Choosing a generator to power up your food van service.

Follow these 5 rules and learn from first-hand mistakes!

Unlike serving from a brick-and-mortar restaurant, a food van gives you the freedom to serve from multiple locations. You can test the waters with a new customer base and find the places you want to pop up at on a regular basis. But with this freedom comes additional issues, including how to power up your electricals – after all, you might find the best foot traffic is in the middle of a park, far away from any source of electricity. That’s where a generator comes in. 

A good generator will provide a constant, quiet, reliable source of electricity. Our founder, Miles, runs his own street food van and has discovered the generator that works for his business, but he didn’t find it without learning some important lessons along the way, and making several mistakes! Here, Miles shares the things to take into consideration before purchasing your generator.


1. Buy cheap, buy twice (spend to the maximum of your budget)

It’s an age-old rule, but it rings true when it comes to buying your generator. If you’ve whittled it down to two generators and you opt for the cheaper one purely because it will cost you less, you’ll likely run into issues that may end up costing you more money. I learned this the hard way…

When researching generators, I wasn’t 100% sure what I was looking for. How loud was too loud? How much power did I really need? What was the best generator for my food van? There were so many differing opinions out there and when I phoned a lot of the companies selling them, they (understandably) didn’t know which generators would be fit for my purpose, specifically.

From my experience and extensive research, inverter generators seem to be the best option for food vans. They are much quieter than others and can power the equipment required for most food businesses.

2. Don’t try to jerry-rig a soundproof box

Because you might melt your generator… like I did! To compensate for my more affordable but very noisy generator, I built a wooden box to encase it in. This obviously got very hot, so I added fans to pump air through it. Despite doing so, it was still very loud, and it caught fire during one service!

Side note: never trust the noise level example under a generator description – it’s never true!

So, what did I learn from this?

A) Don’t mess with your generator

B) The additional costs are already adding up

3. Calculate your total wattage before you purchase a generator

This is done by adding the total watts of every item on your food van up, if they were all running at the same time. Then allow some leeway for any additions you might use on occasion/add to your van.

I’ve been in the position where the power has cut out mid-service, with a queue of hungry customers waiting. There’s nothing worse, and it causes unnecessary stress.

4. Buy the correct cable. Your plug should not have a socket!

This is my most important point.

You should not have a socket. These are very dangerous because you need to put a live plug into it and if you touch the pins, you could quite literally kill yourself!

You need an inlet on your trailer, not a socket. I often see vendors posting online about having the wrong attachment on their vans, even though they have been installed by electricians. Please be careful.

Essential supplies offer custom cables with different adaptors. We run a 32A-16A as our generator has a 32A plug socket.

5. Use premium fuel (this is advice from a car mechanic)

Use ultimate, not basic diesel and petrol. There’s something in cheaper fuel that coats the inside of the generator and causes it to run less efficiently.

Our generator sometimes cut out during service until we switched to the higher quality fuel.

Bonus tip: Consider a battery set-up

If you have a low electricity requirement, battery set-ups might be an option for you because you don’t need as much power. These can be a great alternative as you won’t have noise pollution, however they can be expensive and require some knowledge to set up.

“So what generator do you recommend!?” I hear you cry…

I use this one and it meets all my needs (and rules!). And in case you were wondering, this is the first, super noisy generator I bought and definitely don’t recommend for your food van.

If you happen to be looking for a generator, I hope these tips help in your search. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email and I’ll do my best to help!