Food trucks: More than just a trend

Food trucks: More than just a trend

By Andy Cook, contributing editor

Have you heard about food trucks as the latest trend in food service? Is it a trend? Is it really new? What about urban street vendors that sell hot dogs, pretzels, kabobs and countless other foods? Imagine community festivals where part and parcel, along with the rides and games, are rows and rows of food vendors operating out of… food trucks.

Thinking of food trucks as the latest trend in food service is rather shortsighted. While there are similarities, there are also undeniable differences between the tableau of today’s mobile culinary vendors and the aforementioned street vendors and festival food fare.

Take a walk around any reasonably populous city these days and you’ll be sure to notice colorfully designed, brand-wrapped mobile eateries parked and crowded by a hungry clientele waiting curbside to scratch a culinary itch.

What we’re experiencing isn’t a trend, it’s a phenomenon. Whatever your palate’s pleasure; there’s likely a food truck nearby that specializes in it.

An industry microcosm of place and time

Place: The great American melting pot in action; just like their brick and mortar siblings, line up all the food trucks in Washington state, and you’ll find representatives of the world’s ethnic cuisine represented with pride and authenticity. Are you in the mood for cuisine from a particular region of Latin America? Korean BBQ? Sushi? Kabobs? Check, check and check. There’s a food truck for whatever your palate desires.

Time: The age in which we live is really what’s at the tip of the needle concerning the food truck phenomenon. Today’s food trucks started to get traction in the early 2000s, as did the food network. The resulting rise of the foodie movement has invited a swath of adventurous Americans to break away from the staple foods to which they were accustomed and try new and exciting ingredients, preparations and varying ethnic dishes, providing a boon to the restaurant industry. As our industry adapted to a more adventurous clientele, food trucks have picked up on the hyper specialty niche that most full-blown restaurants can ill afford to pursue.

With the explosion of social media, in recent years, many restaurateurs have integrated with the technology to great benefit, with food trucks operators shifting into top gear. The two are a perfect fit. Many food truck operators are Twitter celebrities, often creating a craving simply by posting their current location.

Don’t believe it? Type #foodtruck into Twitter.  I dare you.

Brick-and-mortar restaurants: Where do they fit in?

Many metropolitan cities have gotten ahead of the issue and set up lottery systems and/or time and place zoning to foster an optimal economic ecosystem for all concerned. But for many geographical regions these have yet to coalesce into a standard system. Many local policymakers are slow to catch on to the phenomenon causing such understandable friction among brick-and-mortar establishments and their mobile counterparts. Regulatory differences between the two models of foodservice are surprisingly vast, especially with regard to alcohol service and health department mandates.

To some restaurateurs, the food truck represents opportunity. A mobile extension of their business is being pursued for a score of valid reasons:

As an avenue of expansion,

A branding opportunity by participating in local festivals,

A showcase of specialty preparations,

An inexpensive and efficient model for catering opportunities, and

A way to extend business hours and location (setting up near nightclubs or bars for the after-hours income without the expense of staying open late hoping to tap that demographic).

If this were, indeed, a trend, much of what you’ve just read would be worthy of ignoring. Trends come and go. Phenomena resonate.

(Source: Washington Restaurant Magazine, August 2015)