The rise in the popularity of food trucks has been nothing short of astronomical. Bolstered by a variety of reality TV shows featuring these mobile restaurants, the industry has grown dramatically in recent years. Food truck owners are proving that the business model can be profitable, and as a result, the field of competition is becoming ever more crowded.
Among those many competitors grasping at any potential advantage over others, are some who might not belong in the business. They underestimate the commitment required to operate a food truck successfully, and as such, they aren’t willing (or able) to do what it takes to keep the truck at its highest quality level.
This is certainly reflected in the food they serve, the people who serve it and the way in which they serve it; it’s also very easy to see in the way the truck itself is maintained. Because there’s no dining room to mop or front sidewalk to sweep, the less-informed food truck operator can easily fall into the trap of thinking that there is very little maintenance with a food truck.
The fact is that food trucks not only involve much of the same equipment and maintenance as a brick-and-mortar restaurant such as a ventilation system, they also have additional special considerations like power and water. Let’s compare these two situations in general so that you can have a better understanding of what’s involved in a food truck, should that entrepreneurial opportunity ever come to you.
How Food Trucks Are Just Like Restaurants
The earliest food trucks often featured little more than simple sandwiches and other heated-up items, with little actual cooking going on. Food trucks are becoming ever more sophisticated, and now include many of the same appliances as a building restaurant.
Cooking is the most obvious example. If a food truck has a grill or flat-top of some type, it will have a hood vent that will require new hood filters on a regular schedule. There will also be grease to contain and haul of, as well as cookware to clean in a washing station. These food trucks also need a ventilation system just like a traditional restaurant, but the trucks require a special exhaust fan so it’s described in the section below.
Sanitation is critical. Health inspectors are very aware of the higher risks in food trucks due to limited water supplies, frequent opening of windows, and potential power failures. Food trucks need to ensure adequate capabilities to wash hands and utensils. They should be able to supply plenty of power for refrigeration and have some form of backup plan in place for a generator shutdown. Hot and cool food storage always needs careful monitoring for temperature. Hence there are compressors to service, refrigerant to add, valves and thermostats to repair, and all the other things that a stationary restaurant must do, too.
Now let’s look at some of the things that only occur in the food truck setting.
Unique Considerations For Food Trucks
As we noted earlier, refrigeration is of utmost importance in any restaurant setting. In a food truck, the matter is complicated by the environment. Food trucks are smaller than most stationary kitchens, with lower ceilings and less insulation. As a result, they will struggle to maintain cold temperatures on perishable items.
Again, another consideration that’s just slightly different is compared to the brick & mortar restaurant’s ventilation system. The food truck exhaust fans need to be specially designed for the space and capable to operate under more extreme conditions. They also need to be installed in a specific location. Truck owners want the fragrant aroma of their food to fill the neighborhood, but certainly not blast customers in the face.
Garbage can be a real problem for food trucks. Packaging of foods, garbage from customers, and cleaning up waste will fill a lot of bags very quickly. Food truck operators should have a plan for managing their waste in a way that health inspectors and city officials will like.
Generators can make or break a food truck. In certain cities, there may be shorelines available that allow the trucks to access AC power without operating their own power source, but in most locations, a generator will be required. These will need their own engine upkeep plan, and for safety’s sake, the vehicle must be parked in a location where the exhaust will not cause carbon monoxide poisoning for workers or customers.
Speaking of engines, the truck itself must be in tip-top running order. Many of these vehicles have been bought used to save money, but they often have high odometer readings due to years of commercial or government use. The vehicle must be able to start and run reliably and safely. The ability to drive the food truck to its sale site is much like unlocking a restaurant’s front doors: If it doesn’t happen, there will be no sales.
Food trucks can help a restaurateur escape many expenses, such as real estate costs, grounds upkeep, and so forth. But these businesses should be perceived with the same high standards for functionality and safety as brick-and-mortar restaurants. Anything less could quickly spell the end of its operation.