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Food Truck Catering vs Drop-Off Catering: A Comparison


What’s the difference between food truck catering and drop-off catering?


If you’ve been wondering “what’s the difference between food truck catering and drop-off catering?", this is worth your time to read.  Saucy Joe’s Italian Food Truck & Catering has serviced events both ways, so here is an insider look at the differences between Food Truck Catering versus standard, by-the-tray Drop-Off Catering!
Just so we know what we are comparing before we begin, the services I will be going over in this blog are:
  • Food Truck Catering: A mobile food establishment (truck, cart, van, etc.) serving a private event where a host pays for guests' meals in advance. Most of the time, guests will come up to order and be served directly from the truck.
    If you need a food truck to serve at a public event, please see our article on Food Trucks As Public Vendors: What To Know.
  • Drop-Off Catering: Also referred to as 'standard' or 'by the tray' catering, a permanent food establishment either delivers trayed food to your event or has you pick up the food for your party. Food is served to guests from the trays or put out 'buffet style.'
This blog is kind of long, so we broke things down into sections. In this article, we've got:


Let's start with how food truck and drop-off catering are similar:

There are many differences between these two types of services, but there are also a lot of some obvious similarities (and also main benefits) of hiring a caterer, whether it be a food truck or drop-off food.
You do not have to go through the hassle of preparing menus, shopping for ingredients, cooking, heating, storing, and constantly monitoring the food table. Remember, you should not have to spend much if any time on the food when you hire a catering service. After all, you should be enjoying your special event knowing the professional company you've booked has you covered!

Now, onto how these services differ:

For ease of writing this article, I will break down the pros of food trucks and drop-off catering separately. The cons are the opposite of the pros, which all coincide with the chart below.




1. You only pay for what you need.

Most food trucks will require a contract for a certain number of guests and will provide a specific menu for your attendees to choose their meals. This can save you some big bucks, as many standard caterers will have you pick your trayed food options. Each menu item may have minimums, or they may recommend ordering extra of each menu option for guests to have as many entree choices as they please.  If you’d like a variety of options for your guests to choose from, this can add up quick, as you’ll have to order more that you need of each item to prevent from running out.

2. You don’t have to set up a food station.

This includes tables & cloths, hot-holding equipment, serving utensils, forks, knifes, spoons, etc.  Any one up for chasing down napkins that are blowing around the neighborhood?  And where will you set up this station?  If it’s exposed to the elements, there could be a disaster awaiting.  With a food truck all you need is a fairly level spot to park.

3. You'll get fresh meals made to order.

Of course, how food is prepared depends on the individual truck. Saucy Joe’s runs as a 'restaurant on wheels’, meaning we can serve a large variety of menu options straight from our truck as your guests order them. Doesn’t that sound more delicious than having a bunch of trayed food cooked up hours in advance, transported to your event, dropped off and sitting for even more hours, only to get dried out and nasty?
Collage of Food Items

4. You won't have to worry about food safety and contamination.

Though the term is overused, Food Truck Catering is plain "safer" than standard catering. Food that comes by the tray is usually served buffet style, where all your guests will be expected to plate their dishes from the same trays and use the same utensils. This allows for a considerable risk of people spreading their germs. Getting service from a food truck just about eliminates that risk. The food will be prepared and kept in a licensed food establishment by trained food handling professionals until served directly to partygoers.
Try as he might, Uncle Remus will not be able to cough all over the pasta if you hire a food truck!

5. You'll get servers.

One big perk of hiring a food truck to cater is that you'll get servers. This does not necessarily mean you'll get table service, but a food truck will provide your guests with the crew's interaction. This helps create a memorable event for each of your guests! Some drop-off caterers can provide servers, though  there’s always an extra charge.

6. You might get some cool extras.

Some trucks may include drinks or desserts with their packages. For example, we offer a free mini-DJ service with every booking! We can play one of our great playlists or your own from our trucks during service!

7. You'll get more (and better) food options.

Some standard, by-the-tray catering companies are good; however, many food trucks will do an even better job. Food trucks have come a long way since their humble beginnings as city street vendors, and now you can find a truck with just about any cuisine! They have also had to step up their game to distinguish themselves from the roach coaches roaming around. Nowadays, many food trucks' menus rival any 5-star restaurant!

8. It's SO much more remarkable.

If you are hosting a special event, chances are you want people to remember it. And what's more memorable than a big, colorful vehicle serving gourmet specialty menu items and playing music? I'm not sure, but I can tell you what isn't- a bunch of aluminum trays full of cold, mediocre food. That may work for stale events, but if you want to make sure your guests have fun and talk about your party for years to come, a truck really stands out.

9. People LOVE ordering from food trucks.

Remember when guacamole was the fad, so EVERY dish had an 'add guac' option? Well, food trucks are kind of getting to that point. You no longer need to have a food truck-themed wedding to warrant hiring one to cater. We have served at extravagant parties where people still came up super excited because they finally got to eat from a food truck. In recent years, booking a truck has become the norm for grad parties in many areas. Guests are now beginning to expect them and have started switching their question from 'What will we be eating?' to 'What truck did you get?'  
Employees smiling in front of food truck at staff appreciation

10. You have the company’s kitchen and staff on-site during service.

You may not think much about 'what happens if something goes wrong’, but there is a genuine chance that unfavorable things could happen. Even if you've chosen what looks to be the perfect catering company (the most reliable, trusting, best tasting, and friendly), problems can still erupt. You must know that issues can and will be handled smoothly to ensure your party is not ruined. 
Let's say there has been a mistake in what you ordered. With a standard caterer, you need to call their office and let them know the issue. They will most likely do 1 of 3 things: Bring the correct dish- which could take them a few hours to prepare and deliver; Not accept blame for the mistake & ensure you that they did everything correctly (meaning your S-O-L); Or offer a refund on those wrong dishes, which doesn't help you during the party.
Now, let's say the same thing happened after the truck arrived. You look over the menu put out and notice there is a wrong item. You can then talk directly with the food truck manager/owner and straighten things out before they even start serving. And if any issues arise during service, they can be discussed immediately and quickly nipped in the bud.

11. Surprisingly, Food Truck Catering can be cheaper than Standard Catering

You may think we're fabricating this one. If you match menu for menu, Food Trucks are usually cheaper than by-the-tray catering once you add in the fees, minimums, and taxes (plus all that extra food you have to order). Of course, there are both higher-end caterers and cheaper options. Each food truck prices differently, so be sure to look at all the factors when you compare vendors. These include delivery, rentals, gratuity, price per person, menu options, and what specifically is (and is not) included. 


Sure, a drop-off sandwich catering from your local Subway will be less expensive than our truck serving a full Italian menu. Of course, you would be comparing apples to oranges. Or, in this case, cold sandwiches to gourmet pasta dinners.

Just so we're not too biased, I have also included the few pros of Traditional, By the Tray (or Drop Off) Catering:

Standard, By-The-Tray Catering Served at Party

1. Food is available longer.

A plus opting for a standard catering option is that you will have the food available from the time of drop-off to the time you put all of it away. Late-party guests and those who want seconds can then enjoy whatever is left.
Remember, food trucks usually have extra hour add-ons, so you can choose how long the truck serves!

2. There's a good chance for leftovers.

Since you may have to order minimum quantities for each dish, you will likely have trays of food left over at the end of your event. This is a perk if you have the refrigerator space to put it all.

3. It can be from your favorite restaurant.

You may be tickled pink to discover that some of your favorite spots offer catering services. This way, you'd be able to share your enjoyment of their dishes with your guests.

4. Big eaters can get their share.

Most parties have a few- Those who will eat all you put in front of them and are still looking around for more. With buffet-style catering, they can grab as much as they want and continue coming up for more. A lot of food is wasted because guests put too much on their plates, which is why many standard caterers will urge you to order more food than needed.

5. Some companies 'do it all.'

Some catering companies offer multiple types of service, including bar/drinks, tent/chair rentals, service packages, etc. Though it may be tempting to let one company handle all your services, you may not be getting your full money's worth. Ensure there are no better options for each rental/service you need for your party before hiring an all-in-one vendor.
Full wedding set up with tents, chairs, and lights

As we promised, here is that chart compiling all these differences.

Thanks for reading!

Chart comparing by the tray and food truck catering

What Are People Saying About Saucy Joe’s?
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You guys did a fantastic job!! Our guests loved the food and your team was great!!
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