How to Choose a Catering Trailer for Small Business Owners

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How to Choose a Catering Trailer for Small Business Owners

With the rise in popularity of catering trailers and food trucks, many small business owners are considering how to implement these mobile vendor units into their business models. A cafe owner, for example, can benefit today from operating one of these on-the-go storefronts to promote awareness of a cafe's brand beyond its original location. Whether it is on a commercial street, at a fair, or at a park, vending through a catering trailer can be a great way for a small business owner to build up a customer base.

Before purchasing a catering trailer, buyers may have questions as to how these units operate. Understanding the various features available for a catering trailer can help a small business owner make a more informed decision when it comes time to make a purchase. Those in the market for one of these mobile cafes can also gain an advantage from knowing where to buy these trailers. While individual sellers may post some options locally in newspapers, one reliable source of catering trailers is accessible via the online retailer eBay.

Features on Catering Trailers

When shopping for a catering trailer, small business owners need to consider which available features can best serve their business needs. The types of features available on catering trucks are wide and varied. Having a familiarity with each feature can help consumers select the ideal trailers for their businesses.


Bain-maries are essentially chafing dishes. They use a heating element in water to warm a separate container. They allow someone who is vending hot foods to keep the dishes warm for a longer period of time. For those who wish to prepare food ahead of time and then serve the food throughout the day, having bain-maries included in a catering trailer is essential.

Beer Equipment

For vendors who are interested in selling in adult markets and who have a licence to sell alcohol, having beer or bar equipment in a trailer can be a distinct advantage. A trailer with beer equipment can feature integrated beer lines that feed beer from a keg to taps built into the trailer's structure. A quality beer system can also have an integrated cleaning system for the beer lines to ensure that they get flushed out regularly and operate under sanitary conditions. A catering trailer that is retrofitted for beer service also needs a gas line for the pump that operates the beer lines.

Burners, Cookers, and Grills

The majority of catering trailer operators want some sort of burner, cooker, or grill. There are many different types of cookers on the market. Buyers should make a choice based on the types of hot food they plan on serving from their catering trailers.

Those selling hamburgers and the like may want to look into a char grill that can sear the meat. A large, heavy-duty chrome burner is one of the most universal cookers in a catering trailer. It can cook breakfast foods, such as eggs, beans, and sausage, as well as lunch and dinner items. Some lunch caterers may want a contact grill for making pressed sandwiches. These hinged, two-sided, portable units grill and press a sandwich on both sides, and this makes an ideal hot lunch treat.

Freezers and Fridges

Finding a trailer with the right freezer or fridge is also highly dependent on what types of food a small business owner plans on vending. Someone selling ice cream in the summertime naturally needs a large and reliable freezer unit. Vendors may also want to look for a sizable freezer to store food supplies and ensure the safety and quality of the supplies.

Refrigeration is obviously a high-stakes aspect of any food service business. The size and nature of the fridge can change based on the food or drinks served by a caterer. A beer fridge for bottles, for example, might be unnecessary for some vendors, and a caterer who specialises in snack foods may not need a large storage fridge. Purchasing a trailer in this scenario with a large fridge would be a waste of precious space and money. Consumers should tailor their selection of a trailer to the size and applicability of the included fridge and other equipment.


Consumers who want to run a mobile chip shop or a fish-n-chip trailer should look for trailers with integrated fryers. Most commercial catering fryers are twin basket fryers with a drying rack located above each fryer. Consumers should make sure that the unit is operational and that the trailer has the proper accessory lines and features to operate a fryer safely.

Ovens and Microwaves

Ovens typically come in catering trailers with grills or burner tops. Consumers who want to operate a lunch or tea truck may not need a full-service oven and may be able to get by with a smaller oven or even a microwave. Pizza ovens are another popular choice for catering trailers. Most feature a two-tier design and are far smaller than traditional pizza ovens.

Refrigerated Counters and Display Units

Refrigerated display units allow a caterer to display sandwiches and other prepared meals to the customer. They are placed typically on the counter by the service hatch. They can be set up to allow customers to serve themselves, or they can be used as displays only.

Tea Urns

Many catering trailers in the U.K. come with some sort of device or set-up that addresses tea and hot water. These may be freestanding units with a bain-marie-like design for heating a large amount of water with an electrical element. Others have integrated hot water dispensers in the body of the trailer. Some, for example, might have external dispensers so that customers can serve themselves and prepare their own tea.

Operational Considerations When Buying a Catering Trailer

There are a few storefront and operational issues that a consumer may want to consider when purchasing a catering trailer. These choices can affect operations and marketing of a business.


Many catering trailers come with a sign integrated into the design of the trailer. This can require some adjustments from the new owner unless the new owner's business model is an exact fit with the previous owner's. Signs can be neon, electrical, or painted board. They can also be integrated into a canopy over the trailer's serving hatch.

Serving Hatch Design

Consumers looking for a catering trailer should also consider the design of the serving hatch. Some serving hatches feature small window openings that can control and direct customer queues. Others have a wide, open design similar to a carnival booth. Consumers should first consider which type of serving hatch matches best with the types of food they are serving. They should also consider weather conditions and whether having an open hatch design can affect sanitary conditions inside the trailer.

Leads to Connect to Mains or Gas Power

Some catering trailers come with electrics leads that allow a user to connect to a nearby main feed to power internal appliances. This type of power feed is usually sufficient for smaller operations or ones that are limited to a few appliances. In general, most catering trailers use gas power or a combination of gas and electric. A gas feed provides sufficient power to operate several large appliances consistently. Consumers should make sure to confirm that a trailer they are interested in buying has a set-up that can sufficiently power the appliances they need.

Buying Catering Trailers on eBay

Once you have familiarised yourself with the features involved in catering trailers, you can begin the purchasing process in earnest. The online aggregator eBay offers a wide and diverse catalogue of catering trailers. When you first visit the site, make sure that you consider the search interface as a starting point. You can use this interface to run a general search, such as with a term like 'catering trailer', or run a more detailed search by including some feature sets. This pulls up a list of all the products on the site that relate to your search criteria.

Getting to Know the Sellers on eBay

As you begin looking through the listings on eBay, take a moment to get to know the sellers of any products that seem particularly appealing to you. From the listing's page, click on the seller's name to visit the seller's detail page. There, you can peruse through past listings and also read feedback submitted about that seller by other customers.


Buying a catering trailer is a great way for small business owners to expand on their brands by maintaining a mobile storefront that can promote their cafes, restaurants, or chip shops far beyond their original locations. These convenient trailers give buyers a miniature version of a full-service kitchen and allow owners to service customers wherever they like, whenever they want.

Finding and purchasing the right catering trailer for their needs can seem like a tall order to small business owners who have never managed these mobile cafes before. Fortunately, with just a bit of the right information on the feature sets that are available for catering trailers and on some of the operational issues that are involved in running them optimally, buyers can select the right catering trucks for their businesses. By running a search on eBay and taking a moment to get to know the sellers on the site, small business owners can easily find and purchase catering trailers to operate as essential parts of their businesses. They can also search locally in newspaper ads and possibly through restaurant equipment dealers to find catering trailers.

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