U.S. Chamber Foundation Study Reveals Regulatory Burdens, Inconsistent Rules Are Barriers to Entry for U.S. Food Truck Owners and Threaten to Stall Industry Growth

March 20, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation today released the results of a comprehensive study conducted of the food truck industry in the United States. The 12-month study, Food Truck Nation, reveals the ease and hurdles of starting up and operating a food truck business in 20 of the most active food truck cities across the nation. The study reveals that the burdens placed on owners threaten to halt growth of an industry that for many entrepreneurs has become a gateway to owning a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

The study found that Portland, Oregon, and Denver, Colorado, rank as the friendliest food truck cities while Boston, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., are among the most challenging cities.  

“In many major cities regulations for food trucks can be confusing, duplicative, and in some cases nonsensical,” said Carolyn Cawley, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “Food trucks operating in parts of Los Angeles need to move their trucks every hour. In New York, entrepreneurs wait as long as 15 years for a simple permit. No matter the example, the end result is the same – difficultly for entrepreneurs to start and grow a business.”

The once-fledgling food truck industry reached a record $2.7 billion in forecasted revenue in 2017 and has seen an annual growth rate of 7.9 percent. The study found that a lopsided, confusing regulatory environment is putting the food truck community at risk. In some cities, setting up a food truck requires at least 22 distinct interactions between owners and regulators.

Using carefully-drawn criteria, this study is the first ranking of the most friendly and most challenging cities for food trucks to operate. The full report is available here.

5 Most Friendly Food Truck Cities
#1: Portland, OR
#2: Denver, CO
#3: Orlando, FL
#4: Philadelphia, PA
#5 Indianapolis, IN

5 Most Challenging Food Truck Cities
#1: Boston, MA
#2: Washington, DC
#3: San Francisco, CA
#4: Minneapolis, MN
#5 Seattle, WA

Among barriers facing the food truck industry, the study found:

  • Food truck owners need to make 23 separate trips to local agencies in Washington, D.C., in order to obtain a food truck permit versus eight in Denver.
  • The City of Minneapolis forbids food trucks from parking within 100 feet of a restaurant, 300 feet of a commercial building, and 500 feet from a sports event, while Portland has no such restrictions.
  • Food truck vendors pay as much as $38,000 per year in regulatory costs in Boston, adding to the costs and expenses often passed on to consumers, versus only $5,000 in Portland.
  • One food truck owner responded to the Foundation’s survey that the regulatory burden on food truck owners in Chicago is so burdensome that he felt like he was being treated more like a criminal than an entrepreneur.
  • In parts of Los Angeles, such as West Hollywood, food trucks are required to move to a different street every hour.
  • In New York City, there is a 15-year waiting list for a food truck permit and some are sold on the black market for as much as $25,000.
  • Some cities, such as Boston, require vendors to install GPS tracking devices in food trucks to monitor distance from existing businesses.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Food Truck Nation report is a comprehensive study conducted on local food truck regulations. See the full report including the study’s methodology information linked here.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation is dedicated to strengthening America’s long-term competitiveness. We educate the public on the conditions necessary for business and communities to thrive, how business positively impacts communities, and emerging issues and creative solutions that will shape the future.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations.


Media Contact: Katharine Cooksey