Thursday, September 27, 2012

Food Truck Piracy

Food trucks have become the evolutionary ladder from the traditional sidewalk food cart. I mean, who doesn't love a good outdoor meal? I love these mobile hot spots that serve food from pizza and burgers as well as culinary creations of unique sandwiches, fresh seafood and delectable desserts. All of my favorite food trucks excel in providing a hearty, home cooked meal at a fair price and with wonderful service. The quality found at many of these eateries is as such that I often times find myself enjoying a meal from a food truck at least 2-3 times each week. However, in the last few years of covering the food truck scene in South Florida, I've noticed some uncomfortable trends. With the widespread growth of these trucks and carts around the area, a battle for territory and spots at local events has become a matter of, “who do you know?”

Despite all of this, food trucks have become very popular for those who enjoy killer recipes and for those seeking a new business. However, for some this food truck scene is short-lived. It isn't easy, and if you think it is you’re already setting yourself up for disappointment. As with any small business, be prepared to devote all of your time to your new endeavor. Be ready to start your day early in the morning prepping food, work throughout afternoon, and most likely late nights. And keep in mind, this is not your typical weekday job, it is essential you work on the weekends to succeed in this business. Licensing and permits are always required, not to mention dealing with South Florida's bipolar weather, promoters and the competition. It is important to understand that just because others have been successful in the food truck business doesn't mean everyone will be. As someone who is very familiar with this niche industry, it is disheartening to attend one of these food truck gatherings only to recognize roughly 2 out of the 12 trucks in the line-up. Those short-lived trucks with mediocre food are only hindering the growth of this otherwise great concept. As a veteran of these events it is slightly different for me as I always know what’s good and before going to any gathering I make sure to research the line-up so I know what to expect. But for a family of 4 that is new to the scene, spends their time to park and stand in some of the outrageous lines, and then pays $40-$50 at the event for food from a subpar truck, the experience can be one that does not necessarily encourage a return visit.

Promoters and other food truck owners don’t make it any easier when trying to break into the business. I have seen countless horrifying scenarios: food trucks being asked to leave an event because their truck wasn't “big” or “nice” enough, hidden agendas resulting in getting a bad location at a gathering, even food truck owners calling the police on other owners! I would like to believe that being in the same industry as others, people would have the decency to practice fair business and treat others with respect. In many cases this is far from the truth. If you’re a promoter you should work for the food trucks, not the other way around. I find it ridiculous that truck owners are forced to pay a truck fee which can range anywhere from $80-$150 before an event. What if the crowd is weak or the weather turns nasty before or during the scheduled start time? Why should this loss be passed directly to the restaurateurs rather than shared between them and the venue owner? Additionally, there are road blocks in place that keep owners from obtaining any knowledge as to the mixture of culinary diversity at these events. For example, if I own a taco truck, I would want to be sure I am not frequenting events with an abundance of other taco trucks or similar food influences in order to increase my probability of greater revenues. Food truck owners should have the right to know what other trucks will be booked at a specific event and be allowed to decline those events without repercussions. Often times, situations arising from circumstances such as these can have dire consequences for the owners of some of these trucks and that plays a huge role in their success. As one food truck owner told me, “I don’t think you’ll see me at any other big events - you see, I've been black listed” Another said, “It’s sad that the fun and joy of our dream and the money from our pockets have been sucked away”.

Owning a food truck takes a lot of hard work and dedication and it is a great way to expand an existing restaurant or break into the food industry. Variety is always good but on the flip side, too much of something can be a bad thing. As a customer I look for 3 simple things: the menu, customer service and the quality of the food. If any of these are off, trust me I will not be coming back. Also showing a little bit of professionalism couldn't hurt. Just because you’re in good with some promoter or have plenty of followers on any social media outlet doesn't necessarily mean your food is worth eating. Remember that.

15 comments:

  1. Good post! But I would suggest, don't own a taco truck or a latin food truck, Period! It is a shame that the wave of poor quality trucks are drowning out the trucks that are striving to do something different. Take Gypsy Kitchen for example, I know of no other South Florida food truck attempting to do Indian fusion/chef driven cuisine, yet they recently had to shut down. It's survival of the fittest in the food truck scene, it'll be interesting to see who is left standing within 2 years.

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  2. Ty, Gypsy Kitchen is awesome. RICE BOWLS!

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  3. To paraphrase the great Hunter S. Thompson:

    "The Food Truck business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the food industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason."

    The 4th word is key: BUSINESS. There are too many trucks out there now. The market has become over-saturated with them. It seems like every day there is a new one popping up. Remember when it was just a few trucks? They didn't need promoters. They didn't have truck round ups. They found a place to park and let their food do the talking. They used social media to get the word out, then if they were good enough, people came back. Word of mouth brought new customers. People would drive 1/2 an hour or more to try something new. It was hip, different, and fun.

    But then more trucks opened up. Then "promoters" saw the chance to make some money. Then local trucks builders made promises. It grew and grew and grew. Now where are we?

    Promoters won't work with certain trucks, and vice versa. Trucks calling the police because of where certain trucks park. (Remember, these same trucks parked in these places before they became "big" so who the fuck are they to make those calls except scared)

    It's a tough decision: Pay the high fees to a promoter to get into an event with no guarantee you'll make money? Go it on your own, trying to find local businesses that will let you park on their property, again with no guarantee you'll make a dime? Try to find a happy medium?

    In the end, it comes down to one thing: SELL ME SOME DAMN GOOD FOOD!!!! If your food is great, people will come. You'll make money to justify that huge fee you paid to that promoter. Yes, a pretty truck is nice. But i'll take an ugly truck that blows my mind with flavor and taste over mediocre food with a truck painted pretty colors.

    All this whining about trucks helping trucks has gotten so old. Do lawyers help other lawyers? (Bad example, they are all evil fucks) Do flower shops help other flower shops? Does UPS say to a customer "Hey, go check out Fed-ex for some great deals on boxes" No.

    Rant off. I'm going to get lunch now. Anyone know where the trucks are?

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  4. You took the words out f my mouth annonymous !

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  5. Who are the "Haters"? Article writer? Truck owners? People commenting on here? If you are gonna continue to add such incredible insight to this, please be more specific.

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  6. Everyone on this page has their facts wrong... insulting!

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  7. what are the facts? enlighten everyone please.

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  8. I love this piece! Great insight in the most transparent way possible. I have def. come across a lot of people that feel the same way you do. Can't wait for the next post! :)

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  9. Thank you everyone for your positive feedback and support. And for not being anonymous.

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  10. “...food trucks have become very popular for those who enjoy killer recipes and for those seeking a new business.”—And aside from that, you're also free to add some twists that can attract more customers.

    Clint @FranchiseMatch.com

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  11. It's a nice information about the Food Truck Piracy .You really did a great job by posting it.Thanks

    Food Cart Builders

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  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

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