Mobile catering is a form of food service in which food is prepared in or served from a vehicle. Sometimes known as lunch wagons or concession trailers, these vehicles are typically equipped with either refrigeration or heating units and may also include a kitchen. A mobile catering vehicle may be used to sell food to the public on the streets, as a concession stand at a fair, or to provide food to people in emergency situations. Some caterers use these vehicles to serve their clients at event sites where a professional kitchen may not be available. In many areas, laws may restrict or prohibit the sale of food from mobile catering vehicles.
Workers may have difficulty making time for a full meal during the workday. Some food business, including standard restaurants, may send out mobile catering trucks into business districts in hopes of selling their foodstuffs to these workers. The trucks typically provide relatively inexpensive and simple meals, sandwiches, and snacks to these workers. In some cases, the food may be prepared in the mobile catering unit, while in other cases the catering unit may be equipped with insulated chambers in which pre-cooked meals can be stored. Hot dog carts and ice cream trucks or wagons are another common type of mobile catering that may operate in both business and residential areas.
Restaurants and professional catering companies may rely on mobile catering units when serving food to clients at a location that does not have a professional or any other type of kitchen. The advantage to bringing a mobile catering unit on site is that catering company or restaurant employees are able to work in the kitchen with which they are familiar and that includes the necessary equipment for producing a full menu. Some barbecue restaurants even incorporate a full barbecue pit into their catering unit so that guests can enjoy fresh, hot barbecue meats.
Fairs, trade shows, and other events are often held on large expanses of land that do not host any permanent kitchens or food service establishments. In such cases, event organizers will typically rely on food vendors that can bring their own mobile kitchens with them onto the event property. The equipment in these kitchens may vary according to the specialty of the food vendor. For example, ice cream vendors may bring with them refrigerated cases for their frozen treats, while other food vendors may bring grills and deep fat fryers for preparing standard festival foods such as burgers and french fries.