When food trucks first rolled onto the scene a few years ago, diners got swept up in the excitement of ordering everything from tacos to cupcakes curbside. Grabbing a bite from a rolling kitchen right outside your office door was convenient and fun for consumers hankering for something new. Today, food trucks are more prevalent than ever, and “it’s not just diners who have become more fickle, more demanding, more impatient with the conventions of traditional restaurant food. It’s the chefs too,” Josh Ozersky writes in TIME.
Chances are, you’ve thought about starting your own food truck, either as your first restaurant venture or as an extension to an existing eatery. So what are you waiting for? At last month’s National Restaurant Association show, Ross Resnick of Roaming Hunger led an information session for a room full of potential and fledgling food-truck owners in which he shed some light on what a truck needs to be a success. His talk began with some inspiring statistics. While food trucks are now a part of the mainstream, 1 in 5 people say they still have never seen a food truck, and 1 in 3 say they have never ordered from one. If your area is still behind the times on the food-truck revolution, being first on the scene could give your truck a serious edge. Some of the fastest-growing markets for food trucks include Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Tampa, Fla.
Even if your city is already flooded with food trucks, there are some basic rules you should follow to make sure your truck gets off to a great start.
Make it your own. You don’t have to be the only truck in town if you want to succeed, but you need to have a vibe and a concept that are uniquely your own. “Brands in general are the foundation of consumer understanding,” Resnick said, and your brand identity should begin with your truck. Your food truck is “not only literally the vehicle to deliver your product, it is figuratively the vehicle to deliver your brand.” Make it say something about who you are by decorating it to match your brand’s personality, and remember that trucks aren’t the only way to travel. Consider a cart, a “busteraunt” or a bike cart. “Maybe you can’t always cook on a bike, but you can cook and then deliver on a bike,” Resnick said.
Avoid the mish-mosh. Resnick said a common mistake new food trucks make is having too many items on the menu, or trying to do too many types of food at once. “One thing we see that you should definitely avoid is this menu mish-mosh,” he said. Scale your menu down to the things that truly align with your brand and that you do best. If your truck is all about shrimp, serve it eight different ways, and that’s it.
Play by the rules. Just like opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant, opening a food truck requires licenses, inspections and paperwork. Make sure you take care of health permits and business licenses on time — you don’t want a pile of paperwork holding you back. Food trucks also require you to comply with parking regulations and zoning restrictions. Familiarize yourself with the laws in your city or county, and any neighboring counties to which you might travel. Think about joining a food-truck association so you have a team of experts on your side when questions arise.
Give the people what they want. Once you have a truck and menu that speak to your brand, you need to go out and start speaking to your customers. “If you don’t talk to your consumers, they will forget about you, and they will forget about you fast,” Resnick said. Pick a parking spot with the maximum amount of foot traffic, and then get off the truck and start engaging with the people around you. “That is the advantage of being a food truck,” Resnick said. “You can have a one-to-one connection with your customers.” So get out there and shake some hands, hand out some free samples and invite your customers to “like” you on Facebook and follow you on Twitter. When customers feel taken care of, they’ll come back for more.
Do you dream of starting a food truck, or are you already a mobile-eats mogul? Tell us in the comments.
Image credit: ULTRA GENERIC, via iStockphoto.