Food Truck Golden Rule: Get Practical
So You’ve figured out the cost of your truck, designed a delicious menu and set camp in the perfect location. If you followed the tips and advice of Part 1 of The Beginner’s Guide to Opening a Food Truck Business, then you are on the path to success, and soon you will be serving hundreds of people every day.
As you probably already know, serving through rush-hour is no easy task, and mobile restaurants, especially, run the risk of running dry mid-service. It is hard enough to meet the demand of large crowds, but when you are dealing with limited storage space this becomes even trickier.
Although purchasing a second cart is not the ideal solution, having a separate large truck with ample space is one way to solve storage issues. It is more likely, however, that you will opt for making the most of the trailer you already have. With proper planning and a thorough understanding of your storage limitations you should be able to find creative ways to work around them. It is also crucial that you track inventory and sales, find a supplier that understands your business and order often and smart.
Be Creative with Kitchen Layout
To make the most of the limited space your food truck has to offer, any decision you make vis-à-vis storage needs to fit in with your business plan. Having a clear understanding of your sales funnel, including the preparation, serving and payment processes, will help you plan a smart storage layout ahead of time.
Be precise when measuring your truck. If it’s within your budget, you can order custom-made cabinets or cooler spaces to maximize the space. Your kitchen layout is key not only to storage issues but also to the process of food preparation, service and payment. It is worth spending time on planning where to situate appliances and stations to make for a better flow during service.
Buy the equipment that takes up as little space as possible. A smart POS system, for example, should not take up too much room, and a fridge with a sliding door can save you anywhere between 30”-38”. You can also save square footage by using multi-use equipment like combination ovens and steamers, or refrigerated prep tables.
Tracking Inventory & Sales
Mobile restaurant or not, you need to track inventory as though your life depends on it. When you are serving hundreds of covers a day and have limited storage space, you will need to order fresh ingredients on a bi-weekly basis. Knowing how much stock you have on hand at any given moment as well as how much you manage to sell every day will help you automate the ordering process and save you precious time and money.
Working closely with your menu, keep a log of quantities that go into each item. Make a list of all the foods and ingredients you are using and categorize them by how long they can keep. Be careful not to over order. Buying in bulk can be tempting, but having excess stock of something eventually leads to product waste and substantial losses.
Besides inventory, you will also need to track sales. Knowing which items sell most will not only help you determine what to order more or less of, but will also help you make strategic decisions about your menu offerings. Determining your sales volume is a process of trial and error. To make it more efficient, spend time observing your competitors. How many customers do they have per hour? When are their peak times and how are they handling it? Apply the conclusions to your own business to test them out. You will have good days and bad days, but eventually you will be able to figure out the right quantities to purchase.
Find the Perfect Food Distributor
Realistically, most food trucks cannot keep more than a few day’s worth of stock due to limited storage space. This means that the delivery rate for a mobile kitchen is much higher than that of a traditional restaurant. It also means that a food truck is much more likely to run out of something crucial, which usually happens right at the busiest time. To create the optimal sourcing strategy and avoid having to supplement orders with trips to local grocery and specialty stores, you will need to find the right supplier.
Common sources include wholesale food distributors, bulk stores, food manufacturers, local and regional suppliers, grocery stores, green markets and farmers markets. There are upsides and downsides to each of these. The ideal supplier, however, will offer a combination of all these. Find a vendor that will not push you to buying large quantities, and that can help you shop locally. If you have unique menu items with specialty or local ingredients, your supplier should be able to get them for you from a specialty store.
Receiving Your Order
One of the greatest things about food trucks is their mobility. It is also one of their greatest challenges when it comes to suppliers. Receiving a delivery when you are constantly on the move can be tricky, and not all suppliers are up to the task of following you wherever you go.
There are ways to go around this. If you are using a commissary you might want to have your orders delivered there. If not, you can ask about pick up options. But the ideal solution would be to find a vendor that accepts and understands the business model of mobile kitchens and is willing to go the extra mile for you.
Above all, your supplier needs to be agile and adapt quickly to changes. In the food truck business, it is common for unexpected events to lead to last minute location changes, so your supplier needs to be willing to coordinate a place for them to drop off the delivery at a moment’s notice. If you are like most food trucks, you are also on the go during normal business hours, which means your availability does not coincide with the delivery times of the larger wholesalers. Look for a distributor that can deliver at odd hours. When your delivery finally arrives, go over the invoice to make sure you received everything your ordered.
Now that you are finished with all the practicalities of starting a food truck business here and in Part 1 of the guide, it is finally time to have some fun. For our third and final part of the Beginner’s Guide we will be looking at marketing, branding and other ways to promote your business while staying ahead of industry trends.