The COVID-19 pandemic has forced restaurant owners to tap into their ingenuity to create new methods of generating brand awareness and revenue during this challenging time. One such strategy has been the nationwide resurgence of food trucks in the restaurant industry. In fact, 24,000 licensed food trucks operate in the United States, making it a $985 million industry. With dine-in, takeout, and delivery guidelines constantly shifting, a food truck can provide the flexibility and mobility that some owners crave. With the added freedom of being location agnostic, these mobile eateries are able to be nimbler when it comes to testing new locations and menu items versus a full-blown restaurant operation. Couple that with lower operating costs, less staff to manage, and the opportunity to reach a wider more diverse audience, and a food truck may be an ideal solution for your restaurant. In an era when industry protocols are literally changing by the day, the ability to pivot on a dime is key.
Research vehicles and evaluate costs
Prior to purchasing a food truck it’s crucial to thoroughly research all the various components. This means deciding which type of truck, layout, and mobile kitchen is the most efficient for the type of food you’re planning to cook. It’s also important to review any local regulations and permits that may be required prior to purchasing a vehicle. Food trucks can range in cost from $50,000 to $175,000, which is why some first timers opt to lease a vehicle or purchase a used truck when starting off. Keep in mind though that there are pros and cons to each option—a used truck may be affordable, but it could be hiding severe engine troubles, while a brand-new vehicle may be aesthetically perfect, but not worth the investment for the short term—so doing comprehensive research for your specific situation prior is a must.
It’s a good idea to factor in other startup and recurring costs at this time too:
- Point-of-sale (POS) system
- Truck wrap
- Vehicle insurance
- Equipment rentals
- Credit card processing fees
- Truck maintenance
Once you solidify your vehicle choice, it’s time to evaluate where the most optimal locations will be for your new on-the-go offerings. Research nearby parks and neighborhoods that allow food trucks and then test new areas each day or week to determine which locations on which days/times garner the most business. Some food truck owners are seeing success driving through residential neighborhoods, parking outside of hospitals, police stations, and fire departments, while others are testing their luck at state parks and local hiking trails. Another bonus of food trucks during the pandemic is that guests tend to feel safer since it’s a contactless environment. They’re able to get their food and eat it wherever they’d like—in their favorite park, in the car, or at picnic tables the truck owner has set up nearby. Typically, states with warmer year-round climates like California (753), Texas (549), and Florida (502) are home to the most food trucks. But COVID-19 has certainly challenged this trend as patrons located in all states and climates are eagerly searching for safe, contactless, and flexible ways to enjoy restaurant-quality food amidst shutdowns of indoor dining.
Build your menu
When curating your food truck menu one of the most important balances to strike is finding food that’s easy to make, tastes great, and will turn a profit. Easier said than done we know but start by taking inventory of your restaurant’s current menu, if applicable, to see if there are any popular dishes you may be able to tweak and feature on your new mobile eatery’s menu. Whichever dishes you choose to feature it’s important to put your own unique spin and recognizable mark on them to differentiate your truck from the competition. Some of the most popular and successful food truck offerings include burgers, pizza, fries, sandwiches, tacos, falafels, and mac and cheese. All of these menu options are quick and easy to make and don’t require a plethora of ingredients. A good rule of thumb when building your menu is to aim for five to 12 different menu items that include overlapping ingredients. The overarching goal should be to reduce waste and provide your customers with quick turnaround times.
Set up online ordering
To incite a second revenue stream for your food truck, aside from walk-up customers, consider setting up online preordering capabilities. Look into placing this functionality directly on your restaurant’s and/or food truck’s website and social platforms. Another savvy idea is to partner with industry sites and apps that help connect customers to food trucks in their area. For example, The National Food Truck Association launched an app called BestFoodTrucks that helps to sync people with trucks near them. Other food truck specific mobile ordering solutions to consider include Food Truck Pub and TruckBux. If an in-house or truck specific online ordering option isn’t feasible, determine if using a third-party takeout/delivery app could be the right fit for your business.
Market your food truck
Now that your food truck operation is fully up and running, it’s time to let people know you’re open for business! Add your food truck location, hours of operation, and menu to your website and social media pages. If your truck is in addition to your brick-and-mortar restaurant, you can place window signs on the outside of your building letting people know that you also have a food truck in the area. Be sure to cross promote and post on both your restaurant’s and food truck’s social accounts. Use vibrant food-focused photography to entice people to visit your truck and be sure to always tag your vehicle’s current location so followers can easily see where to find you. Also, if logistically possible, it’s a great move to market your food truck as a catering option people can consider for their next socially distanced outdoor event such as graduation parties, birthdays, wedding receptions, and baby showers.
In the age of COVID-19 food trucks are uniquely positioned for success. A business built on the concept of having no space for diners, these vehicles can offer the convenience and safety/sanitation standards that today’s consumers are seeking. By having increased flexibility in where and how you serve your restaurant’s food, owners can now consider food trucks as viable brand awareness and revenue generators. With the future of the restaurant industry constantly shifting, it’s imperative for owners and operators to secure multiple avenues of revenue, so they can pivot their business operations quickly and effectively.
Be sure to regularly visit our free resource section dedicated to advising restaurants on how to navigate the changing rules and regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before undertaking any new business venture, make sure to consult with your legal, financial, and business advisors. Don’t make decisions based solely off of what you read here.