USA – Food Trucks Driving Innovation in the Restaurant Industry


Food trucks are hot, sexy, and cool. Do you know what else they are? In the USA they are a $1 billion segment of the food service industry that provides jobs to more than 35,000 people. And they haven’t reached their peak: Food trucks are projected to make up 3-4% of total restaurant industry revenue by 2017. This is especially significant considering they first rose to prominence in 2008.

Here’s a look at some of the US trends that are coming together to make food trucks a continuing, viable segment of the food service industry.


1)    Dynamic operations go where the people are

Even people who have never been to the Midwest know winters are cold. Yet even in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, more food trucks are running dynamic, year-round operations. Potter’s Pasties, a truck specializing in English savory pastries, regularly parks their truck on the campus of the University of Minnesota where hungry students and faculty can grab a quick lunch even in December. Vin’s Italian is another food truck from the Twin Cities, which has augmented business by adding delivery. Gastrotruck and Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen make regular stops at local Twin Cities breweries. The Minnesota Food Truck Association has a form on their website that event planners can fill out to request catering services from food trucks. Taking advantage of their mobility, food trucks are going to football games, happy hours, parties, and anywhere else people can be found, no matter the time of year.


2)    Partnerships grow the industry

The story is the food truck trend started back in 2008 when talented chefs found themselves without jobs and/or access to small-business loans. Chefs started delivering high quality, niche, creative, and fusion food using the nimblest medium available. And people loved it. In order to manage the logistics of serving food out of a truck on a small budget, business owners have bolstered their resources through partnerships. Community shared kitchens or incubator kitchens allow food truck and other small food business owners to operate efficiently and grow. These are certified food-safe spaces where caterers, food truck owners, and others have access to equipment, share bulk orders, and prepare food. They’re the equivalent of co-working spaces for food services. Food trucks are also combining forces organizing food truck fairs in under-utilized parking lots that become destinations for diners. The partnership between bars and food trucks has also flourished. Profit gained from regular food truck service next to a bar can even pave the way to brick-and-mortar restaurants.


3)    Policy opening up city streets to food trucks

Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S., and according to many studies they are decidedly urban. As cities compete to attract creative class talent, policy is shifting to accommodate the bikes, transit and mixed-use housing this generation prefers. Food trucks are a part of this urban renaissance. In Los Angeles – home of the food truck revolution – anti-competitive and protectionist laws have not been allowed or have been overturned. This conflict is similar to the one between traditional taxi cabs and services such as Uber and Lyft. In the case of food trucks, some brick-and-mortar restaurants worry about unforeseen competition parked out front. Chicago is a city where the food truck policy is generally considered unfriendly but some food truck businesses are beginning to fight back. In 2011, Minneapolis began to allow food trucks to park at metered spots on designated streets. The industry is developing its own lobby at national and regional levels. Bolstering the case for food trucks is a 2014 study by the Institute for Justice that examined 260,000 food-safety inspection reports and found that food trucks incur fewer health code violations than traditional restaurants. Shifting policy will shape the success or failure of this new industry segment in cities across the nation.


4)    Crowdfunding to generate start-up

Finding a traditional loan to fund start-up for a food truck business is not easy, but just like others with small funds and big dreams, these entrepreneurs are finding help through Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other crowdfunding sites. Now there is even a platform specifically for the food service industry. Foodstart allows contributions in the amount of $50 to $250. Once funding is secured and food truck businesses are off and running, those who are successful are finding it easier to secure traditional bank loans that are needed to start a brick-and-mortar restaurant because they have the data to back up their operation.


5) Growing up but not abandoning the truck

As more and more successful food trucks grow up to become brick-and-mortar restaurants, it is becoming clear that these little trucks are a new (and lower-risk) path to restaurant ownership for chefs without a lot of start-up cash. But even when a food business finds a permanent home it doesn’t mean the truck is abandoned. The original trucks are more than just advertising vehicles. Some restaurateurs continue food truck operation to complement the brick-and-mortar restaurant.


Smart phones and social media have been integral to the success of food trucks because these tools allow customers to find trucks. Food truck operators ready to grow their business are in a perfect position to use this connection and take their customer engagement to the next level through customer surveys.

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