#FoodTruckFan: Getting Unstuck & Finding Your Next Big Idea

Running a food truck is an inherently creative endeavor, from the crafting of the recipes, to creating a visual brand for the truck, and especially to conjuring money for truck repairs out of thin air. Creativity, as we’ve all experienced from time to time, can be exhausting. We spin our creative wheels, but like a truck stuck in mud, we just can’t seem to get anywhere.

How do you find creative traction when you get stuck?

As I prepared to write this post—and as my own creative wheels were spinning a bit—it occurred to me that it can be hard to find new ideas in an insulated environment. I think about food trucks a lot, and so do you—and consequently some of my ideas for you may have a certain sameness about them. (Or perhaps I’m just ready for enough snow to melt so that my favorite trucks will come back to my street.)

In an effort to bring you new ideas, I conducted an informal poll of a group of my friends who don’t think about food trucks all day, to get their impressions on food trucks. The hard part about leading a focus group, formal or informal, is learning to be quiet and listen. It’s challenging, when you’re the group “expert” on a topic, to have the humility to let other people talk, too.

I’ll admit to you—I nearly blew it. My friend Katie brought up event catering (Did I know that food trucks can cater events?), and immediately I launched into a bunch of facts about the catering side of a food truck business.

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“This is a dead end,” I thought after five minutes. “I don’t have any new ideas.” Of course I didn’t have any new ideas! I was the only one talking! I needed to hear Katie’s opinion, not my own, and so I asked her to tell me about the wedding she had been to, and then I shut up and listened.

Over the next fifteen minutes, my friends gave me great insights into how they, as casual consumers, view food trucks. I learned about:

  • Their concerns as parents (“I’m looking for food that my kids will find fun but isn’t so sugary they’ll be hyper the rest of the afternoon.”)
  • Their fear of the unknown (“The first time I tried a food truck, there were so many trucks with really long lines that I felt anxious about choosing.”)
  • And why they love events with food trucks (“I get to choose what I want! It’s much more exciting than a buffet!”)

And then, right at the end, Kristin gave me the gem I was looking for. “When it comes to weddings, food trucks are the new photo booth.” That statement, right there, is marketing gold—and I never would have come up with it on my own.

The next time you get creatively stuck, conduct an informal focus group.

  1. Find a group of non-experts. Talk to your book club, your PTA or church group, or even your extended family at the next holiday.
  2. Start the discussion with a question. “Have you ever eaten at a food truck?” “Have you ever been to an event with a food truck?”
  3. Don’t talk except to ask clarifying questions. Focus on any mentions of emotions—this is where you’ll learn why people do what they do. “What about the long line of food trucks made you anxious?” “Why were you excited to see food trucks at the wedding?”
  4. Write down any brilliant ideas you have. Trust me, you won’t remember them later.
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Now go forth and get unstuck!

(Oh, and you can use that line about photo booths.)

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Image from SteveInTheUK

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About the Author

Mindy Holahan is a staff writer and the #FoodTruckFan columnist. Indeed, she’s a big ole fan of food trucks, particularly if they sell fish tacos. She has a background in the hospitality industry, loves working with writers, and gets positively giddy about the intersection between cooking and science. Follow her on Twitter @HolaMindy for daily bouts of enthusiasm or on Instagram @HolaMindy for her adventures and epic failures in gluten-free baking.

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