Running a Food Cart in College

This is Part 9 of our Back to College series, which aims to help college students thrive as small business owners. In Part 8, we covered opening a franchise as a college student. To view all the posts in the series, click here.


7 Reasons Running a Campus Food Cart in College Might Be Right for You

On most college campuses, the days of the centralized campus cafeteria are long gone, having been replaced by multiple dining options, food courts, delivery services and even nearby off-campus restaurants where student meal plans can be used. What hasn’t changed, however, is the average college student’s need for (and, in many cases, love of) food. From meeting basic nutritional needs to satisfying late night and marathon study session cravings, there are many opportunities for students considering whether running a campus food cart could be a good way to earn money for school.

The College Board’s estimate of what constitutes an annual “moderate” budget for college students was more than $24,000 for the 2015-16 academic year for students attending an in-state public college. For students who want to attend a private college, costs are nearly doubled. In many cases, the cost of college tuition forces students to take on a staggering amount of personal debt before they’ve even started to work.

The average class of 2016 graduate had more than $37,000 in debt, a figure that was 6 percent higher than 2015. More and more, students are looking for jobs that will allow them to earn money for school while they are in college. The expanding options for would-be food cart entrepreneurs make running a food cart a great option for students who want to work part time, especially if any one of these additional factors apply.

7 Factors that Make Food Cart Businesses Ideal for College Students

  1. Personal Aspirations

If you aspire to restaurant or retail business ownership or you want to become a chef one day, running a campus food cart while you’re still in school could be an ideal way to pay for your schooling and gain experience that will contribute to your post-graduate success.

  1. Financial Needs

Many college students who want to work part-time while they are in school discover that finding employers who offer flexible work schedules is easier said than done. Running a campus food cart can give you the type of flexible, part-time work you are looking for and need to help pay for college, finance trips or use for spending money.

  1. Low Costs

Some campus food carts fulfill orders in the form of delivery services from local restaurants, making startup costs as low as two or four-wheeled transportation and simple marketing. Even for those who opt for kiosk or food court style options, startup and operating costs can be fairly minimal compared to typical restaurant or retail store costs.

Not only are financial costs of starting and running a campus food cart fairly minimal, the time cost can be too. Your food cart’s hours of operation can be based on your class schedule, or run in cooperation with other students, ensuring that you have the time you need to attend classes, study, complete assignments and still enjoy your college life, too.

  1. A Ready-Made Buying Audience

Unlike restaurants and retail stores whose buyers may be spread across a wide region and require a multi-channel marketing approach, your food cart has a densely-populated local buying audience. Not only will your startup costs be relatively low, your marketing can also be done on a small budget, allowing you to gain audience share using special offers, move-in weekend marketing collateral, door hangers and (of course) word-of-mouth. Simple proximity and convenience alone could provide you with revenues adequate to cover operating expenses and yield money toward your college education.

  1. Expansion Opportunities

If your unique food cart concept is a hit on your campus, it’s likely to be a winner on other campuses too. You can use short-term restaurant loans to build out additional locations across campus, on other college campuses or turn your food cart’s value proposition into a full-scale restaurant idea.

  1. Unusual Dietary Needs

You might be able to turn your own unusual dietary needs or restrictions into a food cart that meets the needs of other students as well. If there are only limited food options at your school, this could be an ideal reason to start a campus food cart.

  1. Easy Outs

When you get your degree, you might opt to continue on with your campus food cart; however, it might not be possible based on your future plans. It should be fairly simple to turn your food cart business over to the school or give other students the chance to buy in and take over operations.


Running a campus food cart could give you financial freedom before you even have your degree. Low costs, short-term commitments and flexibility make it an ideal option for college students who want a part-time gig to help pay for school.

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