Gone are the days of a food truck being thought of as a “Roach Coach” the mobile restaurant movement has transformed the once rolling greasy spoons into the places to go to get unique dishes that are high end restaurant fare prepared by Chef quality cooks that foodies can’t get enough of.
If you are in the process of researching and planning your food truck endeavor keep in mind great food is only a part of having a successful business. You need to plan for a customer-centric food truck business.
Being customer-centric is an approach to doing business that focuses on creating a positive experience for the customer by maximizing not only your food offerings but your service. It creates an environment that helps you and your team build and maintain customer relationships, and that equates to a more successful business because of customer retention.
We have put together this list of 10 Things You Need To Know so you can think through what it takes to not only start a food truck but to do so with your future customers in mind. As you will see from some of the Things listed it’s a lot of hard work, but the better relationships you have with your customers the more rewarding it is.
Even though some of the things listed in this article are not usually associated with customers, we point out how everything you do is with the customer in mind.
1: Making Sure You Are Licensed
Going through all the necessary licensing, certification and permitting processes are a pain in the butt, but we have to do it because all areas have their own specific set of requirements. It’s up to us to do a thorough job of making sure we understand and get everything we need to be legal.
The differences out number the similarities when it comes to these rules and regulations in different areas of the country but the one thing that is consistent is much of the requirements are in place to protect the health and wellbeing of your future customer. I know that it could be said that these requirements drive up the costs involved with starting a food truck, but if requirements like this weren’t in place there would be food trucks out there that would take advantage of the situation and the customer would be the on who paid the price.
2: Buy A Food Truck
For a well made, efficient, easy to maintain, and customer-centric food truck you will probably want to budget between $100,000 and $150,000.
Some might ask, “Why budget so much?” It’s our experience when people try to cut corners with their truck a few things can happen. Quite often the truck itself is old and possibly unreliable, when you launch your business and start to build a customer-base nothing sets you back like being unable to serve them because your truck is in the shop.
Another instance is if you settle for a truck because it is “ready to go” you need to ask yourself “is it really?” Just because it is outfitted with appliances, are they ones you are going to need to efficiently serve your customers the best quality product? Many new food truck owners have made trucks work, but it’s not long before they realize that the inefficiency is gobbling up their bottom line. They are profitable because they cannot keep up with the production needed.
The equipment that came with the truck, is it what you need or will you be replacing it? If it is what you need, how long will it last? Does it have a warranty when it breaks down? And if you do have to replace it how much more does that add to the “bargain truck” you thought you were getting?
When you get the truck part right, you might have had to pay more upfront but it is going to allow you to have more efficient appliances with warrantees, have a more efficient kitchen layout so you can improve production and reduce rush stress for your team. When these things are planned for and accomplished ahead of time it all translates to a better experience for your customers.
3: Define Your Concept
What’s your specialty that will add joy to the foodie world? Is it decadent deserts? A Keto kitchen? BBQ to die for? Wood fired pizza?
You know what you are good at, check to see if you have competition in your area for that dish. Ask yourself, “How do I want to be different?”, or “How do I want my customers to remember and know us?” Your concept is made up of your menu, and your personality, and represented by the overall message and branding.
We have other articles on the site that go into branding a little deeper, the main point here is to put some thought into your concept that will add to the customer experience. Try to create a theme or attitude when combining all the different parts of your concept.
4: Having A Business Plan
A Food Truck is a business and therefore needs a business plan. I know I’ll many of us cringe at the thought of having to create a business plan.
It helps to have your business plan complete and in place before you move into the financing faze.
You might be wondering how is this customer-centric? We’ve already covered many of the reasons, everything you plan is around the experience of your customer. So it only makes sense that things like permits, cleaning equipment, ingredients, and other customer-centric costs would be in your business plan.
5: Get Funded
Your business plan will help you understand what you will need to spend, which will allow you to complete a finance plan. Everyone is different when it comes to finances and the options are many, of course they depend on your financial standing as well as a good business plan. Some of those options are traditional bank or credit union loans, there’s peer-to-peer networks like Lending Club and Prosper, there’s friends and family, and many take on partners who provide the financial backing.
6: Insure Yourself
Even though insurance for your protection, insurance is also customer-centric. Policies are purchased and put in place, in case an accident happens and harm is done.
Insurance is very important and very much there for the customer.
7: Where Are You Going To Park?
Remember your food truck is very large and parking could be a challenge. Whether that’s figuring out overnight parking or maneuvering into an area to do business you have a few things to think about.
For the overnight parking challenge you will need to make sure you are not breaking any rules with your choice. Some places it’s not allowed, like your driveway if you live in a neighborhood with a home owners association.
Some areas specifically regulate food truck to be parked overnight in approved facilities with electrical and refrigeration.
Abiding by the rules doesn’t call attention to your business in a negative way. A big customer trust killer is a food truck that gains notoriety by breaking these types of rules.
Now For The Maneuverability challenge, careful planning and impeccable timing can give you the edge you need to safely park in a challenging area. Once again paying close attention to the safety of your customers, future customers and the people around you.
8: Plugging in to the community
It’s not all about living through a lunch rush, it’s about the relationships you create in the process.
As you build those relationships you also build trust. That trust can open the door to a lot of new opportunities like catering special events and corporate promotions. Which lead to more people who now have you on their radar.
This customer-centric way of looking at networking leads to great things in the future.
9: Social Success
We all know how important it is to use Social media channels to reach your food truck fans and we have many articles on this site that take you through how to use Social Media to promote your food truck. That’s not what we want to mention here.
The point I want to make here is much like getting plugged into your community and creating a valuable customer network, you can use social media to create you own community.
You aren’t creating a lifeless customer email or follower list, you are creating a destination of living and breathing fans that would love to be a part of your world. It’s up to you and you customer-centric approach to create that place, that online community.
Once have built that community of fans find out what else they want and sell it them. Do they want to purchase your food in more places? If so what’s the answer? Duplicating your efforts by buying another truck for a neighboring area? Or selling your signature dish at local grocery stores and brick and mortar restaurants? Or is it opening your own restaurant?
The bigger and more involved your community is the bigger and better your options and opportunities become.
I am always amazed to see how creative food truck entrepreneurs can get. We’re so furry are to be able to get incredible food, with the ease of a walk up service.
I am also stunned by how some of the best tasting food is also served by some me of the most non-customer-centric trucks. I just think about how much money they are leaving on the table by not planning and thinking about their customers in everything you do.
I hope this article helps give you a couple ideas to make your food truck business better, and we are always here for all of your custom food truck needs.