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wear-many-hats

If you’re like most food truck owners, your business card has your title listed as CEO or owner, but you know that on any given day it could just as easily read executive chef, line cook, customer service, marketing manager, technology director, accountant…etc.

Food truck vendors don’t have the luxury of passing duties off to a group of department heads.  The success of your mobile food business depends on your ability to wear all of the multiple hats needed to keep the wheels of your business spinning. At times, the crazy pace needed to operate properly can turn even the most capable person into an overwhelmed culinary entrepreneur wearing far too many hats.

It’s this point that most will begin looking at hiring staff members to help with certain jobs on the truck. Before looking to bring on help, you should sit down and objectively assess your own strengths and weakness. What areas of your business do you love? Where do you need more discipline and development?

By identifying your areas of weakness, you can see where you could best get assistance from an employee. When hiring it’s always best to try to maximize your own strengths and fill in gaps for your weaknesses, rather than just hire for what you’d consider “lower wage” work.

With that said, at some time in the future your business is going to grow beyond your own abilities. This means you need to staff up the truck. While it may seem like a dream that you will be able to delegate some jobs, growth can bring its own set of problems:

  • When you’ve been used to running your business on your own, it can be difficult to relinquish control of day-to-day details. But it’s critical to let go. Successful vendors don’t micromanage what each staff member is doing.
  • Make sure you’re giving your food truck employees the freedom to make decisions (even make mistakes and correct the mistakes themselves). In the long run, you’ll have a wiser, more confident, more effective and more capable crew. And you’ll be able to focus on the strategic aspects of your business.
  • Make sure your staff clearly understands the results you expect. The mark of any good food truck employee is their embracing of the goals you set for your business.
  • Staff must be personally accountable for their actions. The best staff works under general supervision and manages themselves.

Make time to work on your business (not just in your truck).

When you own a food truck, it’s all too easy to get lost in the daily grind inside your truck and put off strategic, long-term planning. If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll need to dedicate time in your calendar each week to consider your business and market trends, think about potential opportunities and do some long-term positioning.

The majority of food truck owners will always wear and point out that they wear too many hats. Make sure these multiple hats are helping more than they are hurting your mobile food business.

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risk-feasibility

Your food truck business concept may sound great for your family and friends, but to turn the idea into reality you need to prove to yourself and others that it will succeed.

The best way to assess whether your mobile food business will be profitable is by conducting a short and concise feasibility study. The result of the feasibility study will determine whether you should proceed with a full business plan.

Main Components Of A Feasibility Study:

Unique Selling Point (USP)

Having a unique selling point (USP) is crucial to your business’s success.  Ideally you should try and distinguish your food truck from the competition by providing a menu that customers can only get from you.  Even if you are in a market with several similar mobile food vendors or restaurants you can still distinguish yourself from the competition through your product and the service you provide your customers. Find more info on USP here

Competitive Advantage

Proving that your food truck is better than your competitors is crucial; you need to determine why your menu or service will beat the competition.

The main ways to beat the competition:

Price - where will your prices fall?

Convenience - are your planned parking locations close to your target market?

Quality – are your ingredients high grade, sourced locally or organic? Is your service faster or more efficient?

Market Analysis

You need to prove in this section that a market exists, or will exist for your food truck’s menu items. Some market research is essential here. If you cannot afford a market research company it is possible to research your market for yourself.

Google - search engines contain lots of useful information, but be prepared to spend a long time looking for what you need.

Libraries - most local libraries contain trade journals and local information you may find useful.

Social Networks - Use a service to conduct surveys via email as well as social networks (Facebook, Quara, Twitter) to find out what people think of your idea. A couple well written tweets in peak hours may generate valuable feedback.

Technical & Operational Requirements

In this section you need to cover the basic requirements your truck will need to operate (licenses, commercial kitchen space, and parking). It’s always best to plan the first year in detail, and then look at the next two years on a summary level.

Financial Information

Making profit is ultimately the most important area to use to determine if your concept is feasible. Be very conservative with your estimates in this section.

You will need to determine:

  • Start up costs
  • Revenue expectations for first year
  • Ongoing expenses for first year
  • Cash Flow for first year

If you are finding it difficult to plan revenue and expenses you should speak with an accountant familiar with the food service industry to help you.

When you start planning your food truck concept and before you invest too much time and money it is very important for you to conduct a feasibility study.  Not only with this will speed up the process of knowing to start over or to proceed with your plan, it will also provide you with most of the information needed to complete your business plan.

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The Walking Dead is currently one of the most successful cable shows on television. The show follows a group of survivors living in a zombie filled apocalypse.

Food Truck Lessons From The Walking Dead

There is a lot to be learned from this world over taken by zombies. Some might even say its a survivors guide to the real world.Here are 5 lessons we feel this program can teach mobile food vendors.

You Need A Good Team:

Rick is the leader, Daryl the hunter, Glen is the go to guy for gathering things. All the members of the group have specific jobs depending on their skills. As a food truck owner, you need to identify the strengths of your staff. This will help you keep everyone engaged and doing what they do best.

Have A Plan:

Strategy is what has kept the survivors alive for the past four seasons. Similarly, without a business or marketing strategy for your food truck it will be difficult to succeed. Plan ahead; understand your team and what your limitations are.

Be Noisy:

At those times when you don’t feel like developing a new menu item or promotion, remember that if you make enough noise, the dead will come running. If your mobile food business is sitting in park or spinning in the mud, nothing will happen and the zombies with simply stumble past your truck. If you want to get their attention and get more business, make some noise. Without action, your mobile food business will remain stagnant. Take positive action to achieve positive results.

Be Faster:

Just like running from the dead, getting ahead in the mobile food industry is not complicated; just pick up the speed. What do your competitors really have over you? It’s not nearly as much as you might think. Look around; many of the existing food trucks in your community may have more resources, but they also have many more zombies in their ranks slowing them down. If you put the time in, add some focus, make some noise and run a little faster, you’ll get ahead, fast.

Stay On Your Feet:

If you want to succeed as a food truck vendor you cannot let anyone keep you down. Running a food truck is tough and some of your competition or local business owners will be lined up to knock you down as soon as you open your service window for the first time. Whatever happens, get back up and keep moving forward.

Although some might dismiss this popular program as another way television executives have tapped into a pop-culture fad, we see it as a show that provides valuable lessons for any food truck owner. To survive in the fast growing mobile food industry, vendors must learn to adapt or suffer the fate of many on the show…death.

These are only five lessons that food truck vendors can learn from The Walking Dead. What other business lessons have you learned from the show? We’re eager to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

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As the mobile food industry grows a large number of culinary entrepreneurs are looking to enter the market. This is why you need to have an effective strategy in place to help put together a plan for your opening of operations.

Food Truck Grand Opening

By the time you launch your grand opening, you should have worked out all of the kinks and be ready to impress your customers. Planning for your food truck’s opening should take place over the course of several weeks.

Here is a quick list for planning your food truck’s Grand Opening:

Simple Menu

Develop a relatively simple menu to start off your food truck. As time goes by, you can add more selections, but keeping the menu simple in the beginning can help keep your supply costs down. A simple menu also gives your chefs a chance to develop their cooking procedures in your truck’s kitchen. When you start to grow the menu, your chefs will be better able to expand on the processes they have created, and keep your mobile food business running smoothly

Review Paperwork

Review all of the paperwork associated with running your truck, such as employee forms, supplier agreements and work schedules to make sure everything is in order. You should have at least two hard copies of this information. One in your office file and one set on board your truck. You don’t want to get tied up having to run home or to the office to get a document you need.

Set The Date

Set the grand opening date and begin to design some marketing material and how you plan advertise. Plan to start advertising at least two weeks before the opening day.

Unless you have an actual advertising budget, consider developing a social media strategy (for Twitter and Facebook) or put together a press release that you can get into the hands of local news organizations and food bloggers. Consider making your opening day at a food truck event where you can tap into the popularity of the other trucks scheduled for the event.

Soft Opening

Open your food truck one or two weeks before the scheduled opening day in what the food service industry refers to as a soft opening. Start with a limited staff and very limited advertising.

The point of a soft opening is to work out any problems you may have in your mobile food business before the grand opening. You will be able to determine employee scheduling concerns, problems with suppliers, issues with the truck and kitchen equipment before your grand opening.

Correct any problems that surface during the soft opening, and begin to increase staff levels to accommodate your grand opening day.

Invite The Press

Invite local food and restaurant critics to your food truck once you begin grand opening advertising. If you time it right, you may be able to get a review that can accompany your official launch.

If you are planning your grand opening, please feel free to send a press release to us at admin@mobile-cuisine.com and we will share your story.

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portland maine food truck mapPORTLAND, ME - Food truck owners want Portland to make it easier for them to operate in all city parks, including Monument Square.

James Dinsmore of Wicked Good Truck feeds the parking meter Monday. The food truck’s owner wants Portland’s ordinance changed.

But the proposal, which will be reviewed Tuesday by the City Council’s Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee, is facing resistance from the city staff and at least one restaurant owner.

Mike Roylos, who owns the Spartan Grill in Monument Square, said that allowing food trucks to park in the square and serve food would hurt his established business.

“We’ve been barely able to survive this winter,” he said.

Roylos said he supports food trucks as long as they don’t compete with traditional restaurants, which pay rent and property taxes. Monument Square is lined with restaurants that cater to lunch and after-work crowds.

“It would be nice if they went along with the original idea of having food trucks in areas where there was no food,” he said. “There is quite a bit of food out here.”

Portland began allowing food trucks in 2012, joining a growing number of U.S. cities that have embraced mobile restaurants and providing a new fleet of dining choices to Portland’s foodies and downtown workers.

Find the entire article at pressherald.com <here>

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tip of the dayDon’t let the first day you open your service window be your official “Grand Opening”.

A reader of Mobile Cuisine is a friend of a food truck owner that sells different coffees and gourmet breakfast sandwiches.  Because of their excitement to get open as soon as possible, they pushed up their grand opening 2 weeks earlier than they had originally planned. Unfortunately the food truck owner has virtually no experience running a business.  They have never taken inventory, run a cash register, or even opened an Excel spreadsheet.

It is always recommended to have a soft opening a week or two before you make your Grand entrance into the market. During that time you have a chance to adjust your menu by eliminating or adding some items, take customer suggestions, or even rework the operational flow in the kitchen if its needed. You can let people know you’re open but don’t do any marketing or advertising.  This will result in a small steady stream of people who will already be familiar with you and your staff personally. Basically this time will allow you to work out the kinks on a very forgiving customer base.

You get ONE opportunity to make a good first impression.  Don’t mess yours up by bringing in the local customer base on the first day you open your business.  You may never get the chance to bring some of those customers back again.

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Over the years we’ve touched on topics crucial to running a successful mobile food business such as type of cuisine, parking locations, commissaries and selecting the right platform (truck, cart, trailer etc…) to serve your food from. In this article we’ll cover aspects that delve beyond those obvious concerns.

key ingredients

The key ingredients that matter most to creating an awesome mobile food business are your food, your staff and you. If done the right way, your food truck, food cart or trailer will thrive in the industry and stay on top.

Here are three factors that will propel your mobile food business to the next level above the competition:

Food Identity

Your food is your business’ identity. You first must portray yourself in a very definable way to your customers so they can equate you as the go to spot for your cuisine. Failure to define yourself is a huge mistake when trying to separate yourself from your competition. For example, let’s say that there are a bunch of burger trucks in your area, which means there has to be something about your food that makes it stand out if you too will be serving burgers.

How To Make Your Food Awesome

  • Uniqueness. Get your customer’s attention with original dishes. If you plan to serve common dishes, add some flair and make them just 10 percent better, you’ll have an inspiring and stimulating menu your customers will get excited about.
  • Go local. Get some local farm fresh produce. Not only are you bringing in very fresh ingredients, you are supporting the local economy. Today’s customers do take notice of this fact.
Supreme Staffing

You need to hire people who have a passion for the mobile food industry, a sense of urgency when handling customers and a willingness to be part of your team. The service experience is right up there with food when it comes to the top two elements to a great dining experience.

Your staff needs to work in sync because if they don’t, you could end up with reviews that minimally praise the food but ruthlessly criticize the service. Customers want to eat great food but at the same time, they want to be treated like royalty.

How To Build An Awesome Staff

  • Processes. Create employee manuals containing your processes and procedures, and ensure they are updated regularly. This gives your staff a way to succeed as a unified team moving in the same direction. There is nothing worse than attempting to manage a bunch of individuals trying to do the same thing, each in their own way.
  • Outstanding training. Your food truck staff has to know their job. Ensure your staff gets thorough book training on procedures along with on-the-job training complete with food tasting and menu education. Basic training should also include job shadowing a veteran staff member. Don’t stop there. Expose the staff member to the other job roles within your food truck. This will allow for position flexibility in case someone can’t show up for work and leaves you hanging.
  • Solicit feedback. Always communicate with them and more importantly, don’t stop listening. Give real-time feedback and think of yourself as a coach to your team. You don’t have to portray yourself as almighty. Look beyond your ego and start putting your people first.
Personality Plus

Food trucks don’t fail, people fail. As the owner, you are the people. Whatever happens under your watch is on you. This could be hiring a truck manager who under-performs or not training your staff to prepare your awesome recipes consistently awesome. Ultimately, the responsibility rests on your shoulders.

How You Can Become Awesome

  • Self-reflect regularly. The toughest thing for anyone to do is critique themselves. It is not in our nature to tell ourselves we are wrong. As a leader, it’s okay to be vulnerable and allow yourself to be exposed. That doesn’t make you weak; it actually makes you more authentic and respectable.
  • Ask for feedback. Ask your staff for honest feedback. Let it be known that honesty is the only way for you to improve as an owner. Don’t forget your staff extends further than just managers and service window staff. You should be listening to your line cooks just as anyone else. Customer feedback is also very important to the growth and development of your food truck. Let it be known that you want to know what customers think to make their experience better.
  • Keep growing. Food truck owners can always improve. What’s more, your staff has great ideas, so ask them. Your mobile food business needs to keep growing to thrive and it’s vitally important you grow with it.

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Concerned about your job security?  Tired of working for someone else?  You aren’t alone.  As a result, more and more working Americans are taking the plunge into the mobile food industry.

 

part time food truck business

Some of those not willing to give up their full-time job have taken it on as a part-time business as a way to improve their financial well-being or to provide a safety net in case of a job loss.  Food trucks can operate as a side business if you only plan to work at farmer’s markets or at large weekend events.

So what if you get caught by your current employer?  Is your current job be at risk? The simple answer, “Yes.”  The primary factor this depends on is your current employer’s policy regarding moonlighting.  So before you get started here are a few things to consider.

Check your employee handbook

Before you start your kitchen on wheels, check your employee handbook to make sure your current employer doesn’t prohibit moonlighting.  You may also check with coworkers who have been with the company for a while.  Sometimes there are informal rules of which you may not be aware.  So ask around. 

Honesty is the best policy

Never try to hide your part-time mobile food business from your employer.  Being secretive about your part-time efforts may cause your employer to become suspicious about you.  Being open and honest upfront can limit problems in the future.

Don’t compete

Never start a food truck business that competes with your current employer. This will apply to those of you working for a food truck, restaurant or catering company.  And it should go without saying, but don’t align your business with your employer’s competitor.  Directly competing with your employer and/or working with a competitor not only could get you fired, but might also create additional exposure to other claims of stealing trade secrets. 

Don’t utilize company time or resources

As harmless as it may seem to make a few copies at work for your food truck, don’t do it.  When you are at your full-time job, stay focused on the work you do there.  Don’t be tempted to make a phone call or send a quick email.

Did you know businesses can legally monitor their employee’s emails?  So don’t make the mistake of using the company’s email system for your food truck business.  It is for your employer’s business use only.

You are being paid to work for your employer.  And utilizing company time and/or resources is a big no-no.

Monitor your job performance

Don’t let your job performance slip at your full-time job.  By adding additional work hours for your mobile food business to your day, you are increasing your workload and stress level.  Make sure you continue to produce results at your full-time job.  Otherwise, you may find yourself without a regular paycheck while you try to get your truck’s brand established.

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Barking Frog Seattle Food Truck

Credit: Jeff Caven

SEATTLE, WA - The rule of thumb has generally been that you start a food truck, then transition to a brick-and-mortar restaurant. But lately a handful of restaurants have defied the food gods by condensing their brick-and-mortar establishments into food-truck form, including Brass Tacks, Ezell’s, Plum Bistro, Barking Frog, and The Walrus and the Carpenter.

It’s a far less natural process. Turning a food truck into a restaurant allows a kitchen to breathe, enabling new options and possibilities. The reverse transition means shedding and sacrifice, like choosing what to take with you during a fire—a really long-drawn-out fire.

But it’s often an effective marketing decision. Taking a restaurant mobile creates a more visible brand and reaches new customers, often funneling them back to the brick-and-mortar, where they can actually grab a seat.

“We’ve been a brick-and-mortar for 13 years,” says Bobby Moore of Barking Frog in Woodinville, who in May launched Barking Frog Mobile Kitchen, nicknamed Road Toad (the license plate reads RDTOAD). “We were bursting at the seams here. You can only generate so much revenue when you’ve been a brick-and-mortar for so long. We wanted to keep ourselves in front of people. I personally wanted to change with the times and not keep doing the same old thing.”

While it would be fun if food trucks simply shot out of their home restaurants like escape pods, the process is much more complicated.

Find the entire article at seattleweekly.com <here>

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Is it possible to build a successful food truck if you don’t love with what you need to do on a daily basis? Can you push through even if you don’t have a burning passion about running a food truck business? I know a lot of people reading this may argue with me, but the answer is, yes. Dream-Job-Sign

Running A Successful Food Truck Business Starts With Work

Please don’t get me wrong, passion is a great thing to have when starting in the mobile food industry, but it can’t be the only reason you open a food truck. Let me explain with a simple break down I learned from Mark Cuban.

When you work hard at something you become good at it. When you become good at doing something, you will enjoy it more. When you enjoy doing something, there is a very good chance you will become passionate or more passionate about it. When you are good at something, passionate and work even harder to excel and be the best at it, good things happen. Don’t follow your passions, follow your effort. It will lead you to your passions and to success, however you define it.

The point he is making is that you don’t necessarily have a burning passion about your food truck as a prerequisite for success. You do, however, have to be motivated to put in the work and to get the help, answers, and other support needed to turn your concept into a successful mobile food operation.

Where is the Fire in Your Gut?

Will having passion about your food truck business itself right at the beginning help you to grow it? Absolutely! If you love making food, serving the public and all of the tasks required to run a food truck, it will be easier to put more effort into it, especially when you are trying to get through those first difficult stages of growth. The problem with passion alone, is that it can quickly fizzle out as time goes on and obstacles stand in your way. To push through, you really need to be motivated by other factors such as wanting to have a successful food truck business, wanting to be in control of your own income, or wanting to positively impact the community you operate in. These are all motivations that are not directly connected to your food truck, yet they can help you stay focused during the down times. This is such an important idea, yet many, culinary entrepreneurs seem to miss it. In general, we tend to be more successful at the things that we care about. But the biggest and most effective way to get yourself to consistently care about something is to invest yourself in it. This can be an investment of time, effort, and money. Once you do so, you will have a vested interest in carrying on and getting good at what you do, and that can ultimately make you feel more passionate about it. So, the bottom line is if you are very clear about why you want to start a food truck business, and you are motivated to carry through, don’t worry about the passion part at the beginning. If you put in the work and you have the right attitude, you can really build a successful food truck empire and the passion will come later on.

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