Food truck life is hard. When someone asks me for advice on starting a food truck, I look at them like the big-eyed emoji and ask “WHY?!” Being an entrepreneur is definitely challenging, but being a food truck owner is challenging on a whole other level. The schedule is erratic, the physical labor is demanding, and most importantly it’s HOT! I will however, look at you with judgement to see if you can really hack this lifestyle. It is freaking hard, BUT… the rewards are tenfold the hardships. It’s a great feeling to see people walk away smiling after their first bite, or when a person tells you how far they drove just to find us. The last 3 years have been an amazing experience not only for professional growth, but personal growth as well. It’s the kind of life that keeps you busy, but allows you to work when you want to work. It’s fulfilling to know you can be the highlight of someone’s day because you were able to feed them great food. If you’re really up to the challenge of this adventure, here is some advice outside of the basic stuff you should already know.
#1 Google is Your Manual
As a food truck owner, you evolve into Jack of all Trades. Not only do you develop into a business person and a chef, you also learn to become a mechanic, electrician, a cleaning expert and basically MacGyver. Right before a shift one day, the truck decided to make a weird noise and then not start at all. A dark grey smoke started coming out of the exhaust. I googled all the symptoms I was witnessing and lo and behold, I figured out the problem. I couldn’t fix it myself, but was able to discuss my findings with a certified diesel mechanic and my conclusions were actually correct. Also, when you lose manuals like “how to install a light fixture,” google can provide a video on exactly what to do step by step.
Want to know the weather forecast for the week? – Google.
Don’t know where to go? – Google.
Need to find local upcoming events? – Google.
Google has all the answers.
#2 Perfect 1-2 Dishes
Honestly, I’m not a chef and I really don’t know how to cook. What gave me confidence in my food truck endeavors is the best business advice my dad ever gave me. “The best kind of business to get into is anything with food, because everyone needs to eat. All you need to do is perfect 1 or 2 dishes and sell that.” Yes, he’s right… everyone needs to eat. When you’re at an event and you’re the only food choice available, the hungry people will come. Again, I am not a chef and I tend to overcook my attempts at creating a dish, but put me in the truck and I can make anything you want to perfection…. as long as it’s on our menu. Remember, this is a mobile restaurant, so storage space, speed and deliciousness are the main points you need to focus on when creating a menu. You don’t need to offer 5 appetizers/side dishes and 10 entrees to choose from, the fewer the better. The less ingredients to store, prep and serve, the better and more efficient your truck will become. The more efficient your truck is, the faster you can make money. Also, menu changes don’t work well for trucks. We move around too much, so your customers will be confused of the truck’s concept if the menu is constantly changing.
#3 Make Friends with Everyone
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
My biggest pet peeve is when a new food truck owner emails, calls, DM’s my social media or texts me, “I heard you do the scheduling at XYZ Bar, can we be added to the rotation?” Although I admire their hustle, but no. Maybe I take it a little too personal, but my initial thoughts are: Who are you? and Why should I? You can offer me your entire menu for the rest of my life, but just because you’re the new kid on the block, it doesn’t mean that anyone owes you anything. I like to help people that I know. Your food can be on its way to a 5 Star Michelin, but I if I don’t know you, why should I help you? I also have other friends who need these shifts as well. My point is, be friends with everyone. Friends help each other out, not strangers. If you approach someone with their best interest in mind before yours, they will no doubt help you out in the long run. People are more inclined to help you when you help them first. My mom always told us to be friends with everyone, even the people who take out the trash. When we are at an event and see laborers working hard, we sometimes offer them food for their hard work. When it comes time to clean up, they’re always the first in line to take out our trash. Don’t abuse this concept though. Just because you befriended someone STILL doesn’t mean they owe you anything. Simply by being nice, it can go a long way.
#4 Help Whenever You Can and Be a YES Person
Everyone who has managed to become successful in this industry did so because they started from the bottom and worked their way up. The problem with new truckers is that they haven’t understood the “come up” yet. If you’re just starting and want to make a name for yourself, say YES to everything that anyone offers you. When someone offers you a shift, especially at a location that you have been wanting to be at, your automatic response should be a yes. If you’re already scheduled elsewhere, find a way to make the shift you want happen. Let’s be honest, no one knows you or really cares about your food, but covering last minute shifts can go a long way. There are no such thing as crappy shifts. Your presence at this point is very important. If you’re offered a shift at a bar that you have been pining for and it’s a non-football season Monday, say yes! It might be a slower shift than a Friday, but you need to put yourself out there. Most likely the scheduler is in a bind and asking for your help, well HELP THEM!!! When you help to cover shifts, especially if they are last minute, you appear to be a reliable person and schedulers love that. Being a go-to person leads to becoming a regular. You might not make a lot on that Monday night, but you’ll be the first person asked when a Saturday shift comes up.
#5 Roll with the Punches
At the end of the day, to be successful in this unpredictable lifestyle, you need grit. You have to have the courage and perseverance to endure the highs and lows. The highs are high, but the lows can be extremely low. If you can’t find it in you to push through the hardest times, this might not be for you. If you can’t manage the stress that comes with having to figure out a way to make a $1500 guaranteed shift when your truck breaks down, this might not be for you. If you can’t find alternative ways to make a dish because your fryer went out, then this might not be for you. If you can’t handle the anxiety that comes with slower, less profitable months, then this might not be for you. Yes, these scenarios will and have happened. Grit comes from within. That will to fight back when you’ve been knocked down is important. Mental strength is just as vital as your physical strength. Create your support system early and learn fast to deal with the challenges as they come, don’t get knocked out, just roll with the punches. Celebrate the wins, but acknowledge the failures head on and push through them. Your ambition to keep going forward will give you the momentum to stay alive and thrive.