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Five tips for new food truck operators

It is with a heavy heart we announce the decision to pull the food truck off the streets of NYC this year .The good news is that we are still going to be at markets, events , cafeterias & offer take out/delivery orders from our pop up shop in Murray Hill.
There is much commonality in the restaurant business and the food truck business. With 10 years as restaurateurs we were ready for the long hours, the hard work, the capricious weather, the need for super quick service and of course offering fresh innovative food at the right price but there are some learnings that are unique to the food truck business. If you are thinking of getting into the food truck business here are our top five.
  1. It is not cheap – Yes, a food truck is certainly less expensive than opening a restaurant but it’s certainly not cheap. You need $100,000-$150,000  to buy or lease a truck, fit it out to yours and DOH specifications, wrap it in your branding, obtain a permit ( it’s no secret the grey market prices are rising with the growing popularity of food trucks) and then have some cash for working capital. The operating costs are also steep especially maintenance , commissary parking fees and the inevitable multiple parking tickets each month. So before you get into it  have a business plan & a budget and never be remiss to create monthly profit and loss statements.
  2.  Early bird gets the worm – In the New York City food truck business a few minutes in the morning could be the difference between profit and loss. Between the parking restrictions, the limited number of office buildings that would allow a food truck to park in front of them and the spots taken by the delivery trucks there are not many lucrative blocks left for a food truck to park. If you don’t edge into a spot as early as 8am you are likely to be driving around in circles in the legendary NYC traffic and miss the lunch service. There are trucks that find creative solutions such as hiring a night driver to  park and sleep in the truck till the morning crew gets there or parking a car overnight in their chosen spot but for most it’s about setting the alarm clock for the crack of dawn and never hitting the snooze button!
  3.  Menu planning is everything – Leave aside the ‘white & hot” street food, most modern-day food trucks are run by skilled chefs/ operators offering gourmet cuisine . The trucks make great incubators for ideas but  there are significant limitations to keep in mind while developing the menu. Unless you are operating out of a state of the art commissary, most of the food prep happens on the truck and the refrigeration on the truck is limited. You should plan no more than 6-8 menu items and use as many crossover ingredients as possible without being a one note flavor. Standing space is limited too so you have to think of how many crew members will your menu take to push through the lunch orders and how quickly. Last but not the least how easily does the menu transition from a lunch to dinner menu and can you continue service without returning to the commissary to restock.
  4. The dream team takes a lot more than dreaming of it– NYC requires each crew member on the truck to possess a mobile vending license unlike a restaurant where only one employee at each shift is needed to be food protection certificate holder. The demand for licensed employees far exceeds the number of individuals who possess it and licensing a new employee can take up to 6-8 weeks . So most times you will choose a less qualified employee and train them on the job just because they possess the license. And since it’s a truck, at least one member must possess a driving license and a clean driving record or your insurance shoots through the roof. Add to it the daily rigors of working in a cramped space outdoors in extreme heat or cold loading and unloading heavy boxes twice a day at least; you are not going to find CIA graduates lining up for the job! Choose wisely, train well and hold on to those that enjoy the job.
  5. Can you fight for your rights?– This is the unsavory side of the business. The stiff competition for business on the streets brings out the “mean girls” in vendors mostly over parking in sought after blocks.  When we were out last summer , a very famous yogurt  truck chain was notorious among truckers for bullying them out of spots by hiring goons to block customers from getting to the other trucks window. Then there is the turf war battle with the street carts that park on the sidewalk as well as the restaurants in the neighborhood. Before you hit the road, do your research . Drive around and see where there is an opportunity for you and avoid over crowded blocks. Study the parking pattern of competitors and avoid being on the same block as them on the same day of the week. Common sense will tell you that it cannot be good for business if two trucks parked next to each other offer similar type of food. Form good relationships with other trucks and support each other. But if you are faced with a bully truck then know how to stand ground or else this business is not for you!