HOW TO RUN A SUCCESSFUL FOOD TRUCK Market yourself Food trucks are a microcosm of a restaurant. The most successful food trucks all have identifiable brands. In today’s world of social media, marketing can be free. However, this requires constant monitoring, effort, and creativity. Be Flexible Be prepared to change locations and shift your operating hours if they are not working and sales are soft. Two is Better than One While food truck connoisseurs are likely to search you out, you will have better success if you pair up with other mobile concepts at a particular location. Whereas potential customers are not likely to “restaurant hop,” they are likely to “food truck hop” and eat off multiple trucks. Variety can only increase your sales. Network. If you do business in a cocoon, you will kill your business in a cocoon. Great businesses are built on a network. This is how you get referrals, event invites, catering jobs and opportunities to vend. Build partnerships with influencers in the community. Not Fast Food Prices Make sure you have a good product, and then charge appropriately. I recently met with a couple of Austin food truck start-­‐ups and the one thing that stuck out with me was how cheap their menu items were. They were planning on using good product. Their low prices were based on their perception of what the market would pay. If you don’t meet your margins, your family won’t eat. Charge what you need to and go from there. Invest in your staff. Employee turnover creates not only a burden on you to constantly re-­‐train, but it also drives your operating expenses up. If you are consistently training employees, it will cost you a point or two on your bottom line. Make sure you are hiring people that will stick and then make sure they are growing within their respective positions. Strengthen the food truck industry There is a big misconception in the food truck world that individually we are all competitors to one another. While that is partly true, if trucks do their part to make the industry as a whole stronger and more reputable, they will benefit from these efforts long term. SOCIAL M EDIA TIPS FOR FOOD TRUCKS Social Media is Important, VERY IMPORTANT If you believe that statement and allow it to act as a foundation for your food truck business, you will have a great chance at being successful. But it’s not OK to just “do” social media. Having an account does not mean anything unless you utilize each social media platform to the utmost of its unique capability. Here are 7 tips to get you started: (1). Great photos are worth a lot more than great words. Hire a photographer or hook up with someone with some serious photography potential that just wants practice. Get them to take photos on a weekly basis and start building a “bank” of photos which you can then push through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis. (2). Keep your verbiage short. When you write a tagline keep it minimal. Great copy is short and concise. Get your message across and then get out. (3). Push great copy. This ties to #2. Not only do you want your copy to be focused, but you also want it to be meaningful. Have fun with it and adapt your copy to the voice of your overall brand. If you’re a spunky brand, then make your copy spunky. Be playful and don’t take yourself too seriously. Put yourself into the average consumer’s position. You are surrounded by advertising on a daily basis. If you give people generic content, they will avert their eyes. (4). Be consistent. If you are a mobile food truck, one of the keys is to constantly update your location. If you are forced to cancel a shift (which will happen), let people know. The key is to make sure you are consistently updating. (5). Interact. If customers or other businesses mention you on social media, you should respond. Regardless of whether or not they are expecting a response, you will endear yourself to them by taking the extra 30 seconds to write them back. You want the repeat customer! (6). Gain Followers. There are no magic algorithms to gain followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. But this much we do know: having followers boosts your perception as an industry leader, and furthermore attracts companies to do business with you. Little things can make a big difference in gaining followers: follow the right people, post great content, and interact. It doesn’t hurt to link to your social media icons in as many places as possible and furthermore link between your social media accounts (for instance, have your Instagram feed and Facebook page links on your Twitter site). (7). Advertise on FB. Traditional print advertising is headed the way of the dinosaur so it’s best to get on the social media advertising train. Facebook offers the most straightforward marketing opportunities – at a cost. In the last few years, as Facebook has focused on improving its bottom line, it has made it more difficult for companies to “reach” their fans through posts. Now the social media site offers promoted posts as a way to get the most reach. It also offers “Page Like” advertising to boost your likes. I don’t believe in advertising to necessarily get more “likes.” Instead, I view it as a way to get your brand in front of people’s eyes. With a targeted advertising campaign in your area, you will at least have your presence felt. It’s up to you to get your brand in front of these consumers’ eyes multiple times before it finally registers: the key is a repetition of your presence. Here are 10 signs you’ve worked in a food truck: • You can parallel park your car with your eyes closed. • You yell out “behind!” to strangers in public. • You have no feeling in your fingers – touching hot surfaces doesn’t faze you anymore. • Your arms have more stripes than a zebra from being burned on oven racks. • Your significant other tells you that you’ve been talking in your sleep again about searing meat and adding more seasoning. • You don’t know what to do with yourself when you’re off on a Friday or Saturday. • Your knife kit is worth more than the car you drive. • Your signature cologne smells of deep fried anything. • You see your co-workers three times as much as your significant other. • You roll your eyes when someone not in the industry complains about a 50-hour work week. Bonus signs: • You always have a Sharpie on you. • Even at home you eat standing up. To sum it all up, working in a food truck is simply crazy, but each of the individuals we spoke with told us it was the most fun they had ever had while working in food service industry When a customer walks up to a food truck that is a smooth running mobile food operation, they may not notice how efficient it really is. On the other hand, step up to a truck that isn’t managed properly, and there will be multiple times during the transaction that it’s inefficiency shines through. In most food trucks there is no one person that impacts the day-in, day-out profitability and success like the person who manages the truck’s kitchen. Whether the truck is managed by the owner, or someone who they trust, there are certain lessons that can be learned from each of them. THINGS YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND ABOUT FOOD TRUCKS (UNLESS YOU RUN ONE) Despite their inability to stay open during inclement weather, food trucks have taken the nation by storm. And although they're oft romanticized in the media and on the big screen, that dude from Swingers is just about the only thing that's money about running a food truck. It's a hard, hard gig. To pull back the hood and learn more about these mobile sustenance suppliers, we talked to a group of food truck owners about everything from auto maintenance to grey water to kimchi fries. Read on to get a greater appreciation for just how hard it is to sell a taco out of a truck. You have to become a mechanic A lot of these trucks are 20 years old, so stuff breaks. Often. Tires will blow out, transmissions fail, engines overheat. Be prepared to become very good friends with your truck's owner's manual. Kitchens weren't meant to be put on wheels Many city regulations forbid building customized equipment to suit your trailer, so operators are forced to use after-market equipment that's often awkwardly welded or mounted to the truck. Also, refrigerators weren't built to take speed bumps. There's way more cleaning than you'd think To keep a truck from devolving into a roach coach, you're hosing it down every single night. They are not easy to drive Imagine a moving van. Full of food. That you drive every single day. If it's cold outside, you better watch your water tank If your truck is not well-insulated, your toes will not be the only things freezing. COSTS Overhead is lower than a restaurant, but it's far from cheap As with a brick-and-mortar, you're still paying rent, gas, water, electricity, labor, and on top of that, rent for a commissary kitchen. There are hidden labor costs If you're not a stationary cart, enjoy paying your employees an extra hour to drive the truck to and from the site. You pay rent to park You can't just roll up and sell Korean tacos anywhere, you know! At least not without getting fined. Consumers expect to pay less, which is unrealistic Food trucks usually can't sell high-margin items like alcohol, desserts, or appetizers, so margins might be as low as 10%. Private events drive profits Without a steady stream of catering and private events, it's very hard to keep the business afloat. You should start with at least six months of operating expenses It's pretty nice to think that you can Kickstart a trailer from thin air, but it actually takes a very long time to become profitable in any business, let alone one known for cheap food and stiff competition. Inside and outside the truck Water is an issue You can only carry so much water. All that grey waste water has to be disposed of properly, and a full dirty water tank pretty much means the end of the business day. Conservation of liquids is key. Kitchen devices break If the fryers go out, you simply keep calm and carry on... especially if you're specializing in fries. Light is crucial If no one can see that you're open, no one is coming. And if you can't see inside the trailer, you can't cook. The lights on many trucks run on the battery, so if that's out, you're done for the night. Your electrical footprint is limited If you want to add a fancy sous-vide machine to your trailer, you've got to consider how that impacts the overall electrical load of your operation. You can only pull so many amps from a generator. Once you're on site, there's no turning back If you forgot something, you've got to improvise. If it's 100 degrees outside, it's 115 degrees inside Try running a fryer, steam table, and grill in a space the size of a dorm room without sweating through a few shirts. Your posture will suffer Think about every food truck you've ever patronized and imagine the guy taking your order. He's getting great experience in case Notre Dame calls and they need a new hunchback. You're always burning fuel Every hour a food truck is open, there's money going into running the generator. THE BIZ If a market is already saturated, it'll be much harder to succeed Your small town doesn't need four Korean taco trucks. Or maybe it does, but it's likely only one or two will survive. There's a greater trust with employees The managerial structure is much leaner on a truck than in a restaurant, so you better trust that shift leader. Especially because he's probably your buddy. Owners essentially become real-estate agents That hot new location can mean the difference between success and failure, so owners are always on the lookout for new spots in prime areas full of hungry people. It's not a one-man show Although the perception is that food truck ownership is a life of independence -- the landlocked equivalent of a self-sufficient sailor -- you're really just as dependent on a team as you would be It's not glamorous The media might make food truck owners out to be renegade all-around cool guys, but the reality is that it's one of the least glamorous (so much sweat!) and most difficult jobs imaginable. Press doesn't equal success Even the most talked-about trailers might be barely treading water. And if that water's grey, they're in trouble. THE FOOD Menus have to be limited There's just not enough space to have a ton of options. Or room to store the ingredients. People expect their food quicker There definitely isn't table service, and there might not even be tables. Odds are people are either on the way back to their office or have been out at bars, so the normal 10-15 minutes they'd expect to wait for their food is condensed to less than five. Tight quarters make prepping awful Moving around in a normal restaurant kitchen is already an intimate dance, but in a trailer you're essentially bumping into each other. You probably need a commissary kitchen Depending on health codes, you might not even legally be able to cook everything on your truck.