permits, insurance requirements and applications on the site.

You can read Salt Lake City’s code pertaining to this topic, and the city of Largo, FL’s ordinance here.