A Guide to Choosing a Portable Generator for Food Truck Owners

Food trucks and portable generators are like bread and butter. But how do you pick the best generator for your food truck?

Even though there are a ton of guides on how to choose a portable generator for consumers out there, the internet lacks objective dedicated guides for professionals, such as you, who want to use their generator to power a food truck or a food trailer. I’m here to put things straight.

Regardless of your experience, whether you’re just starting your food truck business, or you’ve been running one for years, the wide choice of available portable generators on the market may make you nauseous.

But don’t worry! This article will dive deep into the specifics of powering a food truck and give you not only the key to unlocking the gates to the garden of wisdom, but also a map to guide you through it and a snack for the journey.

Is a Portable Generator Even Necessary to Run a Food Truck?

Yes.

Ice cream truck on a remote beach

This guy certainly doesn’t have access to the power grid

There’s not much more to add to this single word. Most food trucks will operate from various locations, many of which simply do not have an easily available, sufficiently powerful electric outlet.

But what if you have a permanent spot with access to the grid? You’re still not getting away without having a generator, my dear friend.

Yes, you’ve heard it right folks. Even with a permanent access to the power grid, you want to have a generator in the back of your truck for emergencies, at all times. Why, you may ask?

Simply put: Losing power means losing money! If the power grid decides to fail on you, you’ll be losing up to hundreds of dollars in revenue each and every hour of that blackout to your better equipped competitors. Not only that they’ll be serving their own customers just fine, they’ll be serving yours as well. Do you really want to end up on the short end of that stick?

Unless you plan to stay glued to a single spot and pray that you never encounter a power shortage, having a portable generator in your truck is about as essential as having a fridge, grill and all its wheels intact!

Choosing the Best Generator for Your Food Truck

In this section, we will take into account the general considerations that one must assess when buying a new generator, and apply them to the requirements of running a food truck.

The specifics will, of course, differ from food truck to food truck. Ice cream makers won’t have much use for grills and burger chefs probably won’t be exactly interested in installing a cotton candy maker in their trucks. However, I’ll do my best to go through the most general of topics and only give examples which are more widely relevant.

Power. How Much Does a Burger Cost in Watts?

First and foremost, before buying a portable generator, one must determine how much power he will need. This may seem redundant, but you’ll find many people who rushed through this first step and now, instead of just one, own two almost equally expensive generators.

Common F&B appliances

  • Fridge – 120V / 200W
  • Undercounter freezer – 120V / 900W
  • Espresso machine – 240V / 5000W
  • Panini press – 120V / 1500W
  • Microwave oven – 120V / 1000W
  • Hot food holding cabinet – 120V / 1000W
  • Food processor – 120V / 600W
  • Electric deep fryer – 240V / 3000W

Common misc appliances

  • POS system/Card reader – 120V / 100W
  • A/C – 120V / 600W
  • Speakers – 120V / 50W
  • Laptop – 120V / 150W
  • TV (LED screen) – 120V / 150W
  • Your phone charger – 120V / 20W
  • Lights – 120V / 50W

Consider all the electrical devices you’ll be using and then some. As a rule of thumb, a 20% of extra power never hurts. Be sure to distinguish between running and starting watts – the watts drained initially and continuously may differ! This applies to both your appliances and your generator.

Never go by the wattage in a generator’s name, since these are ought to be starting watts. Always pay attention to the full specs list.

As I’ve already mentioned, power requirements will differ greatly from truck to truck. Therefore, to make your life easier, feel free to use our wattage calculator. It’s free of charge and already contains all the most common food truck appliances. If you feel we’ve left any out, you can even add those yourself. (And please leave us a message so that we add it to our list as well!)

Noise. How Much Can You (and Your Patrons) Deal With?

Screaming bearded man closing his ears

Noise can drive you nuts

Noise is a spec quite often hidden in plain sight. However, few realize just how hard noise emissions may impact them on a day-to-day basis, unless they had to deal with them themselves.

However, you my friend would underestimate them at your own peril! Since you’ll have your generator standing next to your truck throughout the day, quite possibly every day, for several hours, you may want to pay close attention to how loud of a unit you’re buying.

The sound of a noisy generator will irritate both you and your customers. An ever-present humming of a generator’s combustion engine is ought to cost you in lost revenue, since it could simply scare people off, and on top of that, it will drive you insane.

As a rule of thumb, aim below 70 dB. The lower, the better.

Runtime. How Often Are You Willing to Fill Up Your Tank?

Even though it is not quite as crucial of a spec, since you have an entire truck to store your gasoline in, you may want to consider how often you’ll be willing or be able to run off and leave your truck unattended while you fill up your generator with fresh gasoline.

A food truck shift may last up to 16 hours. If you are working on your own and especially in a busy spot, such as a festival, you may not have the time to refill when it becomes necessary. In these cases, we recommend going for the highest runtimes you’ll find to avoid running dry while preparing burgers to serve a 30-person line. Because as soon as customers notice that you’ve left even for a second, they may switch their choice of a food truck to one that whose staff appears more productive.

However, if there are two or more workers in a food truck, it won’t hurt as much if one must leave his spot for a minute or two.

On top of that, many food truck owners use so-called “commissaries (opens in a new tab)”, which are facilities where they can store their supplies and do their everyday prep. This greatly reduces on-site workload and in turn, runtime requirements. Consider your options carefully.

Inverter Generator. Do You Really Need to Pay Double the Cost?

Honda EU7000iS inverter generator at the back of a food truck

Many consider the Honda EU7000iS to be the best portable generator a food truck can get

Inverter generators, as already discussed in more detail in their dedicated article, are generators which produce a current whose phase has a clean sine wave, meaning that is has a very low total harmonic distortion (THD).

These devices are necessary to power sensitive electronics – in general, anything with a microchip. Examples of such include laptops, mobile phones, LED screens, but even some coffee machines. Pay close attention to any modern electrical appliances, especially if they contain a screen, as these may require a clean sine wave as well.

Since inverter generators can cost up to twice as more per watt than their classic counterparts, we advise you to check all your devices to conclude whether or not you’ll actually need one. Beware that even for many “sensitive” devices, a non-inverter, low THD, generator may be sufficient. This information is quite often provided in the user manual of the given device.

On the other hand, inverter generators have a more compact, enclosed design which makes them easier to carry and on top, also less noisy, than their conventional open frame analogues. To save you time scrolling through specs, our database allows you to filter generators by both low THD and inverter generators.

Outlets. How Big of a Hole Are You Feeding?

Outlets and control panel of the Honda EU7000iS

Ensure you have all the outlets you’ll need

Some, though certainly not all appliances, such as espresso machines, electric deep fryers, etc. may require 240 V. If so, you must make sure that the generator of your choice can actually provide this voltage.

The two main outlets to look out for are 120/240V 30A (14-30R) and 120/240V 50A (14-50R), sometimes only given by the NEMA 14-30R and NEMA 14-50R. If any of these are prefixed by the letter L, they are the twist-locking versions of the respective outlets.

If unsure which of these you require, either buy a generator which features all, or better yet, check our appliances first before you make your purchase.

Budget. How Much Are You Willing to Pay?

Since a portable generator is the backbone of most food trucks, food truck owners dedicate a significant portion of their starting budget to get the most suitable and reliable device for their purposes. It is therefore not uncommon to spend over 1000 dollars on this piece of essential equipment.

While this may seem like a lot at first glance, investment into a durable, reliable and powerful portable generator will have a positive ripple-down effect on every aspect of running your food truck – be it the ambient noise in the background, ability to charge your or your customer’s phone upon request, or any other of the other points addressed throughout this article.

The Food Truck Owner’s Choice.

If you still feel unsure as to what you should be looking for in a generator as a food truck owner, or just simply want a few example devices for inspiration, here is the “Food Truck Owner’s Choice” of portable generators.

Inverter Generators

Even though inverter generator manufacturers focus on producing devices in the roughly 2000 W family, we have selected for you 3 powerful, yet quiet and reliable inverter generators which address the points outlined in this article.

Conventional Generators

Conventional generators are in general powerful, noisy and can’t power many nowadays common devices. However, for many food truck or food trailer owners, they are the way to go. Thus, here are 3 reliable and not too noisy conventional, open frame, generators which address the points outlined in this article.

A Cherry on the Top

In summary, food trucks and their owners are restricted by the availability of the power grid, rather than their budget. Since a portable generator will be often, if not always, the backbone of their entire operation, utmost care should be taken when choosing one.

Key points which must be addressed are the power consumption of a food truck, tolerable noise emissions, necessity of refilling the generator’s fuel tank and the availability of staff to do so, and exactly which appliances will be powered, to determine whether a clean sine wave and/or 240 V outlets are needed.

With that said, I wish you good fortune in building your business, now with the best portable generator for that purpose!

Which generator did you choose for your food truck or trailer? Are you happy with it? Let us know in the comments below!

Paul

Paul

Manager & Editor of generatorbible.com. Early retired from the OPE industry, living in South Carolina. He now mostly spends his time traveling and taking care of his wife and grand-children.

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