Providing a comp or free meal is the act of providing a customer a food or beverage item for free. This is a common practice of food truck and restaurant owners. The key is understanding that offering free meals should only be used in certain situations.

By comping your food or beverages, you are training your customers to expect it. Then when you don’t, they’re disappointed for not getting something they wouldn’t have gotten at another food truck anyways.

Why Your Food Truck Shouldn’t Provide A Free Meal

A customer that simply orders something they end up not liking, not because it was bad, but because it doesn’t suit their taste, is never someone who should be given a comp meal in our opinion. Along with other complaints from customers who eat most or all their meal, or do not have enough of an appetite to let you make them something else, you should be offering these people some sort of bounce back offer instead of a comp.

Your first approach should always be to try and replace the food with something they do like. Even if you have to make a dish twice, as long as you collect the money for it, you still have some gross profit left to contribute. When you give a free meal, not only don’t you get the money, but you also incurre the expense of preparing the food. The difference between collecting a reduced gross profit, and actually paying your customer to eat from your truck is huge.

If you can’t replace the food, and the customer’s complaint is reasonable, offer them a coupon or gift certificate and promise to make their next visit better. By giving away free meals, you can’t guarantee that the customer will even come back. When you give them a discount for their next visit instead of a free meal, there’s a very good chance they will return, and they likely won’t be alone. You’ll have the opportunity to make a better impression and win a regular customer for your food truck.

Free Meals Can Mess Up The Books

The final issue with giving away free meals is that it is often one of the most common errors in the financial statements of food trucks is the incorrect recording of food and beverage comps.  And if you have a lot of comps, your income statement will be greatly distorted if they are not handled correctly.

The biggest impact is in the calculation of cost of sales. When calculating cost of sales, it’s essential that you only include the cost of products that contribute to revenue… not amounts for which no payment is expected or that do not represent sales to guests. In other words, sales and cost of sales must not include the retail value or cost of comp meals.

When Not To Provide A Free Meal

  • Expectations for the food truck were set extremely high by friends (“Best meal ever!”).
  • The customer goes during a busy shift and complains about crowds.
  • The diner goes on to complain about how a dish was over/under seasoned.
  • Instead of telling the staff immediately, then proceed to eat the entire meal because they were hungry.
  • Diner tries to get the meal comped. Sometimes the manager does this grudgingly; sometimes they offer a dessert or drink.
  • Customer claims this as their “worst meal ever.”

RELATED: Increase Your Revenue With Food Truck Kids’ Meals

The Bottom Line

We’re not doubting the diner had a bad time. I think everyone has had meals that didn’t meet expectations. But we wonder how much of this is the fault of the food truck and how much is because of unreasonable expectations perpetuated by others?

When do you give free meals? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Share them via email or on social media. Facebook | Twitter