How to Run a Food Truck 14: Keep Up with Industry Trends

FoodTruckrs, those of you who have been following along with the “How to Run a Food Truck” series have done some amazing work over the past several months. You’ve done everything from getting your food truck team up and running to learning how to deliver excellent customer service to overcoming some major roadblocks on your journey to developing a successful food truck business. Way to go!

Now, the first half of this series focused on some important things you needed to do to get your business rolling, but now it’s time to kick things up a notch. Over the next few months, we’ll be talking about ways you can run your business better—starting with Unit 4, “Become a Better Business Owner.” This section of lessons is dedicated especially to helping you improve your skills as a business owner, manager, and boss, and we think it’s an important read for every FoodTruckr.

Today we want to kick this section of exciting lessons off with a topic that’s near and dear to our hearts—the latest happenings and trends in the food truck industry. There are some truly awesome FoodTruckrs doing incredible things out there, and keeping up with their progress isn’t just interesting and entertaining—it can also help you to better your own truck! Let’s begin by examining some of the most effective ways to use industry trends to benefit your business, and then we’ll look at some of the best places to stay abreast of new happenings.

Watching the Industry: 4 Ways to Improve Your Business By Monitoring Trends

As a food truck owner who’s working long days and spending the majority of your free time on your business, it can be tough to get away long enough to keep up with the daily news or to take a stroll and hit that awesome new food truck park everyone’s been talking about. However, taking just a couple hours each week to see what’s going on in the rest of the food truck industry can have huge benefits for your business. Whether you choose to follow along with new trends or simply use them to draw inspiration for your next big idea, it’s important to stay up-to-date on what’s going on with other food trucks. Here are four ways that learning about what’s happening in the industry can benefit your business.

1. Learn About New Possibilities

Do you ever feel like your truck has hit a lull? Do customers seem satisfied with your menu, but aren’t necessarily jumping up and down when they taste their food? It could be time to try something new—and watching what’s going on in the industry is the best way to kickstart your mind. Following along with food truck news can bring you both inspiration and new insights into what’s possible in the world of food trucks.

For instance, a recently proposed bill in Washington could allow food trucks in the state to begin serving wine and beer alongside their menus—provided they meet a few basic requirements such as having an outdoor seating area and only serving alcohol when people order food. Food trucks that can serve alcohol have always been an extreme rarity, and new legislation like this could open an entirely new world of possibility to FoodTruckrs.

Keeping yourself up-to-date on the latest new legislature and policies being made in the food truck world is one of the best ways to stay in touch with what other food truck owners are doing and with the current pulse of food trucks in the country. After following food truck news for even just a couple weeks, you’ll quickly find yourself coming up with new ideas and fresh ways to advance your truck.

2. Advance Your Own Creativity

Keeping up with the latest events in the food truck world isn’t just good for showing you what’s possible and what others are doing—it’s also a great way to get your own creative juices flowing and to help new ideas begin to percolate.

The Parish at Hodges Bend, a food truck serving as a kitchen for a local coffee shop and bar in Tulsa, OK, is a great example of a truck with a creative approach that’s sure to inspire other FoodTruckrs. Check out this truck’s plan: The Parish’s menu boasts a small variety of gourmet creations with ingredients like roasted golden beets, caramelized shallots, and sweet-and-sour rhubarb. And while these upscale ingredients certainly make eating at The Parish a special experience, what truly sets the truck apart is Chef Ian Van Anglen’s plans to change the entire menu monthly—and to never have more than about six items on the menu at a time.

This innovative approach will help to keep The Parish’s customers engaged with their truck and their menu, and best of all, it can also be easily modified to reflect brand new creative ideas. If the idea of overhauling your whole menu each month is too overwhelming, you could do quarterly menus or simply keep a revolving section of the menu that is updated each month. There’s also plenty of ways to experiment with your meals such as using a new ingredient in one of your key dishes each month or having a weekly “Build Your Own” menu item available to your fans. The number of ways you can continue to freshen up your menu (without making it too confusing for fans!) is truly as endless as the creative potential you unlock in yourself when you begin watching what other food truck owners are doing and using their ideas to inspire your own fresh takes.

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3. Benefit from Others’ Trial and Error

Of course, not every creative new venture will pay off—even some of the most exciting and best-sounding ideas can eventually flop. Paying attention to what other food truck owners are doing (including both their successes and their failures) can prove to be an incredibly valuable learning experience for any new FoodTruckr who’s thinking of branching out.

It’s easy to find food truck success stories, but it’s much harder to learn about the experiences of those who have tried and failed. For that reason, it’s important to pay attention to food truck owners who are willing to talk about the hurdles they faced in their early days and what they’re doing now to keep their businesses going. Every FoodTruckr who’s managed to get his or her truck on the road has a story to tell, and you can benefit from their trial and error when you listen to the lessons they share and work them into your business plans.

There are feature stories like this on various food truck owners available all over the Internet, and we feature many of them right here on FoodTruckr.com. One of our favorite posts is “50 Food Truck Owners Speak Out: ‘What I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My Food Truck.’” This valuable article includes specific tips and lessons from 50 food truck owners on the hurdles they overcame to get started and on the challenges they continue to face today. Be sure to check it out and use the wisdom gleaned from their experiences to save you from some of your own trial and error.

4. Anticipate What Customers Really Want

By its very nature, the food truck industry is full of trends—everything from the types of cuisine people are serving to the venues they’re serving at to the simple fact that they’re even serving from a truck is all influenced by popular culture and by the rise of food truck giants like Kogi and The Grilled Cheese Truck. So it only makes sense that in addition to getting creative, trying new things, and benefiting from the experiences of others, that you can also begin to predict what your customers really want by keeping an eye on the food truck industry’s current trends.

This article on the recent Food Truck Frenzy at the Humana Challenge in La Quinta, CA, illustrates a few of the key things that today’s food truck fan really wants: quality, creativity, variety, and convenience. People who were interviewed in the article use phrases like “[a food truck] means really interesting, cool food,” “you have better choices,” “for the person who wants to move around quickly,” “something for everyone,” and even “everything always tastes better off a food truck” to describe their experiences and thoughts on the festival.

Watching to see what fans are saying about their favorite food trucks—and what food truck owners say about what’s most popular with their customers—is one of the best ways to predict what your own customers will most enjoy. Many food truck owners are in this business because they’re passionate about their creations and love practicing their craft, but at the end of the day, your business is supported by your fans. Learn how to make them happy and you’ll be the proud owner of a successful food truck business for many years to come.

6 Places to Look for Inspiration and Current Industry Trends

Now that you can see why staying on top of industry trends is so important for your food truck business, it’s time to unveil a few of the best places to find your sources. The following spots are our six favorite places to look for inspiration and current industry trends.

1. Social Media

Social media is perhaps the first place you should begin looking to learn more about what other food truck owners are doing. Follow your favorite trucks, trucks in your city, and even popular and successful trucks in other cities on either Facebook or Twitter, and then begin to monitor your feeds to see what they’re up to. It can be a little overwhelming to receive so much information at once, so be sure to scroll through your feed and look specifically only at photos or posts that jump out at you (the posts that you immediately notice are also likely to be the ones that food truck fans notice most readily). You can also check out individual food truck pages to get a more in-depth look at what’s going on with their businesses and the current state of their trucks.

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Key Items to Watch:

  • Posts that highlight new menu items: What are they serving? How is it different from other items on their menu?
  • Posts about location choices: Do they rotate their stops or have a consistent schedule? How do they balance their schedule between events and street service?
  • Posts that reference upcoming events or appearances: Are they appearing at large events and festivals or sticking to small community gatherings? Do the trucks use different phrases to describe different types of events?
  • Posts that mention alternative services, such as catering for corporate events or weddings: Do they advertise the services directly or indirectly? Can you tell how many customers are using their catering services?
  • Posts that reference the truck’s fans: Is the truck thanking their fans? Sharing photos of people smiling with their food?
  • Posts or messages that fans have sent to the truck: What do the fans have to say? What kind of language do they use to communicate with the truck? How do the truck owners respond?
  • Other mentions of the truck on Facebook or Twitter pages that are not related to their direct profile: Are other people talking about the truck (through news articles, etc.)? How much conversation surrounds the truck?

2. Google News Alerts

Google News Alerts are one of our favorite tools for staying up-to-date on what’s happening with the latest food truck industry trends. You can either search through Google News directly for a story related to food trucks or you can set up an alert to email you when a new article with a particular word or phrase is mentioned. We like to use Google News frequently to find out about food truck festivals happening around the country, areas where new food truck legislation is being passed, and stories of food truck owners who have interesting backgrounds or ideas. There are all kinds of incredible resources just waiting for you in Google News, so be sure to set up your account early on in your food truck career.

Here are a few key food truck-related phrases to consider adding to your Google News Alerts:

  • food truck catering
  • food truck customers
  • food truck festival
  • food truck growth
  • food truck industry
  • food truck laws
  • food truck legislation
  • food truck news
  • food truck owner
  • food truck trends

3. Your City

Another great place to stay up-to-date on the latest food truck trends is waiting just outside your truck window—the other food trucks in your city! Though there are plenty of helpful stories about food truck owners from around the country available online, stories from food truck owners who live in your city are the most likely to share similarities to your own experiences. Local food truck owners know everything from what kinds of parking and legal challenges you’re facing to how customers in your city respond to various promotions. If you really want to get a good idea of how to run a food truck in your city, you should watch someone who’s been there before and who understands the challenges you’re up against.

Here are a few ways to find local FoodTruckrs:

  • Get involved with the community and try to connect with other food truck owners when you participate in events.
  • Talk to food truck organizations and ask for advice on the latest industry happenings and feedback on how to connect with other local FoodTruckrs.
  • Visit events and talk with people working at other food trucks. It’s best to chat with other food truck owners, but even food truck employees can usually offer some great tips on what’s working for their trucks and what areas have proved to be the greatest hurdle.

4. Other Small Businesses

While the other resources we’ve listed so far are all great places to find information and inspiration on current food truck industry trends, there are also a number of other places you can turn to when you’re ready to start thinking creatively. We recommend checking out what other small business owners are doing to drum up business and to keep their customers happy. You never know—you may just find your next great idea for supplementary products your truck could sell when you’re visiting a local drugstore, or you could come across a cool new idea for a loyalty program when you’re visiting your favorite grocery store.

When you visit other small businesses, pay attention to things like:

  • How they advertise: Are there sale signs spread out around the store or are sales limited to their website and social media pages? Do you see their name in print marketing or hear and see their ads on the radio and TV?
  • Incentives offered throughout the store that encourage you to shop: Does the store offer increasing discounts when you purchase more items? Are there special promotions on designated days of the week?
  • Promotions at the register that encourage you to add on to your purchase: Are there small add-on items or accessories near the register or front of the store organized with eye-catching displays or sale signs?
  • Any loyalty programs or rewards discounts they offer: Are their loyalty programs available to all members? What information do you have to give them to join? What kinds of rewards do you get in return?
  • How it feels to shop the store: What is the atmosphere like? Do the employees look like they enjoy their jobs? Where is the company’s brand reflected?
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5. Online Entrepreneurs

We’re big fans of online entrepreneurs here at FoodTruckr.com—in fact, we even wrote two articles explaining the lessons you can learn from watching how online entrepreneurs do business. Though online entrepreneurs might not face the same operational challenges that you do in maintaining and running a physical truck and rolling kitchen, they do know a lot about starting a business from the ground up—and about thinking outside the box to attract new customers. Check out online business owners and their websites and social media pages to see what strategies they’re employing and how their sales tactics seem to be working for them. Chances are good that you’ll find at least one key lesson that you can implement on your food truck!

Here are a few things to pay attention to when you study online entrepreneurs:

  • How they write: What language do they use? How frequently do they communicate with their audiences?
  • What they sell: Are they selling services? Products? Information?
  • How they use social media: What kind of content do they post on Facebook and Twitter? How often do they share material and resources from other sites?
  • How people respond to them: What types of comments do they get? What posts seem to get the most attention?
  • How they interact with customers: Do they respond to all their customers? Do they thank people for following their sites?
  • What stories and personal details they share: Do their websites have biography sections? Do they share anecdotes about their daily lives?

6. FoodTruckr.com

Last but not least, we’re proud to present to you our very favorite resource for staying up-to-date on the latest industry trends—FoodTruckr.com! Our goal at FoodTruckr is to always bring the most informative and most relevant new content about the industry to aspiring and current food truck owners like yourself. We publish new content each week to help you learn more about running a successful business, and we share stories and features from around the web to help you stay abreast of the latest trends. And most importantly, we’re always here to answer your questions and to support you in your food truck dreams.

When you peruse FoodTruckr.com, be sure to check out:

A Final Note: We recommend starting out by dedicating just a couple hours each week to perusing one or more of these sources. Over time, you can streamline your research and begin to really focus in on a particular type of news that’s most relevant to your current business challenges. However, when you’re just getting started, it’s most important to diversify the sources you’re getting information from and to try to gather as much data about other food truck businesses and current industry trends as you can.

See Your Truck in a New Light

Keeping track of what’s happening in the industry is incredibly important for any business owner, but it’s especially essential when you’re working in a field as complex and complicated as the food truck industry. By looking at what others are doing and seeing how you can apply their lessons to your own business, you’ll quickly begin to see your truck in a brand new light—one that shines a little brighter and is full of a little more possibility than the perspective you were working with before.

Next week, we’ve got another way for you to reinvigorate your view on your food truck! In Lesson 15, you’ll dig deep into the behind-the-scenes truth of your business as we explore important metrics and the best systems to simplify the process of record-keeping. Stay tuned!

Until then, please tell us what you’ve learned from following along with food truck industry trends! Have you come up with a creative new approach to selling your traditional All-American burgers? Did you find a stellar marketing strategy that has your truck’s waffles selling like hotcakes? Tell us what you’ve learned and where you found your inspiration in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

image by Townsquare Media

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About the Author

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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  • Great article!

    • foodtruckr

      Thanks, Loco Taco! Glad you guys enjoyed it. 🙂