Wouldn’t it be great if there was a straightforward set of rules to follow to make sure a food truck is a success—if you could check all the boxes, and know you’d be golden? Sadly, there will never be a one-size-fits-all answer.
But there are a lot of practices that most successful food trucks have in common! We can learn from the most popular and profitable food trucks, and where they set their priorities.
You can’t do it without them, so make sure you put in enough time and energy when it comes to your workers.
Find: Hire the best people. You wouldn’t settle for “good enough” when it comes to your food, right? If your hiring practices are just okay, then think about how to improve them. Where have you experienced the best customer service in food or retail? How do you think they recruit their employees?
Train: Perfect your hiring practices as much as you can, but you’re still not going to find a flawless fresh-out-of-the-box employee. Look for potential, not necessarily perfection. Good training is essential. Your customers will interact with your employees, so make sure that they can provide the best experience possible. If you don’t have pleased customers, soon you simply won’t have customers.
But don’t just tell your employees to provide exemplary service—model it for them. They should learn by observation; not just how to perform the basic tasks, but how to be friendly, welcoming and enthusiastic. Positivity is contagious; it starts with you, and when you pass it on to your workers, they will go on to share it with your customers.
Finally: it’s not just the customers you want to woo. Your employees should like the food they sell. Have everyone who works for you help make, taste, and even give you feedback. Nothing makes for more enthusiasm than sincere appreciation of the food they’re selling, and that enthusiasm will keep customers coming.
Retain: You don’t just want to build enthusiasm—you need to sustain it. Keeping good employees is essential. To do this, you need your employees to know that you care about their experience. And they need you to be on their side. The customer isn’t always right! Customers are necessary for your business, but think before you unfairly prioritize them over an employee. Don’t let someone take advantage of an employee or treat them badly.
Hold them to high standards. You might think that you should make everything as simple and easy as possible for them, but that’s not always the case. People can tell when you don’t think they’re competent, and most people react to that by…being less competent. You can, and should, have high expectations for your employees, as long as you make it clear how they can reach them. Keep things interesting and varied for the people who work for you and make sure they stay engaged. As long as they’re treated well and feel appreciated, people don’t mind being challenged.
Don’t be afraid to say “thank-you.” Compliment excellent work, and coach—don’t just criticize—when something needs improvement.
Don’t forget the other people your business needs
Your suppliers and vendors are indispensable to your business. Everyone wants to lower their costs, but try not to do it at the expense of damaging those very important relationships. If you think an expense is unreasonable, you can ask for an explanation—but don’t get confrontational. They get something from you, and you get something from them, and it’s important to keep things friendly.
Remember the big picture
Don’t get tunnel-vision when it comes to profit. Saving money in the short-term isn’t worth it if it lowers the quality of your food or customer service. Settling for low-quality ingredients shows employees the wrong priorities; adding too much to their workload or lengthening their hours to cut costs is going to chase good people away.
When you run a small business, your bank account is far from the full story. Your customer isn’t just the money they’re willing to pay—think about the money they’re happy to pay.
Remember, you’re not just providing food, and they aren’t just eating. They’re choosing your truck over another option, waiting in line, interacting with you and your employees. They’ll be coming away with an opinion of the whole situation, not only the meal, and telling their friends. Be financially responsible, but never cut costs at the expense of your reputation.
Think about what it would mean to try to please everyone. You would have to sell everything from plain buttered noodles for the super-picky to organic kale smoothies for the super-healthy—and you would spread yourself too thin and all of it would end up being thoroughly mediocre. Don’t try to do everything under the sun. Just do your own thing, and do it well.
You’re going to stand out for making your truck unique, exciting and tasty. You don’t just want customers, you want your customers—the people who like the kind of food you serve and don’t want to get it anywhere else, who will return again and again, and help spread the word.
Keep your spark
Are you happy with your food truck? Hold on to that feeling, and make sure you’re spreading it to your employees and patrons.
Are you discouraged with how things are going? Course correct! Don’t settle for “good enough,” and don’t give up. Switch up how you do things until you get the results you want. Don’t focus on the negative with your employees, but if you’re making changes, it’s great to let them see that you’re experimental, ambitious and happy to try new things.
Central to your food truck, of course, is the food. But we hope you can see why you can’t just count of being an excellent cook to keep your truck successful—you have to be an excellent business owner as well. You’ll have to make decisions every day that will affect the quality of your product, your reputation in the market, and the happiness of your employees and clientele. A good food truck owner can keep all of those factors in harmony.
There is nothing more important than having passion for what you do. Your employees and customers will feel it. Working at or visiting a food truck should be exciting, and that can only really happen when owning one is exciting as well.