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food truck economics

We believe that food truck employees should know that they work in a low margin industry. Typically they won’t figure this out unless they’re told. Want to validate this point? Just ask a few of your employees how much money they think you make see how many say, “LOTS.”

This is because employees see, what many believe to be, large amounts of cash coming into the truck every day but most of them have no concept of what it costs to operate a mobile food business and how much profit remains after all the expenses are paid.

When employees assume the boss is getting rich, it can affect their attitude, behavior and what they might feel entitled to.

Food Truck Economics 101

We recently spoke with a vendor who holds creative meetings with each employee to educate them on the low margin nature of the food truck business. He explained that he conducts these meetings when a staff member first starts. He gives them 100 pennies and explains that the pennies represent a dollar in sales and they will be shown out of every dollar of sales what it costs each month to operate the food truck.

In this food truck economics class the employee is asked to pay:

  • 30 pennies for food and beverage vendors
  • 35 for payroll
  • 10 cents for fuel and truck maintenance
  • 10 for commissary rent and so on

After all the expenses are paid, the remaining pennies represent the amount of profit the truck earned. Whether there are 3, 5 or even 10 pennies left, it’s a whole lot less than most employees assume.

What this food truck economics lesson provides for each of his employees is a basic understanding why the little things like exact portioning, reducing waste and the hundreds of other seemingly meticulous steps he requires help to control costs and give him a shot at making a profit. This little example will show some of them that owning a food truck is not the money making machine they may have thought.

Do you use a food truck economics class in your truck or do you use other teaching methods? We’d love to hear them. You can share them via email, Facebook or Twitter.

Destination Desserts

ST. LOUIS, MO – The food truck that travels around the St. Louis area is known for its sweets – gooey butter bars, rocky road cupcakes.

In fact, it serves a higher purpose – providing job training for people with head injuries and disorders such as autism.

Officials at the Center for Head Injury Services came up with the idea after the economy soured in 2008. The economic collapse made it even more difficult to find work for those with disabilities.

“So we decided to take matters into our own hands and create jobs,” the nonprofit’s Donna Gunning said. “Some people could pre-measure things, others might mix frosting or be good at the decorative part.”

Gunning opted for a food truck, and Destination Desserts was the result.

The nonprofit business began in 2012 with help from grants from the Kessler Foundation and Developmental Disabilities Resources. It sold 15,000 dozen cookies to corporations and others that first winter.

About a year ago the food truck actually hit the streets. The truck, retrofitted with a galley kitchen, is bright pink and decorated with drawings of cupcakes and cookies.

Laura Schweitzer, 30, who was injured in a shooting, once planned to be a language teacher. She now has found satisfaction decorating specialty sugar cookies.

Schweitzer wasn’t able to work quickly enough to keep a private-sector job, she said. She’s been at Destination Desserts since October.

“When my other job let me go, it was devastating for me,” she said. “Here I create some of the designs and decorate with much greater freedom.”

Destination Desserts had $68,000 in sales last year, and is on pace for $105,000 in 2014, program director Denise Samuels said.

The goal, Samuels said, is to train the disabled so they could graduate to private-sector jobs. So far, two workers have moved on, one to culinary school.

“I would love for that to happen more often, because we want to affect more people’s lives,” she said.

This article provided by the Associated Press.

Can you train someone for that open position on your food truck staff? This is an important question that food truck owners need to ask themselves while going through the hiring process. While other questions are certainly relevant, this question can significantly impact the bottom line of your mobile food business. Whether you need to fill the role of a drive, server, cook, chef or manager, each can require a substantial amount of time to get someone up to speed to actually help you.

Employee-Development training

A Wealth of Questions

You can narrow the field during the interview stage by asking the right questions. Add in some loaded questions so you can gain a real sense of a candidate’s strength and weaknesses. These questions may not seem relevant to that of a food truck owner, but hiring the right people will likely ensure the success of your truck.

Most of the questions involve the candidate. However, asking yourself the right questions can set the correct framework. Start with a couple of essentials:

  • Need: Answer the important question of need – what needs the position will require from you. From training to the character traits you can only get from “loaded questions,” these questions can help you prepare for the hiring process.
  • Source: Where will you look for your next candidate? Studies have shown that external hires receive “significantly lower performance evaluations for their first two years on the job…,” though they have more education and get paid 18 percent more than internal candidates. (hint hint: try to hire from your existing staff)

Once you have these essentials met, you can move on from there. From the starting point of the hiring process to post-interview, it pays to ask yourself the right questions to ensure you’re taking the right steps. Hiring mistakes can have an unmistakable and negative impacts.

The Decisive Question

You think you have the right candidate. He or she has all of the characteristics on paper, and there is much to like regarding the candidate’s aptitude, likeability, and interactivity. Yet, one question remains: Can you train them?

In some cases, everything seems to be right – but that person is unable to make the transition to the job. Due to a need for him or her to start right away, it just might not work out. Situations like these can be unfortunate, especially when the hiring decision isn’t well thought out.

This decisive question is incredibly valuable in many situations. Ultimately, the “right” candidate for the job may not seamlessly integrate into the new position. Training them may be too much trouble.

Can you train the applicant? Or would it be too much of a hassle for the position?

Every job is different. And every candidate is different as well. Yet, this question could be the litmus test for your business and the position. Someone who has never cooked inside a cramped food truck kitchen before may have some trouble acclimating to a hectic environment. However, you may find that you or another employee can train them during the slower times of the day. One other question you may want to ask yourself is if the candidate will have the ability to “catch up.” In this case, a trial period may not be a bad idea.


The barrage of questions is bidirectional in the hiring process. In order to spare your mobile food business of a costly mistake, the important questions must be asked and answered – and applied – by you.

Look at the applicant’s range of skills and qualities that aren’t found on paper. From the basic to the tough questions, the subsequent answers can be used to gain an understanding of what an applicant can bring. However, there is always a practical and important question with regard to training.

Learn to ask yourself and the candidate the right questions. It could save you a great deal of pain in the end. Remember: Your employees ultimately reflect on you and your food truck.

tip of the dayTraining a staff member who doesn’t want to be trained is frustrating at best and futile at worst. Don’t invest the time in someone who simply can’t be trained. Look for these three signs that someone is not trainable:

  • They have no problem. If they don’t want to change, he won’t be able to. Don’t waste your time trying to force him to see the error of his ways.
  • They’re in the wrong job. Ask them, “If the truck shut down today, would you be relieved, surprised, or sad?” If they say “relieved,” help them to figure out what’s next. There is no use in training someone who is truly unhappy about his job.
  • Everyone else is the problem. It’s impossible to help train someone who feels they don’t need the training. Move on — find someone who is ready to admit their problematic behaviors and accept your help.

Your service window staff members have more interaction with your food truck customers than anyone else. If they are well-trained, helpful, and friendly, this can be a good thing. But on the other hand, it can also be a very bad thing.

food truck from sales window

Of course you want these individuals to help your mobile food business, not harm it, so make sure they avoid doing the following things:

Make guests feel unwelcome

Every guest at your food truck should feel welcome. That means greeting each guest as they arrive (either in line or at the window) and being friendly at all times. Service window staff represents the food truck, so they have to be sure they’re courteous at all times.

Be too casual

The flip side of not being friendly enough is being a bit too friendly. Service window staff should never touch customers or interrupt a conversation. And no matter how casual the atmosphere around your truck is, they must always be professional—never touch the rims of cups or the ends of utensils, always write down orders, and remember that the customers aren’t personal friends. They deserve to be treated with respect.

Hide things

Service window staff shouldn’t lie to customers, deceive them, or be anything other than honest. Is there a delay? Tell the customers as soon as possible. Will there be an automatic gratuity added for large parties (if this is policy)? Let guests know, so they’re not unpleasantly surprised. Is there an upcharge for subbing out a side dish? Make sure to mention it. And always let guests know the price of specials and whether the truck is out of something before they order.

Argue with customers

This might seem like a given, but it’s important. The quote, “The customer is always right” is a cliché for a reason! When a customer complains, service window employees should do their best to listen and help. They should fix the problem when possible, or refer the customer to you or the truck manager if there’s nothing they can do. They should never, ever fight with customers or dispute their complaints, even if they’re wrong.

Make the customer feel rushed

When customers come to your truck, it’s a treat. What they don’t want is to feel rushed and pushed out of line so the next customer order can be taken. No matter how crazy the line at your service window is or how many people are waiting in line, make sure customers feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible.

Ask if the customer wants change

This is a simple action that can really make your employees look unprofessional. The customer will let a server know if they can keep the change. Asking just seems presumptuous and rude.

The most important thing for a food truck service window server to remember is to always be friendly, courteous, helpful, and professional. By keeping these tips in mind, your staff can avoid big blunders and keep you from losing sales!

first 30 days

When hiring employees on your truck, focus their first 30 days on finding out as much as they can on the organization, the people, and their role.

The First 30 Days: The Employer Perspective

A food truck employees training can start before they even step foot on the truck. Once informed that they have gotten the job, suggest they browse through your website and to talk with people who know your business, such as former employees.

Soon after they begin the job, have them review your training manual and performance expectations. If they are going to be in a management position, have them look through recent reviews for all of their direct reports. They should meet with each of them one-on-one and ask about their view of the team and where it needs to go. While they’re taking in all of this information, be sure they develop hypotheses about what they need to get done and the best way to go about it. And of course, all of this learning will generate additional questions, so tell them to never stop asking them even when they’ve started to take action.

The First 30 Days: The Employee Perspective

So, you’ve just landed a new food truck job, welcome to the industry! Your first 30 days are your time to make a great impression, prove your competency, and make sure the person who hired you agrees they made a good decision to bring you on board.

The best way is to spend your first 30 days on the truck is by learning the business and observing your colleagues before you jump in.

It can be difficult to take this kind of time to learn, especially in the mobile food industry where people get hired and are expected to “hit the ground running” or need to make an impact right away. Take your time to learn the systems and recipes so the boss doesn’t need to make constant corrections.

Do you have a “First 30 Days” action plan in your food truck? We’d love to hear how you handle this important time in a food truck employees development from the experts. You can share your thoughts and ideas with us via email, Twitter or Facebook.

Unfortunately more and more people know what it is like to walk up to a food truck and have a bad experience. You had to wait thirty minutes before placing your order, you had to wait twenty minutes to get your order then you had to ask twice for the bottled water that came with your meal and on top of it all you were treated rudely. Aside from these obvious mistakes and oversights, what can a successful food truck server do to rise above mediocrity and provide a great restaurant experience for the guests?

food truck from sales window

Here are 5 traits to look for in your food truck staff members who can become excellent servers:

Know the menu.  When a customer asks a question, they want a concise and instantaneous answer. To do this, the server needs to do their homework. Have them taste all of the dishes and beverages on the menu and if allergy or other dietary restrictions prevent them from doing this, ask a coworker for information for taking notes. They should always be able to provide menu information when it is requested. Customers expect your staff to know more about the menu than they do, and appreciate a bit of guiding to make the choice for their preferences.

Be perceptive. If your staff is going to be good servers, they must have a knack for reading people. Some groups will appreciate a few jokes and a little chit-chat; others will want them to make be as invisible as possible. Look for body language and listen for verbal cues and cater to each customer’s preferred ordering style.

Be adaptable. In addition to being able to adapt to the different personalities of your food truck customers, your staff will need to adapt to situations as they arise. Although a server cannot control everything that happens in the food truck, a smart server knows that quick thinking makes up for most unforeseen problems. Did the kitchen staff forget to leave out the onions from a guest’s burger? Offer a free drink while they wait for the replacement to arrive.

Keep cool. Sometimes the staff of the food truck kitchen makes mistakes. When this happens, a successful server should be able to keep a calm and collected demeanor throughout the ordeal. The key is to not allow the issue to affect the service. You can’t win them all, but when things go wrong it is essential to not let them grow worse.

Be courteous. Seems obvious, right? But what about if a customer is already upset when they walk up to the service window? The quickest and truest remedy to this is using a few friendly words. For example, on an extremely busy night customers are likely to arrive at the truck overly-hungry, out of patience and looking for fast gratification. Approach the window with a smile and acknowledge their disparagement with a simple, “I’m sorry about the wait” and move on to collecting their orders.

Above all, your food truck customers want to feel that your staff actually cares about their experience at your truck. Keep hospitality in the forefront of your employee’s actions so they help to create an exceptional experience for each and every one of your food truck guests.

A well trained staff is the key to any successful foodservice business model. The food truck’s driver to line cooks, from cashiers to you the owner, every employee needs to understand not only what their job is but how it fits into the bigger picture of your mobile food business.

Employee-Development training

Good training programs take time, significant effort and resources invested in each new food truck employee. At the same time, I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard food truck vendors say that money for employee training is nonexistent, that many of their training tactics just don’t “stick,” and that the best training is “on the job,” anyway.

Explain, Demonstrate, Do and Review

We have looked at what are considered to be the best training models within the foodservice industry and discussed which make the most sense for food truck owners. After a long discussion, we settled on a model we call “Explain, Demonstrate, Do, and Review.” The name itself describes the four key steps we feel are necessary to make training a food truck employee effective.

Explain. This is the first step and the more succinct it is, the better. Simply state the purpose of a particular task, summarize how it is to be performed and emphasize the quality or work you expect. Always ask for questions, and ask the new employee to repeat the key points back to you.

Demonstrate. Show the task to be learned, explain key execution points and emphasize how you will evaluate the work. Think the steps through in advance and always present the task in an organized manner. Remember that a trainee will imitate what you demonstrate.

Do. Ask the trainee to perform the task that you just demonstrated. Be patient, remember this may be the first time the trainee has attempted the task. Provide feedback that doesn’t the trainee, but redirects them as needed to perform the task correctly.

Remember most people learn from their mistakes, and how many times it may have taken you the first time you attempted this task.

Review. The final step in the process is an oral review of the task they just completed. Maintain a positive attitude and provide as much constructive feedback as needed. Ask questions that will reinforce learning. Review areas of concern to ensure that the trainee is clear about the desired outcome and procedure.

While this training method is the culmination of a lot of different training models, please remember that not all training methods can be used by every business or with every individual. This model is just a suggestion to help food truck owners who do not have a training plan in place that has shown to work.


NEW YORK (AP) — Putting the cart before the store was the right recipe for ice cream maker Buck Buchanan.

Back in 2001, Buchanan was a stay-at-home dad using his training as a chef to give cooking lessons to supplement his wife’s income. Boredom set in and he decided to start a gourmet ice cream cart. Later, he added a truck — and drove to concerts and sporting events to sell his cold, tasty treats. In March, he opened his first Lumpy’s Ice Cream shop in downtown Wake Forest, N.C.

“My thought was to build a clientele, build a customer base, so when I actually opened the store, people would flock to it,” Buchanan says. After about five years, “people started hollering and screaming on Facebook: ‘I love your ice cream, but I can’t get it anywhere.'”

Buchanan waited until he was sure he had enough customers to support a store. He found a spot in the city’s downtown, which is being revitalized. The location has a parking lot. That’s great for customers who have to travel to the store from far away.

“The goal is to be the ice cream king of North America,” Buchanan says. But he wants to be sure first that there’ll be even more demand for Lumpy’s chocolate, vanilla and specialty flavors like Jamaican Joy — which includes pineapple and raisins soaked in rum. In addition to the cart, truck and store, Lumpy’s also sells ice cream at parties and special events and to restaurants and stores like Whole Foods.

Lumpy’s is part of a small but growing trend spawned by the proliferation of food trucks and carts in cities and suburbs across the country. Entrepreneurs who thought it would be cool and lucrative to sell gourmet tacos, barbecue, ice cream and other food from trucks are opening stores and restaurants to build on their success. They’re proving that taking an idea and trying it out on a small scale — and in this case, putting on training wheels — is a prudent way to start a company.

The experience of running the cart and truck also taught him a lot about how to run a business, Buchanan says. “We grew what I called smart. … We’d get a new contract and we’d figure out how we’d work the contract. We wouldn’t grow any further until we figured it out. You never want to promise something and not be able to deliver.”

Food trucks and carts have been around for generations. Most are sellers of hot dogs and ice cream bars or are canteens on wheels that bring staple breakfast and lunch items to factories, auto repair shops and other businesses. What’s different about the mobile food vehicles that have cropped up in cities and suburbs the last few years is that these serve trendy fare like Korean barbecue, Jamaican jerk chicken and cupcakes. They travel from one spot to another, often congregating in high-traffic areas like downtowns and state government complexes. Some have websites or Facebook pages so that hungry fans can find out what day and time they’ll show up.

Street food has flourished in the weak economy as people seek inexpensive meals. Some want treats like cupcakes and ice cream that are different from what they’d find in a supermarket.

For entrepreneurs who dream of opening a restaurant, it’s a cheaper and less risky way to get into business. If a cart or truck is at a location where it’s not doing well, it’s easily driven elsewhere. But an owner with a store in a bad location is stuck — usually with a lease. Restaurant failure rates are high — studies generally put it around 30 percent in the first year of operation. The trucks themselves are great advertising for mobile or fixed locations. Trucks in New York called, simply, Pizza Truck, are bright red or a collage of psychedelic colors. Kogi Korean barbecue trucks, which operate in Los Angeles, have big red flames painted on their sides.

Most of this new generation of street food purveyors want to open a restaurant someday, says Jim Ellison, a food court coordinator with the Economic Community Development Institute of Columbus, Ohio, who helps truck operators set up their businesses. “I work with nine trucks and 14 carts, and all would like to have a brick and mortar store.”

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