How to Run a Food Truck 05: Deliver Excellent Customer Service

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Today on FoodTruckr, we’re super excited to dive right back in to our “How to Run a Food Truck” series! If you’ve been following along, you’ve already spent several weeks out on the streets and mastered a few important lessons. Let’s take a quick minute to review—in the last unit, you trained your new food truck employees, practiced plating and presenting your meals, learned how to send location updates to attract more fans, and used some awesome new apps to simplify your business. That’s great progress on some super important topics…so, way to go!

While the first few lessons were geared toward helping you get up and running and navigating your earliest days on the road, this next unit is going to be full of lessons that you’ll use throughout your entire career. We’ll be talking about customer service—including lessons on how to make your customers happy, what to do when a customer has a bad experience, and promotions and extra ways to create a legion of loyal fans who keep returning for more. If you want your truck to survive your first year on the road (and to set yourself up for many successful years in the future!), you need to learn how to deliver great service now.

Let’s get started today by learning why customer service matters so much—and then we’ll give you a handy tool you can use to deliver a five-star experience every time. Order up!

Great Customer Service Fuels Your Business

If someone were to ask you what your number one priority as a food truck owner is, how would you answer?

Some food truck owners might say “Making the best burger my city has ever seen,” or “Finding the right parking spot so that I can serve as many customers as possible.” These are definitely good aspects of your business to focus on—great food and the right location are integral to food truck success. But at the end of the day, none of these things matter if you’re not putting your customers’ needs first.

See, customers are the lifeblood of your food truck business—their patronage provides the gas that fuels your truck, the sustenance that fuels your body, and the permits and licenses that fuel your business. Without happy, paying customers, you simply couldn’t pursue your food truck dreams. That’s why it’s so important to do everything you can to make sure that everyone who comes to your truck leaves feeling appreciated and satisfied.

When you make your customers happy, you’re not just pleasing a random person who ordered a $5 sandwich—you’re investing in the future of your food truck by creating a positive experience for that customer and everyone else standing outside your truck (as well as any friends and family members who the customers might talk to afterward) and promoting the image of your food truck’s brand.

Serving your customers doesn’t just mean taking orders, processing credit cards, and handing out sandwiches—it means creating an experience that leaves the customer feeling like his or her business at your truck matters and is genuinely appreciated. Customer service is all about showing your customers how much you care.

We know you care about your customers. We know you want to put big, genuine smiles on their faces and delicious food in their stomachs. Learn how to delight your fans by reading on and following “the FEAST Experience”—our five-step tool to excellent service.

Give Each Customer the FEAST Experience: A Five-Step Tool to Excellent Service

The “FEAST Experience” is a convenient tool we’ve created that you can use to remember the five steps of an excellent food truck transaction.

The five steps are:

  1. Give a Friendly Greeting
  2. Educate ‘Em
  3. Be Attentive
  4. Serve with a Smile
  5. Thank the Customer
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Sounds easy, right? It is! However, it is also important to note that FEAST isn’t necessarily a magic fix. Though each step is simple on its own, you do have to put to your heart into it and really make the effort to show your customers that you care. But once you get going, the routine will become second nature and you’ll be delivering great customer service with ease.

Your mileage may vary depending on how your truck is set up (and what kinds of personal inflections you want to add in), but we think this tool is applicable to most FoodTruckrs who are looking for the best way to serve their customers. It also makes a handy training tool for new employees who need to learn what you expect when it comes to delivering great service on your truck.

Here’s how the FEAST Experience works:

1. Give a Friendly Greeting

First things first—you begin the FEAST Experience by delivering a friendly greeting to each customer. Your friendly greeting can take many forms—it might be a “Hey there, how’s it going?” called out to everyone who’s walking by, or a “Welcome to [your food truck]! Can I offer you a sample of [your signature dish] today?” to each person who walks up to the window. Your greeting should be tailored to you and your truck and reflective of your brand. A friendly greeting is your customer’s first introduction to your truck, which means that it sets an expectation for the quality and type of service that they’re going to receive.

You can make the best first impression possible by ensuring that your greeting is sincere. Though we recommend staying upbeat and positive in your approach, it’s most important to know your own style. If you’re the furthest thing away from perky in your day-to-day life, putting on a chipper face might come out looking a little forced and disingenuous. Remember how thankful you are for your customers and allow that feeling of gratitude to guide your greetings—a simple, heartfelt “Hey there! What can I get for you?” accompanied by an honest smile is preferable to a bored, surly, “Hi, what do you want?” any day.

2. Educate ‘Em

The next step of the FEAST Experience comes right after your greeting—it’s time to educate your customers. No, you’re not going to pull up Wikipedia and read them some facts about a random topic (although, that could be kind of cool, too!). You’re instead going to answer any questions the customer has and tell them about your menu.

This is your time to let your food shine. Do you have a special going on where the customer gets a second meal for half price or a free dessert if they spend at least eight dollars? Tell customers about it. Do you have a brand new dish that you just added to the menu last week? Let ‘em know. Many customers will also have questions about what’s included in each dish or if there are any substitutions they can make. Be prepared to answer questions about ingredients, allergens, and how things are cooked. Being fully informed about everything on your menu shows your customers that you care about your food and your craft—and most importantly, about them and their happiness.

When all of your customers’ questions are answered and you’ve let them know about the highlights of your menu, you’re ready to take those orders. Keep the education going by offering extra details about the dishes they choose. Say “Oh, that’s a great choice—it’s my favorite thing on the menu!”, “That’s our most popular item; I know you’ll love it,” or “We actually just added that one to the menu last week! It’s been a huge hit so far.” These simple phrases give your customers a little bit of extra knowledge about your truck and make them feel like they’re a part of an exclusive club—and they also serve to keep a friendly rapport going while you’re processing their transactions.

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3. Be Attentive

Okay—now that you’ve taken the order and moved back to the grill, you get a few minutes of time to yourself, right? Not so fast! You still need to be attentive to your customers while they’re waiting.

Sure, your customers can just stand off to the side and fiddle with their cell phones while they’re waiting for their orders to be prepared. But they’ll be much more engaged and impressed with your service when you do something to keep them smiling while you’re cooking.

Here are a few things you can do to entertain customers while they’re waiting for their food:

  • Continue to chat with them and get to know them. Ask customers where they work, what they’re up to for the day, or if they have any exciting plans for the weekend. Find out if they’ve ever tried some of your favorite local trucks or if they’ve ever been to the country where your authentic cuisine comes from.
  • Play music outside the truck or hand out something fun with their receipts. Music playing outside the truck creates a bit of instant ambiance (particularly if there are other people waiting for their orders at the same time), while a fun giveaway with the receipt shows that you care about the customer’s happiness. Include a word search or some fun trivia facts on the back of the receipt, hand out a silly toy, or print some icebreakers on the side of your truck so that waiting fans can get to know one another.
  • Keep one employee committed to entertaining your customers. This tip works best when you’re working with other people and when you’re serving a crowd (think busy downtown lunch rushes or festivals and events). While one person works the grill, have someone else stand outside the truck to keep the crowd entertained while they wait. They can chat with people in line, facilitate group games and contests, or hand out samples of your daily specials.

It doesn’t really matter how you choose to be attentive to your customers—it simply matters that you’re doing something to keep them entertained and not just ignoring them as soon as they’ve forked over their credit cards.

4. Serve with a Smile

Once the customer’s order is ready, the next step is to serve the food with a smile. The point where you’re handing the customer a hot plate that’s heaping with tasty, fresh, delicious food is a great opportunity to make sure he or she leaves with a good feeling—and it’s as simple as making an effort to be positive as you serve the customer’s food. However, many food trucks miss this crucial step.

We know, we know—you’ve got a long line and the grill is still going and you need to get the customer his or her food as quickly as possible. That’s all true and those are all good points—after all, many of your customers are in a hurry, too. But there’s no need to bark out the customer’s order number or name and then shove a plate of food at them when you could simply take an extra few seconds to make eye contact, smile, and hand the customer his or her food. It’s as easy as that.

Even if you followed the first three steps of the FEAST Experience, you can still leave customers with a sour taste in their mouths if you neglect to serve their food with a positive attitude. Smiling doesn’t require any extra effort and it leaves a much better impression on your fans than when someone hurriedly tosses plates on a counter and doesn’t bother to make sure they have everything they need. Take the extra time to make this personal connection with your customers and to ask if you can get them anything else (like extra sauce, napkins, or a to-go bag).

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5. Thank the Customer

Finally, before customers walk away from your truck, make sure to thank them. This is your last chance to make your customers feel appreciated, and it’s important to seize the opportunity.

Just as you did with your greeting in the first step of the FEAST Experience, you should customize your “Thank You” message to you and your truck. Try phrases like “Thanks for stopping by! I really appreciate your business,” “Thanks so much! Can’t wait to see you next time,” or “Thank you for visiting [your food truck]! Hope you have a great day!”. The way you phrase your gratitude doesn’t matter so much as the fact that you’re expressing your appreciation, so just make sure that whatever you say is both honest and heartfelt. Your customers will be able to tell when you sincerely appreciate them, and they’ll walk away from your truck feeling like you valued their business and like you will be excited to see them again the next time they return.

And, of course, if you’ve given them the full FEAST Experience—a “next time” visit is likely to come pretty soon.

Satisfy Every Customer

We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to follow the approach of the FEAST Experience with every customer. Though there will certainly be some customers who you will connect with more easily than others (as well as some customers who might try your nerves a little more than others!), delivering consistently good service is one of the best ways to solidify your truck’s brand and to inspire people who have tried your truck once to return in the future. Sure, some businesses are able to stay afloat even though they treat their customers poorly simply because they offer incredible food or low prices, but the businesses that customers are most passionate about are those that treat them like they matter. Show your customers how much you care about their happiness and their satisfaction by delivering the FEAST Experience every time, and you’ll quickly develop loyal bonds with fans who will be eager to visit again and to share your truck with those around them.

Of course, not every customer will leave your truck feeling happy—and in instances where a customer is upset, it’s even more important to strive to deliver the best service that you can. Next week, we’ll explain how to resolve customer disputes and what to do when someone isn’t happy with their experience. Knowing what to do to keep a bad situation from getting worse is one of the most important parts of customer service, so be sure to stay tuned for next Wednesday’s lesson.

Until then, we’d love to know about your customer service experiences! What strategies have you found to keep your customers happy while they’re waiting? What’s your favorite way to greet customers who don’t look very sure of what they want? Have you ever received particularly awesome service from another food truck? Tell us all about your customer service experiences in the comments below or by sending us a message on Facebook or Twitter.

image by Kurman Communications, Inc.

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FoodTruckr

FoodTruckr is the #1 online destination for current and aspiring food truck owners looking to succeed in the mobile food industry. Self described “food truck devotees,” the FoodTruckr team enjoys reading about successful entrepreneurs, salivating over photos of burritos on Twitter, and long walks through food truck parks. Chat with FoodTruckr on Facebook or check out the FoodTruckr School podcast for more awesome tips to level up your business.

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