Mobile Food Vending

Mobile food vending is a popular entry point for many food business entrepreneurs who want to enter the food industry or expand their current operations.

However, starting a mobile food operation comes with its own unique requirements and regulations. The guide below will help you navigate through the different steps as you start or grow your mobile food business. Our FAQ page may also help answer some of your questions as you navigate through the different steps.

What is mobile food vending? 

  • A food cart on the sidewalk
  • A vehicle used to prepare and serve food
  • A truck that drives through the city and vends on the sidewalk

What do I need to operate a mobile food business in Seattle?

Start by developing a business plan - visit our Business Planning page for helpful resources.

Review the checklist of requirements and consider these questions:

Where would you like to vend?

  • Street/Sidewalk/Public Plaza - public right-of-way (examples: curbspace, sidewalks, public plazas, etc.). Get information from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) on how to obtain a Street Use Vending Permit.
    • Street Use Vending Permits are required for any vending in the public right-of-way.
    • View the current list of SDOT-approved vending locations and pending permit applications.
    • Street Use Vending Permit and Mobile Food Unit Permit may be reviewed concurrently.
    • SDOT does not search for locations for vendors. All vendors are responsible for searching for their own locations and applying for the appropriate permit(s) for locations in the public right-of-way.
  • Private Property: privately owned property (examples: parking lots, private plazas, etc.). Find out what permit(s) you may need.
  • City Park: Property owned by the Seattle Parks Department. Get information on Parks Use Permit.

Do you plan to operate from a food truck or trailer?

  • Approval from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) must be obtained for food trucks or trailers before applying for the health permit. Get information on the L&I permit and inspection process for food trucks and trailers.
  • Food carts do not require approval from L&I.
  • Some food kiosks may need approval from L&I, if the food kiosk is a new prefabricated building constructed in a factory and then shipped to the site. Get information on the L&I permit and inspection process for modular buildings.
    NOTE: If purchasing an older, used prefabricated building, it may need to be brought up to current building codes and can be approved by L&I or the City.

Do you have a Mobile Food Unit Permit or exemption from Public Health - Seattle & King County?

  • A mobile food establishment permit includes: food carts, trailers, trucks, and food kiosks.
  • A permit or exemption must be obtained from Public Health to operate a food vending cart or food vehicle (truck or trailer) or kiosk in the City of Seattle.
  • All food vendors are required to be within 200 feet from a usable restroom that has soap and paper/hand dryer and hot water that is at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Portable toilets are not allowed.
  • All food vendors are required to operate out of an approved commissary kitchen within King County.
  • King County health permits are not transferrable.
  • If operating outside of King County, health permit(s) from each respective county may be required.

Are you planning on using liquid petroleum gas (propane) or an open flame (wood or charcoal) to prepare the food?

Are you a registered business in the State of Washington?

Do you have a City of Seattle business license?

  • Every food cart, truck or trailer vendor is required to have a City of Seattle business license. Apply online.
  • If operating outside of the City of Seattle, other City specific business licenses may be required.

Final Steps

Jose's Taqueria, Seattle

You're almost ready to open! Here's what you need to know for hiring and training employees and getting your final inspections and approvals.

You're Open! Now What?

Beach Bakery, Seattle

Congratulations - you did it! Keep your business on the right track by filing the necessary reports, paying taxes, and renewing licenses and permits.