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Customers

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we want to hear from you

We have recently received a number of emails from food truck owners that want to get their customers involved in what they offer on their food truck menu. It’s a great topic and one we’ll cover today.

Marketing strategies are consistently evolving and food trucks seem to be taking the lead in this evolution. As many of you already know engaging your customers in a two-way conversation is a smart way to create loyal supporters and brand ambassadors for your mobile food businesses.

Since it has become increasingly simple to solicit customer ideas through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and even by email…it should be part of your food truck’s brand strategy. Not only will this give your customers a voice but it can also generate a lot of local media buzz about your truck.

So, how do you get your customers involved in creating items for your menu? Here are 5 ideas. For each of these, ideas can be submitted at your food truck on a contest form (via suggestion box), social media, or on your website. Heck, for that matter, why not all three?

  • Recipe contest – Create a contest for a menu item where customers submit ideas and either a panel judges the winner or the winner is selected by a vote.
  • Beverage contest - If you want to serve more than just the typical soda or water options create a form that collects information for beverage suggestions.
  • Returning favorite – Ask customers if they would like to see a discontinued menu item make a comeback.
  • Seasonal item – Create a contest for a seasonal item (try Spring since it’s right around the corner) that will be a limited time offer.
  • A day in the kitchen – Develop a contest where the winner can co-create a dish with your food truck’s chef at your commercial kitchen.

Whatever avenue you choose to involve your customers in designing menu items, make sure that you actually follow through on the idea. Ask questions, listen and act. By opening up a conversation with your customers about your menu, you could learn a lot about your food truck. With an increased level of engagement, your customers may come up with ideas about other facets of your business, what they like and don’t like.

And don’t forget, any of these ideas can be leveraged as news items too. Depending on your market and the details of the contest it could be looked at as a great story for a blogger or the local newspaper’s food or business sections.

So have you already created menu items based on your food truck customer ideas? We’d love to hear about them in the comment section below.

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Regulars customers are the life-blood of a food truck business, and each and every loyal customer starts off with a first visit to your service window.

welcome back mat

So what can you do to ensure those first time customers come back a second or third time. Your food and service can be great, but if that is where you stop thinking about keeping a customer coming back for more, you are missing some opportunities.

So how do you know it’s a first visit? Your service window attendant’s welcoming statement should gather information so they can tailor the service and make the visit special. This can be done quickly and easily with one question:

Have you been here before? Whatever the answer, this is the opportunity to give more information about your trucks menu, how long you’re been open, best way to find your truck etc.

Service for first-timers may need to be a little different to what’s offered to your regulars:

  • Share information in small chunks, rather than one long speech at the beginning. Take several opportunities to talk about the specials, the menu, the beverage choices and any up coming special events.
  • Gather contact details. Hand each new customer a small card asking for their email address. Ask and you may receive…don’t ask and you’ll never be able to start a customer list.
  • Offer other ways to stay in touch. If you have a Website, Facebook Page or Twitter account (which you should have), make sure they’re on the menu board and on your food truck’s wrap. You’ll be surprised how many customers will check them out before they even get their order.
  • Send them off with a souvenir. This can be a business card and a copy of the menu. You never know where this marketing literature will end up or who else may get to see them. Also, remind them about your website and social media accounts: “They’re on the card and on the menu”.
  • Follow up with an email. Remember how you already got it (see item two on this list). Food truck owners I have spoken with and send feedback forms to all of the customers who join their mailing list. In most cases they tell me they get between 50-75% of them returned with positive or constructive feedback. Set apart about 30 minutes a week to send your new customers a feedback form.

Using these suggestions in any food truck business can help bolster your returning customer numbers. In doing this, you will also gain word of mouth marketing that these new loyal customers will provide…all free of charge.

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tip of the dayAn easy way to drive up your food truck’s sales numbers is through the presentation to your customers and the words you use.

Some may say, “It’s just coffee!”  Instead try, “It’s hot, freshly brewed coffee.”

You say “cheesecake.”  Try this, “Our rich, creamy New York style cheesecake that’s topped with strawberry syrup.”

You say it’s your “soup of the day.” You could say, “It’s our original homemade vegetable soup.”

Which is the way you or your service window staff present your menu offering? By adding descriptive words into your sales presentation, your customers will have a better picture of what you’re selling. And, if you do it right, they’ll end up ordering whatever you want them to order.

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We have shared numerous articles on food truck website development and more specifically how and why food truck owners should be posting in their site’s blog.

One thing you need to understand is that simply posting a few short articles throughout the month about the things happening inside your mobile food business isn’t going to automatically bring you the 5-10 new customers a month your food truck needs for continued growth.

There’s a bit more to this recipe than just the writing.

Why Your Food Truck Blog Isn't Bringing in New Customers

Have a food truck blog that isn’t gaining any traction? Feel like you’re wasting your time? Here’s what you might be doing wrong:

Speaking to the wrong audience

Look over your content. Do you use a lot of culinary jargon that may confuse your non-foodie knowledgeable customers?  Your food truck customer is your target audience, not your culinary peers, so if this is you, simply try putting those ideas into words that someone who has never tuned into Food Network or taken a culinary class would understand.

Poor speeling

Are you taking enough time proofreading the first drafts of your posts? Are you showing personality in your writing? Just because you’re writing a blog post doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice the kind of quality control you practice in your kitchen.

Boring your readers

Spice up your posts with images, videos or YouTube clips, or audio clips. Think about the other food truck websites you and your audience visits, what kind of content do they create? What is engaging to them?

No clear goals

Your food truck blog should reflect you and your mobile food business. What do you hope stand for? Where did you come from and where are you going? The passion you have for the mobile food industry and your local community is the best way to show your readers who you are. They will sense your energy and be brought back by it.

Focusing on the numbers too much

As I well know, it can be very easy to get obsessed with blogging statistics: how many daily readers we get, the bounce rate, the likes, the comments.  Sometimes, however, it’s best to focus on the actual people we are connecting with, whether it’s five or 5000.  Your food truck blog must be about building your community, interacting online and creating relationships with your current and future customers.  Focus on interacting with your readers, responding to their comments and constantly asking for their feedback and your community will begin growing before you know it and your stats will benefit at the same time.

Poor website and post design

In order for all of the previous tips to work, you have to integrate them with a good looking and functional design. Check out what other food truck blogs you read and enjoy are doing; find out what kinds of blogs your target audience is reading and what those look like; look at your blog and evaluate what changes you can make to make it more appealing to your customers. Most importantly, strive to have a design that is professional, easy to navigate, and easy on the eyes.

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tip of the dayIn recent news, Louisville became another of the growing lists of cities across the country that give out grades to mobile food vendors that must be displayed openly to the public.

Unfortunately, just like restaurants, not every mobile food establishment will earn an A grade. While you may know why you didn’t get an A, do your customers? What happens when a customer walks up and asks? How will you respond?

Very simple. You should communicate honestly, especially knowing that the guest can easily access the city’s report online while they are standing outside your truck.

Like a lot of customer concerns, they are unpleasant to handle, but ultimately better than not hearing them. A customer who asks you directly to explain your health inspection score is one you can win over, whereas one who sees something less than an A and walks away is lost revenue.

While you shouldn’t attempt to obscure the violations that gave you the B or C grade, there are some violations that the public generally understand as slip-ups: dented cans, missing or damaged flooring, food out of temperature, or no certified food handler in the truck, while others will have them running: rodents, roaches, poor hand washing, sick workers, and so on.

Within the realm of honesty, emphasize those violations that are least off-putting, explain what you are doing to correct the problems before you are re-inspected, and invite them to inspect your truck’s kitchen (assuming it is one in which you can take pride) for themselves to show that you are proud of the work you do and have nothing to hide. It won’t work for all customers, but if they are taking the time to ask about your score, they have an interest in dining from your food truck.

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tip of the dayOutside of selling great food, successfully communicating with customers is the foundation for all food truck sales. Here are two tactics that will increase the likelihood that your food truck customers hear what you have to say:

  • Understand their language. Too many food truck businesses use a one-size-fits-all sales pitch. The reality is that your customers speak a unique language informed by their life experiences. Tailor your sales approach and your language for each customer.
  • Focus on them, not you. It’s tempting when trying to make a sale to talk about “my food truck, my menu’s benefits.” Instead, turn the spotlight on your customers. Talk about them. Get to know them and make them feel special.

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Twitter is a great way for food truck vendors to stay connected with your diners — and, unlike other social media platforms, it facilitates direct contact between individuals.

twitter_tips

 

Let’s take a look at tips you can use Twitter to drive more repeat customers and even some new ones, to your food truck.

Get the chef involved

Food truck customers appreciate the opportunity to speak directly with the person making their food. Seeing the chef’s passion for their work can get potential diners excited about eating at your truck. What’s more, getting you or your chef on Twitter can provide a direct line of communication that may help prevent negative reviews on sites like Yelp.

Track your food truck’s mentions

Use a tool like HootSuite to track when people mention your food truck on Twitter. If it’s appropriate, you can engage in the conversation. If a customer takes a photo of your food, for example, you might want to retweet or reply. On the other hand, if a diner had a negative experience, responsiveness again might help convince that diner to visit your truck again.

Post specials often

New specials can be a big driver in getting repeat diners to your food truck’s service window. Posting those specials on Twitter makes sharing them easy, and it also allows you to get feedback and ideas on what dishes appeal most to your diners.

Respond to tweets

Twitter isn’t a one-way street. It’s important to be responsive to both praise and criticism. Of course, it’s important to be mindful of the reality that anything you post there is viewable publicly by anyone, but you can use that to your advantage. Encouraging positive feedback will bring you more — and handling complaints graciously will help potential diners sympathize with your side of the story.

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tip of the dayHave you ever loved a product or service so much that you couldn’t wait to tell everyone you know about it? All over the web, people’s passion for products has led them to share their love via YouTube videos, blog posts, and Facebook groups.

These “natural” spokespeople have created valuable buzz and initiated sales growth; all for free. Find your most devout food truck customers and ask them to rave on their blogs or create Facebook groups in support of your food products. If there are already natural spokespeople out there singing your truck’s praises, harness that passion for free.

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tip of the dayNo food truck owner likes to take a hard question from a skeptical prospective customer. But since providing good answers is often the difference between winning and losing their business, it pays to get it right:

  • Clarify the question before answering it. Repeat it back in your own words or ask the customer to explain further. You don’t want to address a question that wasn’t even asked.
  • Provide an expert point of view. Your customer is more likely to trust a consultant who has intimate knowledge of the mobile food industry than someone who simply understands how the industry works. Show that you can apply your expertise to solve the customer’s problems.
  • Stay calm. Demeanor speaks volumes. Regardless of the question, be confident and don’t get defensive.

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From time to time a food truck owner needs to step back and look at their business from the outside.   Try to visit your truck or cart as a customer, not as the owner.  Ask some of your best or frequent customers what they would want included at your food truck in order to make it even better. Ask some of your employees too.  They have great ideas.

no-hasslesTo make it easier for your guests to get to and order from your mobile food business try to make it totally hassle-free.

Look at these items:

  1. Your hours and location of operation: do you Tweet this out regularly while stopped?
  2. The methods of payment you accept: cash or credit or both?
  3. Quality and consistency of your food.
  4. Turn around time for food once it has been ordered.
  5. How your employees treat your customers.
  6. How easy it is for your customers to find items and specials on your menu?
  7. How easy it is for your customers to stand in line while waiting to be served?
  8. How easy it is for your customers to get service once they walk up to the service window?
  9. How easy it is for your customers to receive a refund on food that did not satisfy them?

Making it easy and convenient for your food truck customers to do business with you is so important.  The easier you can make it, the better your ability to make more money and keep existing customer loyalty. It can be just that easy.

If you have any additional items that other owners could look at, let us know and we will update this list.

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