13 Secrets Food Truck Employees Aren’t Telling You
Food trucks have come a long way since they started out, with many now hawking gourmet cuisine from their mobile confines and attracting long lines of foodies eager to get their hands on the highly coveted delicacies. But every restaurant on wheels has some secrets, and these food truck facts just might surprise you.
Safety standards are inconsistent
Considering how popular food trucks have become, you might expect them to be as regulated as an equally loved restaurant, but depending on the state, that’s not necessarily the case. According to Stop Food Borne Illness, safety standards can vary widely from state to state and even within a state. “Food-safety advocates would like to see national standards for how food is handled and stored on trucks.” Check out the strangest food laws in every state.
They’re not making a fortune
Outsiders might see the lengthy food truck lines as a potential business gold mine, but just as with restaurants, the profit margin is narrow. It’s also important to consider the start-up expenses of a mobile business. There’s the cost of purchasing a food truck and a point-of-sale system for transactions, website design and marketing costs, legal or consulting fees to help owners learn the ins and outs of local ordinances, and the costs of producing the product. A popular item doesn’t always equal huge profits, especially right away. According to Forbes, it can cost upward of $125,000 to kick off a food truck business. Find out 9 gross things restaurants do to save money.
Food trucks come with unique risks
When you’re a restaurant constantly on the move, there are safety checks that have to happen each and every time before you start the engine. After all, we’re dealing with traveling propane here. In 2014 a Philadelphia woman and her daughter died from injuries sustained in a food truck explosion. Investigators determined that a propane vapor leaked from one tank and filled the truck, resulting in a flame from the grill that sparked the explosion.
Inspectors do keep a close eye on them
While health and safety regulations may vary, food truck operators are quick to say that their businesses are under scrutiny far more than restaurants, inevitably making them cleaner. “The food trucks here are inspected three times as much as brick-and-mortar restaurants and need to pass more regulations despite having less food, less employees, and being in a much smaller place,” said Lawrence Fama, a former food truck operator in Los Angeles, in an interview.
Black-market permits exist
It might seem as if there’s a food truck on every corner (and depending on your city, there might be), but Forbes magazine calls out New York City as the toughest place to get in the game. In fact, operators sometimes have to look to the black market to obtain a coveted permit. These permits can cost between $20,000 and $25,000 but last for just two years. Brace yourself before reading these dirty restaurant secrets the kitchen crew won’t tell you.
It’s all about location, location, location
In the food truck business, the saying “location is everything” couldn’t ring more true. In fact, after Washington, D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs caused an uproar when it changed its rules, saying that operators could enter only one truck into a lottery to win a desirable locale for their business, the agency was forced to change the rules back. In April 2018 the Washington Post reported that food truck vendors could go back to entering multiple vehicles in a lottery for prime locations.
They sometimes skirt the rules
In the food truck business, scoring profits sometimes means that operators have to skirt some legalities. “It’s illegal to park your truck anywhere in New York except for a few spots,” says Susan Povich, co-owner of the city’s Red Hook Lobster Truck, in an interview with huffingtonpost.com. Because of this, trucks may have to park illegally because it’s not easy to find parking spaces in commercial areas that aren’t metered. There are also some cities that require trucks to move after a certain amount of time, which is disheartening if you have a long line of folks waiting to order. Find out the 57 secrets your restaurant server isn’t telling you.
Substitutions are next to impossible
In a regular brick-and-mortar restaurant, it isn’t uncommon for customers to request a substitution when ordering. Food trucks are a different story. The Daily Meal points out that because their spaces are so confined and the kitchens small, the only ingredients available are typically the ones listed on the menu. Essentially, if you’re a picky eater, stick with something basic on the menu—or hang out at regular dining venues.
Food trucks actually bolster restaurant business
Food trucks and restaurants have often been pitted against each other, the idea being that the popularity of the food truck takes business away from established, fixed restaurants. The Institute for Justice says that’s not the case. “Historical evidence suggests that banning food trucks from an area in which they currently operate will harm nearby restaurants by decreasing the number of potential customers,” according to a report from the organization. “For example, when street vendors were banned from New York City’s Lower East Side and Chicago’s Maxwell Street Market, brick-and-mortar businesses complained that they suffered lower revenues as a result.” Read up on 15 things you should never eat in a restaurant.
Cash is king
With so many ways to pay without bills and coins these days, we often find ourselves without the green stuff in our wallets. But food truck operators and their employees really wish you’d step up to the window with cold, hard cash. The Daily Meal says the line will move more quickly when customers pay with cash instead of cards, and these burgeoning businesses really appreciate cash tips.
You should put the phone down
Food truck operators have a few bones to pick with some customers, like the ones who aren’t paying attention while they order. In one Yahoo Travel story, an anonymous operator wanted to spread the word about not multitasking while you order. “An order of our nachos has five ingredients,” he said. “One customer ordered them as she was talking away on the phone. I know how this goes, so I asked three times if she was sure. When she got them, she said, ‘Oh. I only wanted nachos and cheese.’ Sorry, that’s not what you asked for. Then she got upset and tried to file a complaint. Good luck because I’m my own boss.” Learn about 9 restaurants you didn’t know have secret menu items.
Menus are pared down for a reason
This isn’t the Cheesecake Factory, y’all. Food trucks typically specialize in a few beloved menu items that are posted with pride on the side of their vehicle. The reason is that there’s only so much space inside the truck to store ingredients, so a mini menu is a must. Chances are, though, if it’s on the carefully curated menu, it’s a crowd favorite and scrumptious. Check out these gourmet-food trucks that are worth following.
Patience is a virtue
You wouldn’t go to a restaurant and expect to be seated before the time on the door says it opens. Food trucks are the same way. They’re not open till they’re really and truly open. Still, customers get anxious. “When my truck is open, you’ll know,” an operator told the New York Post. “Nothing’s worse than when I’ve just pulled up and customers are banging at the back, asking if I’m open. It’s like there’s a commonsense deficit.” Now read about these 33 things your fast-food worker won’t tell you.