Established eateries are fielding food trucks for a variety of reasons. Is your restaurant up for the challeges that come with running a food truck?
One of the hottest trends in dining out these days is the food truck. These mobile restaurants rose to popularity during the most recent recession and have stayed in the public eye ever since. Food trucks often started as an inexpensive way for budding restaurant owners to get into the food service game. But now, even established eateries are fielding food trucks for a variety of reasons. Before you starting truck shopping or coming up with punny names for your menu, consider the benefits and the challenges of operating a food truck connected to your restaurant.
Food Truck Challenges
The novelty of food trucks means that many local governments have yet to invest much time and effort into proper regulation. Restaurants are already challenging businesses to run because of everything from the struggle with food costs to ensuring everything follows all the proper codes and laws. The newness of food trucks can mean even more fees, inspections and red tape than usual. Some restaurants see food trucks as competition and use their influence to make it more difficult to own and operate food trucks in areas that affect their business. It’s not exactly the same as opening a single restaurant location, but the skills in legal challenges acquired from opening a restaurant should prove to be useful here.
The advantage of having a mobile platform to make food can also be a disadvantage when it comes to supplies. Restaurants lower costs by buying in bulk and storing food in refrigeration. Cold storage space is limited on a truck, so the best ingredients are the ones that don’t require much, if any, time in a freezer. The truck can resupply, of course, but that’s time and fuel spent running back to base. Give careful consideration to the menu items you’re considering for your food truck and how they balance against the ingredients needed to make them a reality.
A popular food truck means customers will want to give you money for your delicious dishes. Cash is an obvious solution and many food trucks opt to only deal in cash to keep transactions quick and tidy. Unfortunately, criminals are becoming increasingly aware of this too, and sometimes target food trucks that they know only deal in cash. It’s also a lot easier to bust into a truck and steal things than a business, with less strict punishments for those who get caught. Credit cards are more secure, but mobile devices to read cards may cost more and can have different user fees associated with them compared to the services available to main restaurants.
There’s also another device that requires maintenance and upkeep: the truck. Keeping a truck up and running is much different than keeping restrooms clean on a daily basis. Fuel costs, parts and labor, and possibly even learning how to drive a truck can add to startup costs when considering a food truck. Keep these costs in mind when considering expanding a restaurant onto a mobile platform. So what benefits make food trucks worth finding solutions for all these challenges?
Food Truck Benefits
Food trucks offer a unique mix of the convenience of fast food with the distinctive experience of a restaurant. Customers want something fast and easy to eat, but they want to support a local business and maybe try something new and exotic. Many food trucks offer mash-ups of types of cuisine, or “on-a-stick” versions of typically less portable dishes. That novelty appeals to people on the go, and these meals-on-wheels dispensers often get a reputation for being faster food. Even taking time to hit up a fast food or fast-casual place can be too much time for people trying to fit in errands on a short lunch break.
The best way to capitalize on this need for speed is to park your food truck in a location that benefits from lunch breaks. Downtown areas swarm with office workers looking for a quick bite. City parks and other open areas are frequently surrounded by a ring of food trucks to cater to this audience. If a spot in one of these areas is unavailable, consider seeking out a downtown business willing to let you park in front of their location. A partnership like this could be anything from a straight rental to an exchange of food for space.
Trucks offer established restaurants a way to branch out their menus. Putting reliable favorites on your food truck makes obvious sense, but a mobile location can also be a test kitchen and food lab. It’s a place where new spins on old ingredients can be discovered. A smaller food truck menu often convinces people to try new things. If you’re afraid that your new selections will get swallowed up in your menu, a food truck lets you get recipes out in front of the public with minimal risk to the home restaurant.
Besides the menu, a food truck gives a restaurant a chance to expand their audience, too. You’re getting free advertising: you’re running a vehicle around with the name of your restaurant on the side. The food truck is an excellent way to get your dishes in the hands of concert-goers, state fair fans and other customers that don’t already know your main location. Rather than take on the risks of a second location to see if an expansion is worth it, a food truck offers a half-step towards the idea.
Operating a food truck offers several challenges and benefits. Local governments make the process challenging if they haven’t caught up to the idea yet. Menus must be carefully selected to be easily made and easily carried. Weighing payment options opens up security questions for the truck. The vehicle can also be a bigger investment of time and money than originally expected. But food trucks offer an expansion to new audiences and menu innovation. They take advantage of the need for quick meals and they bring satisfaction to customers, rather than expecting them to seek out new food ideas on their own. Like any expansion, it should be considered carefully. But, when done well, a food truck can bring your food to an entirely new audience.
Featured image “El Meximum Food Truck” courtesy of Flickr user Nan Palmero licensed under CC by 2.0.
Image 1 “Food Truck Thursday” courtesy of Flickr user Ted Eytan licensed under CC by 2.0.
Image 2 “The Food Truck Rodeo” courtesy of Flickr user Charleston’s TheDigitel licensed under CC by 2.0.
Image 3 “Food Trucks Around Town” courtesy of Flickr user CityofStPete licensed under CC by 2.0.