Frequently Asked Questions

What is a food truck?

A food truck is a mobile, miniature kitchen that must meet the same health and safety requirements as a brick-and-mortar restaurant. This includes having a three-compartment sink, hand sink, refrigerator, running hot water, and fire suppression system – all within a space no longer than 18 feet and 5 inches, which is the maximum length for a food truck in the District of Columbia. A food truck must also have a brick-and-mortar kitchen where it keeps ingredients and prepares food.

The Department of Health inspects a food truck’s mobile kitchen at least twice a year and its brick-and-mortar kitchen once a year.

What regulations do food trucks follow?

Food trucks are heavily regulated by several District agencies, including the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Fire Marshall and Department of Health. The DCFTA supports these common sense rules that help to ensure the health and safety of customers.

However, some parts of the District’s nearly 40-year-old vending rules are badly in need of updating. Current regulations state that a food truck can only stop to serve if it is “hailed” by customers (similar to an ice cream truck), and that a food truck must close and leave if it has no waiting line of customers. As a result, police can fine and shut down a food truck without a line. Penalizing a business for not having waiting customers is unfair and makes no sense, and the DCFTA advocates for removing the “ice cream truck rule” from regulations.

In addition, under current regulations a vending license holder, typically the owner, must be on a food truck in order to serve customers. For the food truck to operate without the owner, he or she must buy additional vending licenses for employees. As a result, many food trucks are paying for multiple licenses – as many as seven for one business. The DCFTA believes in a one license per business policy.

Where do food trucks park?

Food trucks may park only in legal parking spaces and are required to pay all fees and fines. Out of the thousands of parking spaces in the city, approximately 100 are used by food trucks, which is far fewer than the number of spaces used by construction vehicles, delivery services and other commercial vehicles. And because a food truck may serve more than 100 people from a parking space during an average lunch, a food truck is one of the most efficient uses of public parking.

What taxes do food trucks pay?

The DCFTA supported the amended Vendors Sales Tax Act passed by the City Council in 2012. Beginning October 1, a food truck whose sales exceed $3,750 a quarter will collect and submit 10% sales tax on behalf of the District.

Food trucks also pay taxes associated with their brick-and-mortar commercial kitchens, motor vehicle taxes, as well as other taxes all District businesses pay, such as sales tax when purchasing equipment, corporate/unincorporated business franchise taxes and payroll taxes.

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