The Dos and Don’ts of Operating a Food Truck
Operating a food truck means making a lot of decisions. This list of dos and don’ts should help you stay on the right path.
Do: File the Appropriate Paperwork
You might have to file a pretty large stack of paperwork before you can operate a food truck legally. If you plan to work in one city, then you should know those laws as well as you know your favorite recipes. If you plan to travel, then you should check food truck laws in various states and cities before you commit to an event. Some of the credentials that you might need include:
- A business license
- A health department inspection
- A local vendor’s permit
- Insurance documents
- A state and federal tax ID
Some cities have loose laws that make it easy for food truck owners to operate their businesses. Others have very strict, complex rules. No matter where you go, you have to comply with the law.
Don’t: Offer Anything Less Than the Best
Image via Flickr by Edsel L
Today’s food trucks aren’t like those hot dog carts that used to roam New York City. If you want to succeed in the current market, then you’ll need a menu of gourmet dishes made with fresh ingredients. Let your customers know that you only use the best ingredients. Find a place on your menu to advertise your commitment to sustainably grown, fresh ingredients. The real foodies will appreciate that, and they’ll reward you with their money.
Do: Use Social Media to Connect With Customers
Your business isn’t like other restaurants that stay in the same place all the time. Your restaurant can go practically anywhere at a moment’s notice. That makes social media a key part of how you run your mobile food truck. Ask your customers what social networking platforms they prefer, and sign up for them. This will let you tell people where you will be at any given time. Perhaps you’re downtown for the lunch crowd, but you head uptown to feed people at a popular bar. If you don’t use social networking tools, no one will know your schedule.
Don’t: Get Cheap
Many of the people who start food trucks have worked as chefs. Sure, you have some people with very little experience, but most of those willing to spend money on a food truck, equipment, and ingredients already have backgrounds in the culinary arts. That means you can’t get cheap on your customers.
People have come to expect excellent food from mobile concessions. If you offer anything less than excellent, then they will move on to someone else. There’s always another chef willing to make the perfect taco. If you skimp on ingredients, you can’t beat that person’s business for long.
Do: Listen to Your Customers
As a food truck owner, you have a chance to talk to every customer who comes to your window. That’s the kind of research opportunity most restaurants pay thousands of dollars for. Since you, the owner, is standing right there by the customer you can ask any questions that you like. Think about asking questions like:
- Did you receive your order in a timely manner?
- Have you eaten here before?
- What attracted you to that particular menu item?
- Is there something else you would like to see on our menu?
These and other questions give you a chance to build a business that meets customer expectations. Whatever you do, do not waste this chance.
Don’t: Overprice Your Food
At the moment, people expect a lot from food trucks. They want inventive recipes that surprise them without forcing them to make reservations at trendy restaurants. If you offer that experience, then you should charge for that experience. Your hard work, premium ingredients, and original recipes deserve compensation. But, make sure you price your food items competitively.
Not every food truck, however, focuses on gourmet foods. If your truck sells boiled hot dogs and lukewarm hamburgers, then you don’t deserve to charge high prices. Even if you get away with it for a short time, customers will realize that they can get better deals elsewhere.
Whether you see food truck movement as a new opportunity to sell gourmet food to the masses or a problem that makes your store-bought wieners look sad, you have to deal with the business reality of what people expect.
Do: Network With Your Friends With Food Trucks
It doesn’t matter how long you have been in the food truck business, you still have something to learn. You also have something to teach. Food truck owners should view each other as competitors, but they should also band together to make the movement successful.
That means you should take some time out of your day to walk the block and meet other vendors working the area. They might know a few things that you don’t. When it comes to business, you can never have too much knowledge. Besides, one of those competitors could become a future partner. Keep your door and mind open so you never lose an opportunity to form a fruitful relationship.
Don’t: Be Mean to Your Customers
This sounds like a no-brainer, right? Any business owner with half an ounce of sense tries to treat her customers as well as possible, even if that means taking a fault or refunding some money. Unfortunately, not all business owners have this good sense. They think that customers owe them more than patronage. A handful of chefs seem to think that they make such excellent food that people should thank them as well as pay them.
There’s simply too much competition from other excellent chefs to be rude to a customer. In other words, be nice to your customers if you want them to remain your customers.
Do: Have Fun
Whether you serve the lunch crowd or people at a festival, they want a little boost that makes them feel better. Your nutritious food will help, but you also need to have fun. When people see you having fun, they can’t help but pick up on the vibe. If your workers hate work, then customers will pick up on that, too.
What dos and don’ts do you expect from a food truck? Have you ever seen a vendor go to the extreme in one way or the other?