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Ten Tips for Preventing Food Truck Failure

The number of food trucks has been growing exponentially since 2008, yet some food trucks still haven’t been able to succeed. Here are ten reasons why some food trucks don’t survive and tips you can use to avoid these shortfalls.

Develop an identity and stick to it

A food truck’s success depends on its ability to establish a brand and stick to it, so develop an identity and focus on perfecting it. If your food truck doesn’t differentiate itself from the competition, consumer acceptance of your truck’s concept is bound to wane quickly. Simple, cookie-cutter imitation of an existing concept doesn’t have staying power, and most imitations are bound to fail quickly.

Bringing every customer in your area up to your service window is impossible, so don’t spend too much time trying to. Establish your target market, and then create the style of food and environment that’s suitable for that market. After you create your identity, make sure it’s reflected in your menu.

Creating an overreaching menu is one of the most common mistakes a food truck can make. A menu with too much selection tries to do a lot while accomplishing very little. This tactic often sacrifices overall food quality. Instead, keep your menu simple with no more than four to six items and, ideally, variations on the same thing. Doing so makes your concept identifiable and brand-friendly.

Analyze your market carefully

Failure to establish that a market for your food truck cuisine exists and failing to stay aware of trends in your local market are two of the biggest mistakes you can make as a food truck operator. These errors can easily be avoided.

Before opening your business, you need to establish a demand for your cuisine and an ability to capture some market share. After you’ve opened your service window, you should continue to analyze the direction of consumer demand and make any changes or adjustments as needed. Without this fact-based knowledge of your market, making these informed business changes is near impossible.

Write a business plan

A business plan is your written guide of what you want your mobile restaurant to be and how you plan to achieve this goal. It forces you to plan ahead, think about the competition, formulate a marketing strategy, define your management structure, and plan your financing, among other things. It becomes your road map to success.

Don’t proceed without a solid business plan. Not putting a business plan together doesn’t mean that your food truck will fail, but it does mean you’ll do the following:

  • Spend more money

  • Reach fewer of the right customers

  • Be less efficient

  • Grow your business more slowly, if at all

Plan for a year's worth of capital

The mobile food industry is known to have low entry and exit points compared to the restaurant industry. Thus, most food truck owners try to enter the industry with low capital. As a result, most enter this industry with just enough funding to open the service window but not enough to sustain them in the first few lean months.

Unexpected and unforeseen events happen all the time, especially in a food truck business.

A good goal to set for yourself is to allocate enough capital to keep your business afloat for at least 12 months while you establish yourself in the market.

Hire and train wisely

Bad service will kill your business quickly — it’s just that simple. Your food truck has a finite amount of goodwill, and bad staff will use it up all too quickly. Employees are the representatives of your business. Put a substantial amount of time and effort into the hiring process and don’t settle for individuals who are less than extraordinary.

Most food truck owners lack formalized training in procedural and operational processes. If you fit into this category, take the time to learn from an experienced owner or hire a consultant for expert advice.

Have a grand opening

“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression” was never truer than in the mobile food industry business.

Hosting a grand opening event is a chance to immediately establish your truck as a member in the local community. Rather than opening your service window and waiting for your guests to arrive, create an event that will lead first-time guests to become your regular customers. Some of the mistakes to sidestep in planning a food truck grand opening are easy to avoid:

  • Prepare for a crowd.

  • Expect the unexpected.

  • Time your event carefully.

Ensure consistency

After you’ve created an identity for your food truck, it’s important that you consistently preserve that identity. Every time a customer walks up to your service window, he should experience the same food quality and service. It shouldn’t matter which chef is working the kitchen on any given day.

Consistency is the key to establishing a regular customer base. Managing a customer’s expectations is an essential part of running your food truck, and consistently providing the same quality product ultimately can determine its success or failure.

Your kitchen staff can’t maintain consistency without formal recipes. Developing them is critical to controlling costs, curtailing waste, and providing effective staff training.

Control your food costs

Outside of the initial capital required to purchase your truck, the cost of food is a mobile bistro’s single biggest expense. The ability to manage food costs is one of the most important elements of running a successful food truck.

Successful food truck owners set the price of a product as a direct relationship to the cost of making that product. Keeping track of how inventory is ordered and minimizing costs so all food that’s purchased ends up in a customer’s hands can drastically improve your bottom line and provide valuable flexibility in determining your pricing.

Solicit opinions other than your own

A shrewd business owner knows it’s all about the customer, not your personal tastes and opinions. You must be open to opinions other than your own.

Strive to maintain a healthy obsession with product and service quality. You must keep a pulse on what your customers like and dislike about your menu and staff. Ask your customers for their complaints or even be so bold as to ask how you can become their favorite food truck.

Be a present leader

Don’t be an absentee owner. If you want to own a food truck, you must expect to work in it. The only way to maintain familiarity with your business is to spend a significant amount of time there, both physically and mentally.

Don’t confuse physical presence with micromanagement. Work hard and set an example. If you display dedication and commitment, you may inspire your team to show you the same level of commitment.

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