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November 11, 2013

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Written by AEB Foodservice


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In our last post we discussed why both operators and guests find food trucks attractive. Now we’re going to talk about a few difficulties specific to food truck entrepreneurship, some tips for success and a few peeks into what industry experts and researchers forecast for the future.

This past June, Montreal saw the return of street food after a 66-year ban was voted down. In 2010, a decade-long fight in Chicago to allow street-prepared food by cart vendors finally gained traction when local restaurateurs added their voices. So things are rolling forward.

Food trucks have made a niche for themselves in the foodservice landscape with both local and national websites devoted to helping fans locate their favorites. Some cities welcome them but some build (ahem) roadblocks, even after formally allowing them.

There are valid concerns about traffic and parking issues as well as cannibalization of existing restaurants’ business, so even welcoming communities have had to pass regulations:

  • To restrict areas for approved stopping
  • To define curfews for types of areas (e.g. “not before” or “not during”)
  • The maximum amount of time spent in one area
  • The minimum distance from brick-and-mortar foodservice operators

Bottom line here is for the operator to know the municipalities’ code, permit and parking laws.

But all in all, navigating some obvious issues like managing spoilable inventory, unfavorable weather, tight storage/cooking quarters and mechanical breakdowns, most concerns only require a prudent knowledge of laws governing the business, and learning the how, where and when of the area. That, and being a culinary artist.

The following strategies may mean the difference between success and, “Well, we tried.”

  • Keeping a consistent schedule helps develop a following. Being in a spot when guests expect it to be, will build loyalty and connection to the operation.
  • Finding reasons to communicate with guests keeps them involved. The truck is moving and so are the guests –  announcing “news” via social media and the truck’s website ensures guests know of current/next location, specials, events, delays, new items. Even new food photos or the arrival at a scheduled location will keep guests’ attention.
  • Booking private events (e.g. parties, Little League games) outside of regularly scheduled hours develops other streams of revenue and word-of-mouth referrals.
  • Promoting the LTO feeling (come and get it before it/we are gone!) conveys a sense of urgency to get to that truck NOW.
  • Accepting mobile payments via smartphone card readers reinforces the perception of an on-trend business and provides convenience to both guests and operator.

Emergent Research forecasts food trucks to generate 3-4% total restaurant revenue. That’s about $2.7 billion by 2017, over 4X the 2012 numbers.

And it’s not going to be made up of just independents. According to the National Restaurant Association, about 26% of QSR chains are interested in the opportunities represented by food trucks. Perhaps more unexpectedly, 19% of fast casual restaurants say they are very/somewhat likely to launch one in the next year or two, and 38% in the casual segment expect food trucks to make a bigger showing in that segment as well.

On the flip side, successful food trucks have already spawned brick-and-mortar locations and will continue to do so.

Let’s close today’s posting with a few breakfast trucks that illustrate some of the successful ideas outlined in both this and the earlier Part #1 of our food trucks musings:

  • Breakfast Burritos Anonymous (Houston) offers build-your-own burritos and tacos where scrambled eggs can be augmented with a choice of cheeses, meats, veggies and sauces.
  • The Eastman Egg Company (Chicago) serves several egg-centric sandwiches including The Scoundrel, a pretzel roll spread with spiced honey mustard and filled with eggs, smoked turkey, wilted spinach and white Cheddar.
  • Bacon Bacon (San Francisco) breakfast offerings include The Breakfast Sandwich with an over-easy egg, bacon, Cheddar and bacon jam, and The Almost Veggie Breakfast Sandwich, of scrambled eggs with sautéed broccoli rabe, roasted red pepper, bacon and melted provolone, both served on toasted brioche buns.
  • Skillet (Seattle) sometimes serves maple-braised pork belly and fried egg, on a cornmeal waffle with braising jus.

Crepes Bonaparte (Orange County, CA) makes both the Wake-Me-Up Breakfast crêpe, featuring fresh-cracked eggs, mozzarella, and pesto, and the California Sunrise with sliced avocado and roma tomatoes, crisp bacon, Cheddar and a freshly cracked egg.

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