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California, Sales Tax, and Food Trucks


 Chairman Bao Bun, a Bay area food truck.

Update, 9.18.13: As announced in a recent news release, the California BOE is offering a free tax seminar for mobile food truck vendors on September 20, in Santa Ana. And once again, mobile food vendors are advised to keep accurate sales tax records.

In May of this year, the New York Times Magazine ran an article entitled, “The Food Truck Business Stinks.” It outlined the “classic case of bureaucratic inertia” that mobile food vendors face in the Big Apple, and lamented the fact that there aren’t more really good food trucks out there.

That said, nine NYC food trucks made The Daily Meal’s 2013 list of “101 Best Food Trucks in America.” Red Hook Lobster Pound, a New York City food truck, topped the list.

Criteria for The Daily Meal’s List of 101 Best Food Trucks in America:

  • Has to be a truck (no trailer or cart or wagons);
  • Must have strong followings on both Facebook and Twitter;
  • Must be praised by national and local publications;
  • Must have innovative, original menus; and of course,
  • Must have really tasty food.

29 food trucks in California made the top 101—a testament either to the entrepreneurial spirit of California chefs or the inviting climate. In any event, if 29 made the top 101, just imagine how many food trucks there must be in The Golden State.

Lots.

It’s no surprise, then, that the California State Board of Equalization recently released the following two special notices: Registration and Reporting Requirements for Mobile Food Vendors and Recordkeeping Requirements for Mobile Food Vendors.

The Registration and Reporting notice reminds, “If you are a mobile food vendor you are required to register with us, file sales and use tax returns, and to maintain books and records that are adequate for sales and use tax purposes.”

The Recordkeeping notice reminds “mobile food vendors—those who operate food trucks, stands or carts that do not have a fixed physical location—of the importance of keeping books and records that are adequate for sales and use tax purposes.”

The state sales and use tax rate in California is 6.5%, but with local taxes, the total combined rate ends up somewhere between 7.5% and 10%, depending on the locality. Mobile food vendors must collect and remit the appropriate sales tax rate wherever they are. Vendors are advised to reference the BOE list of California City and County Sales and Use Tax Rates.

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photo credit: Lynn Friedman via photopin cc


Gail Cole
Avalara Author
Gail Cole
Gail Cole
Avalara Author Gail Cole
Gail began researching and writing about sales tax in 2012 and has been fascinated with it ever since. She has a penchant for uncovering unusual tax facts, and endeavors to make complex sales tax laws more digestible for both experts and laypeople.