The food truck gods are fickle beings, and your truck may be plagued by customer droughts if you fail to please them. But if you can figure out the secret to the sacrament of success, you’ll be rewarded with floods of excited fans who pray for the day your truck rolls into their neighborhood.
Want to know how to get into customer heaven? Honor these 10 commandments of customer relationships faithfully and you’ll be blessed with a flock of hungry, happy followers for your truck.
1. Thou shalt get to know thy customers.
The first commandment for building successful, committed relationships with your customers? Get to know them. Your customers will feel more connected to you when you make an effort to talk to them every time they come up to your truck window. Ask for a regular’s name. Find out where he or she works. Memorize how the customer likes his or her order. And then, most importantly, remember it all when that person comes back next time.
Koja Kitchen from Berkeley, CA does a great job of keeping in touch with fans through Twitter. Check out this exchange they had with Elaine, one of their delighted fans:
Elaine is ready to sweep the Koja Kitchen truck off its feet (wheels?), all because the team took a few minutes to really talk to her. That’s the kind of connection that creates serious fan loyalty. If you want to build real relationships with the customers who keep your truck afloat, honor this commandment above all others.
2. Thou shalt show thy customers who thou is.
Getting to know your customers is the most important thing you can do to build relationships, but you also need to give them the opportunity to get to know you. A clear, upfront brand communicates to your customers what you’re all about—and makes the decision to patronize your truck an easy one.
Grill ‘Em All from Alhambra, CA won the first season of the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” with the help of their clear brand inspired by a Metallica album. Check out how fans are greeted when they visit the Grill ‘Em All website:
The Metallica-inspired font choice in their logo, the images of rockers and skulls in the sidebar, and the description of “Hair Metal Happy Hour” and “Molly Hatchet Mondays” in the specials list all play an important role in this truck’s seriously well-executed brand concept. Fans who visit the Grill ‘Em All truck or brick and mortar location know exactly what the team loves—and as a result, they have a chance to get to know Grill ‘Em All beyond the tasty burgers and fries.
ProTip: Take your connection with your fans further by letting them get to know who you are. Tell people your name and share your truck’s story. Let them know why you’re in the business of cooking up awesome flavors in a restaurant on wheels—and how you got there. People want to know who they’re supporting and why they should buy from you, so give them a reason to believe in you and your truck.
3. Thou shalt always deliver what thy customers expect.
In addition to having a clear, easily communicated brand, your truck should also strive for consistency in everything. When fans have a craving for your flavorful falafel or your spicy spiedini, they’ll be disappointed if they show up to your truck to find out that you’re only offering greasy pizza this week. That’s not to say that you can’t experiment with your menu, but to emphasize that you should keep your signature style consistent. Customers return again and again because they’ve had a great experience and they trust you to replicate it.
The Grilled Cheese Truck has five vehicles roaming around the country, and they offer franchising opportunities for people who want to start their own locations. With so many different teams representing the same company, it’s especially important for each truck to maintain consistency. That’s why you’ll see this same bright logo on the side of each truck and on each location’s Facebook and Twitter pages:
Though each franchise targets a different area and is managed by an independent team, every truck has the same menu and the same brand. Their ability to consistently meet their fans’ expectations has earned The Grilled Cheese Truck a prime spot in customer heaven with more than 67,000 Twitter followers and 48,000 Facebook fans.
4. Thou shalt stand for something.
Serving up delicious food on the daily is essential to your food truck’s success—but you’ll need to go further if you want to build lasting relationships with your fans. That’s why the fourth commandment is so important: You must show your customers what you believe in.
Whether you only serve organic ingredients from local farmers or donate funds to causes that support your community, show your fans what you stand for. Check out how The Cinnamon Snail, a vegan and organic food truck from New York City, practices their mission in this section from their FAQs:
Though some cynics might assume that dishonest customers could take advantage of The Cinnamon Snail, this truck believes in trust and caring for people in need. Their policies allow them to give back to the community and people who can truly benefit from their generosity—and their example also resonates with fans who are more than happy to pay for their meals. Standing up for a cause you believe in can help you connect with likeminded individuals who are interested in supporting businesses with heart.
5. Thou shalt be upfront about thy offerings.
Business isn’t usually about generosity or selflessness—but at FoodTruckr, we believe the food truck community has the ability to be successful while playing by a different set of rules. The food truck owners we’ve talked with are genuinely great people: passionate about their businesses and excited to share their creations with others. They do business honestly and with integrity, which means that they don’t make promises they can’t keep.
Some businesses are so eager to keep their customers that they try to become one-stop shops for all of their needs—even though the company really specializes in one particular area and customers would be better served by sometimes visiting another business. You might pull the wool over on a few customers this way, but you won’t earn trust from your fans by neglecting to be upfront about what you can do.
Bananarchy out of Austin, TX has a pretty basic menu: they serve frozen bananas dipped in savory flavors like melted chocolate or peanut butter and topped with sprinkles, nuts, or other treats. Their truck was inspired by the famous banana stand from the hit series “Arrested Development”—and like their predecessor, Bananarchy embraces their simplicity instead of diluting their menu to appeal to more customers:
When you’re clear with your customers about what you serve and don’t try to dress it up with frills or fancy language, people will respect your honesty and authenticity. Have fun with your truck and let it reflect your interests. Not only does Bananarchy approach their menu with openness and honesty, but they also allude to their favorite show with the popular “GOB” banana, a recipe named after one “Arrested Development” character and his regular order.
Be upfront about who you are and what you do, and your customers will learn to trust you and appreciate you for your true talents—which deepens the foundation of your relationship.
6. Thou shalt never be too busy for a customer.
Between grocery shopping, applying for permits, booking catering gigs, hiring team members, tracking your finances, cooking food, and brainstorming new concepts—your life as a food truck owner is busy, to say the least. Who has time to mess around with updating Facebook and tweeting?
If you said “not me,” you’re not alone—many food truck owners think they’re too busy to waste time on social media. But unfortunately, saying that you’re too busy for social media is effectively the same as saying that you’re too busy for your customers—and that’s one of the greatest sins you can commit as a food truck owner.
Los Angeles’s Kogi BBQ is arguably the country’s best-known, most successful food truck—but they still take time nearly every day to respond to their fans’ tweets and to banter back and forth with their customers:
Kogi has 110,000+ followers—and most of the people who tweet at them probably aren’t expecting a response. However, the fact that the Kogi team takes time each day to respond to their fans show just how committed this truck is to building relationships with their customers. And that type of dedication is what keeps their legions of fans coming back for more.
7. Thou shalt deliver thy best work.
Have you ever been to a restaurant where the wait staff took their time bringing your meal or let you wait nearly 30 minutes to get a refill on a glass of water? How about a fast food joint where the normally hot French fries were a little clammy as you drove away from the window? These establishments weren’t incapable of doing better—they just weren’t trying to give you their best work, and it showed. How did that make you feel? Unappreciated? Angry? Cheated?
If you want to develop positive, lasting relationships with your customers, you have to make sure they never feel this way—and the best way to do that is by offering your best work every time. Check out how Cousins Maine Lobster from southern California does this:
Jim and Sabin, the owners of Cousins Maine Lobster, are so committed to serving up the freshest, most authentic dishes to their fans that they have fresh lobster delivered across the country every day. They go to great lengths to give their fans the best, and it’s helped them become one of the most popular trucks in the notoriously competitive Los Angeles and Orange County areas.
Your customers want to eat at trucks that are serious about their menus, their ingredients, and their service. By showing people that you’re truly committed to your craft, you’ll make connections and earn fans who support quality, passion, and hard work.
8. Thou shalt be honest when something goes wrong.
There’s always going to be an ‘oops.’ Of course, there’s a difference between serving sub-par food regularly and suffering from the occasional slip-up—and it’s okay to be honest with customers when things go wrong. No matter how hard you try to be perfect and deliver your best every time, there are some factors that are simply out of your control.
Check out how Yummy’z Kitchen from Houston, TX handled a setback with grace and humor:
You might miss a big event because your truck breaks down, or you may advertise an all-day special only to run out after two hours because you were completely overwhelmed by the demand. Your fans will be disappointed, but they’ll understand if you’re upfront about what went wrong—especially if you can find a way to work a bit of humor into the situation, just like Yummy’z Kitchen did with their clever “#foodtruckproblems” hashtag. Apologize to your fans when you make a mistake and take steps to rectify the situation. Most importantly, make sure it doesn’t happen again or you could start to lose their hard-earned trust.
9. Thou shalt treat relationships with respect and integrity.
Your fans are more than just paying customers—they’re people with unique interests, dreams, and lifestyles. Treat those relationships with respect and integrity by having real conversations and by showing them that you care with little extras. Slip a free dessert or a coupon in their bag. People can tell when you’re only talking to them or treating them well because you want to sell something, and they’ll lose interest quickly when all you’re doing is making a pitch.
Some food trucks struggle to find fans through Facebook and Twitter because they rarely send out anything besides updates about their truck’s location. Your fans do want to know where you are—but they also want the chance to connect with you. A fun story about what’s happening at your truck or a picture of some of the people standing in line allows you to show your authentic self—and it attracts fans who would be turned off by a selfish sales pitch.
The Yum Yum Truck from Orlando, FL does a great job of communicating with fans without selling through the “#yumyumbride” and “#yumyumgroom” updates they post after catering gigs:
This type of positive congratulatory message shows that The Yum Yum Truck cares about their customers’ happiness and that their business is about more than just selling cupcakes. For these two fans, at least, The Yum Yum Truck made their special day a little sweeter.
10. Thou shalt have fun.
Last but not least, show your customers that you’re wild about your food truck! When customers can see that you’re having fun with your truck, they’ll be more inclined to support your business. After all, aren’t you more likely to visit a rockin’ truck where the team is laughing and dancing while they cook than a quiet, drab one with a surly-looking chef?
Mustache Mike’s Italian ice truck from California keeps things lighthearted with fun fan photos like this one:
When customers see you and your other fans having fun at your truck, they’re more likely to stop by to see what all the buzz is about—and to return in the future with their friends. Running your food truck is a serious business, but at the end of the day, you shouldn’t be doing it if you aren’t enjoying yourself—and your customers can tell when you’re not having fun.
Reaching the Promised Land
Customer relationships are the foundation of any successful business, but they’re even more important in communities like the food truck industry. Your customers are the key to success, and failing to connect with them on a personal level is a pretty grave sin. By following these 10 commandments (and with the blessing of your food truck’s guardian angel!), you’ll find that customer heaven isn’t all that far away.
What’s your number one rule for getting to know your customers? Share your successful stories of rewarding customer relationships on our Facebook page!
feature image by weeklydig