Food Truck 101


Food Truck 101 - Kandessa Media

Food trucks offer an increased revenue opportunity for foodservice operators. Different states and cities have ordinances that regulate location, size and operating hours of food trucks, among other things. Regulation is also variable....

Once you get past the investment and finances side of it, the next step in launching a food truck is getting familiar with regulation and marketing.

In Chicago, food trucks may not prepare food on-premise, but can sell pre-made items. That law may be changing, according to a recent PBS piece

In New York, recent enforcement of a 50's era vending law has forced food truck operators from Midtown's busiest and most lucrative streets. How business will be affected is still to be seen, since location is key to food truck success.


“You need to be where the people are assuming legislation permits it," says Technomic Director Kevin Higar. Technomic is a Chicago-based foodservice research and consulting firm. He recommends focusing on these ten high-traffic locations, as long as local permitting and legislation will allow it:

  • Food trailer parks (as set up in Austin, TX)
  • Office complexes
  • Along busy roads
  • Downtown 'urban-centric' areas
  • Retail locations
  • Recreation destinations
  • Sport complexes
  • Farmers markets
  • College campuses
  • Public events

Branding and Visibility

Second to location in achieving success are branding and visibility. There are multiple ways to market a food truck brand and build consumer awareness.

Logistics, set up and knowing how to space out equipment and shelving play a key role in the creation of a food truck brand, and makes the most common sense approach at serving food quickly.

Kevin Campbell, project manager for Jones Lang LaSalle, a leading global commercial real estate management and investment service based in Chicago, says "the best practices are to understand what you want the vehicle to be used for, and to understand you may not be everything to everybody." He suggests considering the following:  

  • Menu design: It’s essential to your brand.
  • Prep flow: Maximize an operator's ability to prepare, wrap stage and serve as a continuous motion allowing an Operator’s hand-reaching movements to complete service times.
  • Food -holding refrigeration: Go for more space.
  • Water: Use running water and hook up lines for Serve Safe.
  • Floor mats and cushions: Minimize wear and tear on the body
  • AC and generators: Review the use of multiple AC lines and generators.
  • Restroom capabilities

Getting the word out to increase brand awareness and having people find you is always essential, agrees Patrick Lynch, co-owner of Bon Me Food Truck, a Vietnamese-style operator with a focus on 'healthy' menu offerings for guests. He says that his marketing plan also includes being listed on the location-based food truck locating apps, and that he uses vehicle signage and word of mouth.

Capitalizing on the technology buzz, some food trucks are spreading their message via Twitter in communicating location and specials.

Vision and Customer Experience

In addition to branding and visibility, developing a cohesive, well thought-out plan is also a critical success factor, says Suzy Badaracco, culinary forensics expert and speaker. She says "Have your ducks in order with your long-range plan. Do you simply want a single food truck, or is your future to franchise the trucks?" says Badaracco.

She points out additional considerations, such as licensing for expanding into retail, transportation centers, university trade channels, and partnering with grocery stores or grocery brands.

Food trucks provide a one-on-one interaction with each customer that is not always prevalent with the typical brick-and-mortar spot. Not only can customers interact with owners, customer service representatives (CSRs), and cooks on a food truck, but in such tight quarters, there is an innate ability for food truck personnel to play off the energy of each other to create a theater-like experience.

"Offer the experience,” says Techomic's Higar. “There is a great opportunity for the socialization aspect." He points out that in small European towns, it's not uncommon to see owners and wait staff woo customers into the store with special offers, comedy or even displays of admiration of passers-by.

Flexibility and Good Food

Sticking to a particular culinary experience while remaining flexible to regulars gives food trucks an added advantage. By listening to customer feedback and suggestions, an operator can expand or customize a menu to a customer's personal tastes and preferences. In contrast, brick-and-mortar restaurants are challenged with print collateral costs, menu changes, and added training to roll out new menu items. "Food trucks can turn on a dime," says Higar.

According to Technomic's success model, savvy operators run an operation that is approachable, hospitable and that offers cuisine that is local or true to a certain heritage.

However, Higar reminds that at the crux of a successful business is good food. If the food is lousy, customers won't return.

Bon Me's Lynch concurs. "Our main focus is on serving great food,” he says.  “The other stuff falls into place if you get the first part right.  It’s pretty hard to pull that off on a truck, so our customers appreciate it.”

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