A few years ago the only food truck you would see in Ireland was a chip van; they even made a great movie about one. We would queue up in the small hours after discos in the 80s and happily scoff our greasy chips and burgers. The ice cream vans were essentially food trucks too but the idea of these mobile kitchens serving up gourmet food was unheard of. Film companies always needed mobile canteens while out in remote locations but the idea that they would eventually compete with cafes and restaurants was still far off.
Food trucks are in the States since before engines with the chuck wagons feeding the cowboys and then pushcarts in the cities. Then the need of having to cater for festivals and sports events moved it along in the sixties and seventies and then ethnic cuisines in the states started the real trailblazing thereafter. I recall seeing them pop up in LA in the 90s serving Mexican and Asian snacks with queues around the block for their street taco or lobster roll food fix. Ireland has caught up quickly and they are a welcome addition to the food scene. The recent TV series about it very much highlighted the trend.
The key is not to be a rookie though; you really need to have been schooled in professional cooking at some level in the trenches of conventional kitchens. You might get away with a chip van as a beginner with a bit of luck as I have seen some do but for more serious nosh you will need to know as many tricks from the catering book as possible.
It’s just as skillful a balancing act to manage one of these operations. It’s not just a case of purchasing the vehicle, writing a menu and off you go. There really is as much to think about as if you were on terra firma with design, food type, permits, insurance, regulations, maintenance and all that before suppliers, prep and driving the thing around. Most of what applies to a normal food operation will still equally apply to a mobile one including substantial investment before you sell a sausage.
Then you have to get back to HQ at the end of a day in one piece so it is hard graft all told; do not be fooled by the romance of it all. You are weather dependent as well and you want a popular spot with good footfall. So a lot can go wrong. You are quite exposed safety wise too in an isolated area, for a mostly cash business you will be an obvious target for any local criminal. A lot of thinking and planning therefore needs to be done before you pull out of your driveway. I have advised a couple of operators on setting them up in my time and they were amazed on how much was to be considered.
Ideally it is good to have one associated with an already established food or restaurant brand as an extra wing to the core business. Then the reputation and profile will give you a head start on any opposition or newbie’s. Also if you have the one specialist product that you have grown or reared yourself then you have an added foodie or Eco x factor. If you can do it all yourself even better again then not having to employ staff.
It’s good to have a really short menu too and to use fresh ingredients, when you sell out then you simply pull the shutters down and head home.
From the customer side it is a bit awkward having to walk around munching out of your hand if there is no seating never mind no waste bins or public toilets nearby. If it is a big crowd and by the time you get served your dish is sold out can be downside also. Overall they are a good thing I reckon but with the cost of fuel and ingredients going up and up do not be surprised to see the food truck prices rise too which is perfectly acceptable at the rate inflation is moving.