The mobile food industry is booming thanks to several reasons. A combination of high rents, urban and suburban sprawl, and a growing love of this portable variety are changing the rules of road for food trucks and other mobile kitchen operators out to capture your taste buds and your return visits.
The old adage has never been more true: Location, location, location. Among the critical factors that determine success for a small retail business, doubly true for small restaurants. The marketplace is competitive, and people are ever mobile and connected. The wrong side of the street, the wrong side of town, or the wrong side of local regulations could spell disaster for the most delectable of dining concepts. In a time when everything old can be new again, the food carts on the streets of New Amsterdam in the late 1790s that were seen yesterday as the white “taco truck” loncheros and are today the fields of creatively-wrapped and audaciously-named Food Trucks seeded by Kogi BBQ on the streets of Los Angeles and now at every turn all around the world. Anyone can see this for themselves thanks to the miracle of The Internet and Social Networks, where Twitter Feeds, Facebook Pages, and Instagram Pics are the lifelines of mobile business to reach their mobile customers.
The challenges, though, are substantial. Take all of the risk of a new restaurant business and remove the tables, chairs, flatware, utensils, a roof, and a fixed address. Now throw in the ire of those who are paying rent at a fixed location to foment their own restaurant concept… they are most definitely not excited to see their competition roll up and sit “for free” on their curb. Luckily individual cities are adapting their zoning rules to the marketplace, and slowly but surely the entrepreneurs at fixed addresses are seeing some of the longer-term benefit of that portable variety that is here today and gone later today.
Should you visit a food truck or food cart for lunch tomorrow? Definitely! Should you find your old family cookbook, bring out the recipes you grew up with, and take the plunge with your own mobile kitchen? As with most things, it depends.
Mobile Kitchen Appeal
- Your menu concept can reach your customers
- Your location can change with the flow of business
- Your investment will tend to be lower than trying a fixed address
All three of those bullet items are variations on a theme! Taking each individually:
Reaching your customers can be a challenge. A great concept will go nowhere if you don’t have tasty victuals in the mouths of enthusiastic patrons, which is why Location is so important. If they can’t walk into your place, they can’t try your stuff and they can’t rave about it to their friends. Budget and property availability can lead to selection of a less desirable spot, and that can lead to failure.
While we’re on the subject, let us not forget that your customers are your business, and your concept may impress some more than others. Is there a way to cast a wide net over a geographical area to find the tastes that crave your menu? Of course there is, and with the back of the house mere inches from the front of the house, you can interact directly with your customers and watch each smile form as they post their foodie pics and glowing reviews.
Hunger is a funny thing, changing with whether, schedule and whim. Your best regulars might somehow crave your fare every other Tuesday in one place and every third Thursday in another, and all of that might change in June. While one eye must be on your happy customers here and now, there’s always an eye on that next Location, where you just might pick up a big private catering event or two more weekly lunches or concert concession… or maybe just more regular customers, which are the life’s blood of this industry.
Paying the Rent
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a restaurant that is stuck in the ground. The right atmosphere, the right neighbors, and the right… you’ve already guessed. Your customers know where to find you, they know your hours, and they know where to send their friends for a great meal. Taking the plunge on an untested property, signing a lease and paying for improvements just to soft open your doors for friends and family can be a gigantic and daunting risk that sometimes ends a new adventure before it begins! Trying your concept on different people in different places and listening to what they tell you can take a smaller initial investment in a mobile kitchen and turn it into a better bet if and when you do take that plunge on what has now become known as your “brick & mortar Location.”
Entrepreneurialism is itself an uphill climb, no matter what you dive into. The restaurant business is a hill a bit more steep, with a majority of new restaurants closing in the first three years for various reasons (one of those reasons is a change of heart, by the way, and not necessarily a business failure). A mobile kitchen takes all of those challenges and has you pushing or pulling that kitchen up that hill when your engine or transmission breaks down!
Testing your mettle with some metal is a great idea for some, but maybe not for all. There’s something a bit unsettling, not always knowing that there’s a place to open your doors to a willing public each day, with the daily possibility of equipment failure, a tangle with local zoning enforcement, or the weather going against you. They say seeing is believing, and if you are able to locate a mobile food vendor opening their doors near you, do go and see, and if the line isn’t long don’t hesitate to ask your burning questions… odds are, the owner is there or near, and you will rarely find so helpful a potential competitor.
Either way, post a picture of your meal and be sure to get their social media name spelled correctly, because they will be somewhere else next time…