Mobile Food Vending

Mobile food vending is a popular entry point for many food business entrepreneurs who want to enter the food service industry. If you own a restaurant, catering business, food manufacturing business, or participate in farmers markets and temporary events, this can also serve as a way to expand your operations and create another revenue stream.

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 a Mobile Food Business?

  • 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 curbside

Steps for Opening or Expanding a Mobile Food Business

Helpful Tool: Use the Mobile Food Checklist to help make sure you have all the required permits and licenses.
clipboardOpen Checklist

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

Do your market research: 

Be sure to check out the FREE tools and assistance at Seattle Public Utilities Green Business Program to help businesses conserve resources and prevent pollution while also reducing costs. Taking advantage of these resources can help you beome eligible for recognition and give your business added marketing through Washington's statewide program, EnviroStars

State of Washington Business License

City of Seattle Business License

  • If operating in Seattle, every business in Seattle is required to have a City of Seattle business license. Apply online, in person or by mail.
  • If operating outside of the City of Seattle, other City specific business license may be required. Check with each City individually for this requirement. 

Locating on Public Property, Private Property and City Parks

Public Property (Public Right of Way) - Street, Sidewalk, Public Plaza - Permit Required

  • Visit SDOT's Vending Permits page to learn more about the different Street Use Vending permits for businesses operating in the public right-of-way.
  • Examples can be: sidewalks, curbspace, public plazas, etc.
  • Street Use Vending permits are required for any vending in the public right of way.
  • Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) issues all Street Use Vending permits in the public right of way.
  • Review the Vending Fee Schedule to learn about fees for the different street use vending permits.
  • Download the Vendor's Bulletin to see a list of all of the SDOT approved vending locations and pending permit applications. Go to SDOT's Vending Permits page, scroll down and select "Download the Vendor's Bulletin spreadsheet."
  • Vendors are not restricted to locations on SDOT's Vendor's Bulletin. New locations can be created per the requirements of the different street use permits.
  • Vending is only allowed for food and flowers except for Stadium and Event Center Vending which also allows for merchandise, services, and nonalcoholic beverages.
  • 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.
  • Approval timeline: about 8 weeks upon submission.

Private Property - Permit May Be Required

  • Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) regulates private property in Seattle. Find out from SDCI's Street Food page to find out if you may need a permit.
  • Examples can be: privately owned parking lots, private plazas, privately owned empty commercial lots, etc.

City Park - Permit May Be Required

  • Any vending locations in city parks operated by the Seattle Parks Department must generally be connected to an event. Work with the event organizer to determine permit needs.
  • If operating outside of Seattle, check with the local jurisdiction on the regulations for parking on public and private property. They are not the same from city to city.

L&I Permit Requirements for Food Trucks and Trailers

  • Visit L&I’s Food Trucks and Trailers page to learn more about the L&I permit application and inspection process.
  • See the L&I Application Instructions for more details on the application and approval process.
  • Approval from L&I must be obtained for food trucks or trailers before applying for the health permit.
  • Food carts (unenclosed units) do not require approval from L&I.
  • Detailed plans of the truck need to be created and they are required for review and approval. Two (2) copies are required for 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 of Seattle if operating in Seattle.
  • Approval timeline: about 8 weeks upon submission.
  • For more information about the regulations for converting your food truck or trailer and you can go to WAC 296-150V.
  • For specific questions, please contact the Factory Assembled Structures team directly at: FAS1@lniwa.gov 

PHSKC Mobile Food Service Business Permit

  • Visit King County’s Mobile Food Service Business Permit page to learn more about the application and inspection process.
  • See King County’s Mobile Food Unit Plan Review Guide to learn about the plan review process and application instructions.
  • A Mobile Food Service Business permit includes: food carts, trailers, trucks, and food kiosks.
  • If you have a food truck or trailer, you must be approved by L&I before you can apply for a county health permit. Food carts do not require approval from L&I.
  • A permit or exemption must be obtained from Public Health to operate a food cart or food vehicle (truck or trailer) or kiosk in the City of Seattle.
  • All food vendors are required to be within 500 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 must operate out of an approved commissary kitchen within King County or apply for an exemption from the commissary kitchen requirement through the application process.
  • King County health permits are not transferrable.
  • If operating outside of King County, health permit(s) from each respective county may be required.
  • Approval timeline: about 14 days upon submission.

SFD Permit Required for Food Vendors Using LPG, Solid Fuel, Open Flame, and/or Charcoal for Food Vending

  • See the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) Permit Application for food vendors by searching for permit code “8206FVH”.
  • The annual permit from the SFD is required for food vendors using LPG (propane), solid fuel, open flame, and/or charcoal for food vending.
  • If you are using compressed gas cylinders, they are required to be requalified or replaced every 5-12 years depeding on the cylinder type, condition, previous qualification method. Learn more about the requirements for gas cylinders.
  • Approval timeline: 1-2 days upon application submission and fee payment.

WSLCB Liquor Caterer License

  • Liquor licenses are not permitted for mobile food operations to set up and sell alcohol from a mobile food location to the public.
  • You may obtain a liquor caterer license and be hired to do a private event not open or advertised to the public and serve alcohol from the mobile food operation.
  • If you obtain a liquor caterer license, you must have an approved commissary kitchen where you do food preparation where the alcohol can be stored and locked up.
  • The licensee is prohibited from catering events at liquor-licensed premises.
  • The licensee is required to send a list of scheduled liquor-catered events to their regional enforcement office on the first of each month.
  • All employees that sell or serve alcohol must hold MAST permits.
  • The Beer/Wine Caterer Licensee
    • Must have the ability to provide and prepare minimum food services (sandwiches, salad, soup, hamburgers, pizza and fry orders) at the licensed kitchen premises.
    • Must have the necessary kitchen equipment to prepare the minimum food service.
  • The Spirits/Beer/Wine Caterer Licensee
    • Must have the ability to prepare and serve at least eight complete meals at the licensed kitchen premises.
    • Must have kitchen capacity and necessary equipment to prepare and cook complete meals.

Washington State Department of Labor and Industries

  • Once you have approved plans, an approved electronic copy in PDF format will be emailed to you along with an In-State or Out-of-State inspection request form to ensure that you are ready for inspection and the type of inspection you are requesting. A hard copy of the approved plans can be requested and mailed out to you.
  • The inspection request form is to be completed and submitted when you know you will be ready for an inspection. Once the form is received, the inspection request goes to the assigned inspector in the reigion and is on a first come, first served basis. Please note: inspection time average is approximately 2 – 3 weeks depending on the volume of requests from the time the inspection requests is received to the time of the inspection. Plan accordingly!

Public Health – Seattle & King County

  • Once you have approved plans, constructed your unit per the approved plans, have paid for your permit and you’re ready to open for business, call your plan reviewer to schedule a pre-opening inspection. Inspections are scheduled on a first come, first served basis.

Seattle Fire Department

  • There is no final inspection for the SFD permit. Once the application submission and payment have been received, your permit is active.

Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board

  • There are no final inspections done for retail liquor licenses which include Liquor Catering licenses. Your license will be issued per the documents and materials you are required to submit for your application. You will have a technical visit from an investigator some time after your license has been issued to make sure all required signage is up and everything has been done per the plans.

If you plan on hiring employees, learn more about how you need to register, train and keep your employees safe by visiting our Final Prep page.

Congratulations! You're ready to open! Visit our You're in Business page to keep up to date with your ongoing business obligations.