In last week’s “How to Run a Food Truck” lesson, we explained how achieving a healthy work/life balance and establishing a regular routine can make you a more effective business owner. Today, we’d like to continue onward with a similar topic—consistency, and what this important principle can do for your food truck.
Cultivating consistency in your life, your work, and your behavior is one of the keys to becoming a better business owner. Consistency helps you stay focused on your goals, and most importantly, it allows you to build stable, long-lasting relationships with your customers. Let’s begin today’s lesson by looking at what it really means to be consistent.
What is Consistency?
We’ve written about consistency before here at FoodTruckr—in fact, we named it one of the top three qualities of a great brand in our popular article, “Food Truck Branding 101: Build a Brand That Rocks.” For your food truck, consistency means that when you promise something to your fans, you deliver. Your customers have a clear expectation of what your food truck has to offer, and they get to enjoy it every time they step up to your ordering window.
Of course, consistency doesn’t just apply to the quality of your food—it needs to be something that you maintain across every aspect of your truck. Here are a few examples of where food truck fans should find consistency in your business:
- In Your Service: Though you probably have a few favorite regulars who might occasionally get some special bonuses with their orders, all of your other customers should still receive a consistent level of excellent service (bonus points if you’re delivering something similar to the FEAST Experience every time!). When customers know they can expect friendly, prompt, and attentive service every time they visit your truck, they’ll continue to return for more.
- In Your Pricing: Part of delivering excellent service is making sure that your customers know what to expect when it comes to things like your pricing. Though it’s okay to occasionally change your prices, they should stay consistent from week to week. Furthermore, prices on your menu should be consistent with one another and generally in the same range—if all of the sandwiches on your menu are between $6-$9, don’t assign a random $14 value to one sandwich in the hopes that no one will notice (unless of course it has an array of gourmet toppings that justify the higher cost).
- In Your Schedule: A consistent schedule doesn’t just help fans find you when they have a craving—it also makes them more likely to think of your truck as a reliable lunch option on a regular basis. Trucks that generally keep a consistent schedule (street service somewhere downtown from Monday-Friday and special events on the weekends) are easier to find and less hassle than trucks that vary their schedules from week to week (street service downtown one week, in the suburbs the next, and all broken up by catering events on random days).
- In Your Values: What does your truck stand for? What is your unique selling proposition? Your fans want to get to know your truck and see what you’re all about. You can (and should) tell them your story, but you need to deliver on your mission and your goals to truly earn their trust. No matter what your truck holds dearest (delicious ingredients combined in unique ways, a commitment to donating 15% of all your profits, a passion for eco-friendly pursuits), make sure that every decision you make for your food truck business stays consistent with these values.
- In Your Brand: A well developed brand can set you apart from other trucks and help you form connections with your fans. Check out some of our favorite ways to develop a consistent brand in this lesson from the “How to Start a Food Truck” series.
- In Your Food: Finally, consistency also applies very strongly to your food—what you have available on your menu, how it’s prepared, and what it tastes like. Customers want to know that every time they order your slammin’ steak sliders, the food will come out tasting the same. You should absolutely experiment with your menu and feel free to refine your recipes, but save the new versions for test kitchens and fans who know they’re sampling a variation. Give regular fans ordering off the menu the same version they’ve come to know and love until you’re ready to commit to a new, improved recipe.
Consistency isn’t just a way to satisfy your fans who love what they know—it’s an essential part of building trust with your customers and showing them that your truck cares about their satisfaction. Delivering a consistent, reliable experience every time your customers visit (and maintaining that consistency across all aspects of your brand) is one of the single best ways to develop long-lasting relationships with your food truck’s fans—and to encourage them to tell their friends what you have to offer. Consistency is an important aspect of customer service, and it’s an even more important part of building your fanbase and becoming a better business owner.
How to Be More Consistent
Consistency sounds great in theory, but it definitely takes some preparation, reflection, and (consistent!) action to put into effect. Check out FoodTruckr’s simple six-step strategy to being consistent below.
1. Evaluate Where You Can Be Consistent
Before you can commit to being consistent across your brand, you need to spend some time thinking about what you can realistically do consistently. It’s a pretty tall order to immediately decide that you’re going to deliver excellent service, cook every meal the same way, and maintain a regular schedule all at once. Instead, try focusing on one or two of these things at a time.
Maintaining consistent pricing and delivering consistently excellent service are a couple of the easiest practices to implement early on—and once you’ve mastered these, you can move on to more challenging tasks like setting up a consistent schedule for your truck and posting consistently on social media. Mistakes will happen, so you shouldn’t get discouraged if something comes up that throws off your regular routine. Instead, you should focus on figuring out what you can reasonably expect to do consistently and spend your energy making those things happen.
2. Match Your Actions to Your Brand’s Promises
If you’re having trouble choosing which practices are most important to deliver consistently, spend some time thinking about what your food truck’s brand promises customers. For a truck like Green Truck that’s focused on delivering healthy food and promoting a healthy planet, it’s essential to maintain a consistent stock of organic ingredients so their customers can receive the healthy meals they expect. For a truck like Flavor Rush whose primary focus is on a menu that changes weekly, consistently delivering variety is an integral part of the brand promise.
Think about what your truck’s branding (including factors like your logo, website, menu, and service) promises customers outright—and also what it promises in a more subtle, implied fashion. Then, make every decision about your truck (where to park, what to post on Facebook, which new to-go containers you should order) with those brand promises in mind in order to deliver a consistent experience to your customers.
3. Set Specific Goals
Once you’ve begun figuring out where you can easily be most consistent and what new decisions you can make with consistency in mind, it’s time to start setting some goals. Setting specific goals that are focused on developing consistency will help to build your focus and will also make it easier to hold yourself accountable to your brand’s promises. It’s incredibly easy to get distracted and start making small decisions that aren’t in line with your brand, but specific goals will keep you on track and keep your eyes on the prize.
What kinds of goals are we talking about? Well, that certainly depends on what areas of your business you’re hoping to develop consistency in—but as a general rule, we recommend making goals that are both attainable and measurable. That means that if you’re hoping to develop consistency in the service your team delivers to customers, an attainable and measurable goal might be, “Greet every customer within five seconds of him or her walking up to the window, and say, ‘Thanks for stopping by; come see us again soon!’ to every customer as you hand him or her the food,” while a poor, non-specific goal might say, “Be nicer to customers and thank them for coming in.” The first goal outlines a clear action your employees should take to ensure each customer receives a consistent experience, and is also easy to measure, while the second goal is subjective and open to interpretation by different employees. Keeping clear, specific goals for you and your team helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that customers get the same experience each time they come by.
4. Build Momentum
If you’re feeling a little pressured by how much regular action goes into consistency, this simple truth might help you feel a little better: Consistency isn’t developed in a day. Consistent action, by definition, can only come about over time—which means that it’s okay if it takes you awhile to get going and to get your team fully trained on everything they should be doing.
The easiest way to become consistent in your food truck business is to practice building momentum. Take small, positive steps each day toward achieving the goals you’ve set and work your way up to full consistency. For instance, if you’ve set a goal to eventually serve at one festival or event every weekend, you can start out by working toward booking one gig per month and using the remaining weekend days to scout applications and to work on any special menus you want to serve at these events. Continuing to work toward your goal will help you get into the rhythm of what consistent event appearances will feel like, so that by the time you’re able to book 4-5 events each month, you already have the rest of your schedule in place in order to accommodate the extra workload.
5. Always Have a Backup Plan
Of course, even with the best laid plans and most thorough preparations in place, you’ll still occasionally run into a major, unavoidable problem. In these instances, it’s important to have a backup plan in place so that you can continue to deliver the consistent service and quality your customers expect. For something like working an event every weekend, your backup plan if an event gets canceled might be as simple as, “I’ll wing it that day, either taking the day off or hitting the streets if I really need the cash.” But if the problem that comes up will directly impact your customers (you broke a leg and can’t make it to a wedding you’re scheduled to cater, or your vegetable supplier’s shipment falls through and you’re left without your regular ingredients), you need to have a more specific and reliable plan in place.
This is a smart practice for FoodTruckrs at any stages in their business, and it’s something you should be working on now if you haven’t already done so. Every integral aspect of your business should have a backup plan ready to deploy in the event of an emergency—from a few food truckin’ friends who can cover for you if you’re suddenly out of commission and have an essential event like a wedding coming up, to a clear knowledge of which grocers in town have the highest-quality veggies in stock if your supplier doesn’t come through for you. How detailed your plan needs to be depends wholly on how much it will impact your customers, so keep their needs first and foremost in your mind as you figure out what you’ll need to do to maintain consistent standards in the event of various emergencies.
6. Reflect On What You’ve Done
There’s no doubt about it—consistency is hard work, and it’s something that requires a true attention to detail and commitment to high standards to truly achieve. That’s why the final step in our strategy to being consistent is so important: You need to stay motivated by reflecting on what you’re doing well.
All too often, FoodTruckrs just keep going and going every day without stopping to really recognize and reflect on their successes. We know how it is—you have an endless list of things to do, and sometimes an even more endless line of customers. It’s tough to remember to take the time to stop and look at what’s been going on at a micro level and where you’ve made improvements over time.
However, the simple act of reflection is so incredibly important to your progress, as it allows you to clearly see what’s working well for you and to find places where there’s still room for improvement—and most importantly, because it can encourage you to keep going. Developing consistency across your food truck business is a constant goal that you’ll always have to continue working on, as there will always be new challenges and new decisions to make about where you’re heading next. Reflecting on what you’ve accomplished so far is the best way to keep your spirits high and to help you prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.
Deliver What Customers Want
Your customers want a lot of things from your truck (great food, a fun experience, friendly service)—but we’re willing to bet that one of the things they want more than anything else is to know that they can count on you to deliver what you’ve promised. Your consistency and reliability will earn their trust better than anything else can, and you’ll be rewarded with their loyal patronage in return—and if you’re truly lucky, you might even get their endorsement through the act of recommendations to family and friends.
In fact, we’ll be covering this topic even more in next week’s lesson as we move on to Unit 5 of “How to Run a Food Truck”! Stay tuned for Lesson 19, where we’ll dig into a brand new topic that’s never been covered on FoodTruckr before—the importance of Yelp reviews.
image by Ruth Hartnup