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food truck tip of the day

tip of the dayI spend a lot of time in food truck lines and I have seen good service, I have seen absolutely spectacular service and I have seen down right awful service.

Today’s Tip of the Day comes from the service I saw at a food truck a couple of months ago.

The customer in front of me had a bill for $12.50. They promptly handed the service window attendant a $20 bill. What happened next took me back…the server asked, “Do you need any change?” Huh? Were they really angling for a $7.50 tip?

What’s worse in my opinion was that the customer wouldn’t have gotten back something even close to what they might if they left a 20% tip. In this case it makes the customer feel stingy for not leaving a nearly 80% tip.

If you are a food truck owner you should be training wait staff that the correct phrase would be “$7.50 is your change” while extending the change back to them. This gives the customer the opening to say “That’s OK” if they intend for them to keep everything.

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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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tip of the dayIn owning a mobile food business, just as any other food service industry business, critique is often negatively equated with criticism. But constructive criticism is essential in any arena that requires creativity, innovation, and problem-solving.

Since leadership requires all three, food truck owners need to be sure they are not only open to criticism, but that they actively seek it out. Ask your staff members, other food truck owners and customers — to poke holes in your menu items, customer service and operations.

Critique can be a useful approach to test ideas and keep your mobile food business relevant.

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tip of the dayMaking specials a regular part of your food truck menu is a good idea for a lot of reasons. Not only do they keep things interesting for your cooking staff, servers and customers; but they are a great way to use product that might otherwise go to waste. Specials can also provide your servers a way to start conversations and establish rapport with customers.

Depending on your kitchen crew, you might open up the creation of specials to staff other than your chef. Any opportunity to help your food truck staff members feel pride in their work should be taken.

Whoever comes up with the dish can explain it to the window server as they sample it (yes, your window servers need to taste the food they are selling), this should hopefully increase their interest and enthusiasm.

Ideas for specials can come from many sources:

  • One is when you need to figure out what to do with food that didn’t sell well in its original intent. If too many roasted chickens were made on Tuesday, how about running a chicken taco special on Wednesday?
  • The seasons will always be a source of inspiration. The first chilly day of the year would be a great time to make a pot of warm soup, especially if you happen to have some beef trimmings left over.
  • US regional and the various ethnic cuisine food trucks should have a myriad of ideas that can be used to add specials.
  • Your kitchen staff, especially when they get into the swing of it, is bound to be a source of new ideas.

Be sure you take the time to cost the specials out, so you’ll know how to price them. And don’t underestimate the importance of making sure your serving staff are familiar with the new dishes and how good they are. Nothing sells itself.

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tip of the dayWhen food truck owners make a pitch to a passing prospective customer, no one wants to hear no. In the absence of a yes, you may think that maybe is preferable. But when maybe is the long way to no, it can simply be a waste of your time. It’s better to hear no sooner rather than later. Here are three steps to driving a decision: 

  • Be clear with your pitch. People often say maybe because they are confused about what you’re selling.
  • Know when silence means no. People hate to say no as much as food truck vendors hate to hear it. When you sense that someone is going to say no, but hasn’t built up the courage to express it, provide an out. Something as simple as, “I assume it’s a pass for now?” can help the other party be definitive about its decision.

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tip of the dayWhen deciding whether to track down a food truck, prospective food truck customers trust one source of information above all others: their peers.

To sell more, you need to get your current customers marketing and selling (i.e… advocating) for your mobile food business. First, find the core customers who are passionate about your food truck. This should be easy…they are the customers you know by name and the ones who frequent your truck more than their own kitchen table.

If you are new to the food truck industry and haven’t built up a loyal customer base, you can begin asking (at your service window or over social media channels): “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?” Then, for those who respond with “highly likely,” make it easy for them to do so.

Ask them them to post a recommendation to their Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, and Twitter followers, or ask them to write a great review on a site such as Yelp (or Mobile Cuisine in the near future).

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tip of the dayLoyal food truck customers are planted and grown; they’re not just in bloom the moment they walk up to your service window. Part of being an extraordinary mobile food business owner is the ability to connect with your customers in such a way that each one feels like they left with more than they walked up with.

Accomplish this by educating customers through your interactions, which can be easily attained at any food truck.

Consider how easy it would be to tie your truck’s cuisine or a specific menu item to a story about the region it comes from or how you developed it?

Becoming an educator instead of standing by in the position of cashier and customer service rep will enable more conversation which will build loyalty and rapport.

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tip of the dayOne of the most critical traits of an effective food truck owner is credibility. If your staff doesn’t believe in your ability to do your job, you’ll struggle to motivate them.

Don’t assume your credibility is apparent. Make an effort to establish it from the beginning by showing your willingness to work hard, modeling the behaviors you’re trying to encourage in others. Always be prepared for events and catering jobs. Hold others accountable, treating them fairly and consistently. And, use your power and influence for the benefit of others.

Remember that once you’ve established it, it’s important to continue to demonstrate your trustworthiness credibility for the long term.

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tip of the dayWhen it comes to social media, food truck owners should become a master of one or two platforms rather than flounder in many.

When you look at all of your various social media options, a good way to break them down is into social platforms vs. social networking sites.

Social platforms are like soapboxes; they allow you to establish your expertise and credibility, but provide a method for feedback and discussion. (i.e. blogging, YouTube or pod casting.

Social networks are more like a real-world networking event. Think about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and possibly Pinterest.

Since food trucks are considered B2C (business to consumer), it’s beneficial to choose work in the social networks first to focus on initially, and really develop a deep engagement level with your ideal customers there. As you master those channels, you can then start to expand into other realms.

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tip of the dayTwitter is an important way for food truck owners to learn about the mobile food industry, build relationships, and extend the impact of their work. Even Twitter enthusiasts can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tweets and the velocity of conversations, but Twitter lists—groups of individual Twitter accounts—can help focus your attention. You can quickly focus in on updates from the people you really want to hear from—industry experts, well-networked colleagues, and customers—simply by looking at your two or three most crucial lists. Separate your incoming tweet stream into lists by thinking about:

  • Development: Who do you want to learn from? Section out the smartest people you know or want to know.
  • Interactions: Which relationships do you want to initiate or strengthen? Engage with the people who will have the greatest impact on your effectiveness by mentioning and retweeting them.
  • Goals: What do you want to accomplish? Tune into the people and conversations that support your aspirations.
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