How to Run a Food Truck 08: Show Customers How Much You Care

FoodTruckrs, can you believe it? The second unit of our “How to Run a Food Truck” series is coming to a close today! All month long, we’ve been showing you how to satisfy customers with great food, fantastic service, and awesome specials. It’s been a busy unit, but these lessons are some of the most important we’ve ever written—so we’d like to take a brief minute to recap how far you’ve come along in your journey of learning how to run a food truck.

Now, we’re excited to present one of the most important lessons in this unit. Today’s post is all about showing your customers how much you care. Passionate, loyal fans are the lifeblood of every successful food truck business—but it can be tough to get people to care about your business when you’re always on the go, when you’re interacting with dozens of people each day, and when you don’t get to spend much time with individual customers.

How can you connect on a deeper level with customers when you don’t interact with them for longer than the time it takes to take their orders, prepare their food, and hand them piping hot plates of deliciousness? Let’s dig right in and find out.

Your Food Truck is More Than Just a Place to Grab Some Lunch

There’s one thing you need to understand before you start trying to connect with your customers—your food truck is more than just a place to grab some lunch. An understanding of this simple fact is crucial. Without it, you’ll find yourself wondering why it’s so important to build relationships that extend beyond “Hi, how are you today?” and “Here’s your order. Thanks for stopping by.”

So, here’s the scoop. To your customers, your food truck isn’t just a convenient stop for nutritious fuel. It’s not just a cheap place to grab a burrito or a sandwich in the middle of a hectic work day. Your food truck is an experience. It’s an idea. It’s a tangible, real-life representation of a dream come true.

And, of course, it’s also a place to find mouth-watering meals that are affordable, accessible, and awesome.

As a food truck owner, you occupy a unique place of mystery and intrigue in your customers’ minds. For people who spend the majority of their days slumped over computers in boring cubicles, trapped under harsh, fluorescent lighting, your life as a food truck owner seems very magical and exotic. Though a customer on his lunch hour might empathize with a McDonald’s worker who looks just as bored by his job as the customer is with his, that same customer likely feels a bit of envy toward you—the food truck owner who’s clearly passionate about his or her business and is serving up every new sandwich with a bright, authentic smile and a dash of happy laughter.

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When customers visit food trucks, they expect more than just a cheap meal. They expect delicious food that was created by someone who cares about his or her craft. They expect you, the food truck owner, to be positive, warm, and welcoming. And they expect (and want to see) something different than what they would find at any other restaurant, convenience store, or fast food joint that they could hit up for lunch.

Food truck customers are expecting a taste of passion. And it’s up to you to understand this, remember this, and deliver it to them.

Customers Want to Become Fans—You Just Have to Help Them

Now that you understand how excited your customers are about visiting your truck, you may be able to see how eager many of them are to become fans. People love finding awesome businesses and brands that they can become loyal to, so if you can do the right things to satisfy your fans, you can give customers a reason to love your food truck as much as you do.

So, how can you show customers how passionate you are about your business—and how much you care about them? We’ve got four key practices you can employ to really take your customer relationships to the next level. These behaviors will take you from “Steve, the guy who takes orders” in customers’ minds to “Steve, the really awesome owner of Steve’s Super Slices, a.k.a. my favorite FoodTruckr, a.k.a. my friend, a.k.a. my hero.”

1. Get to Know Your Customers

Up first is one of our favorite tips—a practice that seems so easy that it’s hard to believe what a major impact it can have. We’re talking about getting to know your customers.

This practice is the first one you should enact because it’s easy and fun and has huge rewards. All you have to do is talk with your customers while they’re ordering and waiting for their food. It doesn’t have to be anything major—you just want to dig a little deeper than your typical greeting. Even a simple question like “How’s your day going?”, “On your way back to the office?”, or “Have any fun plans for this weekend?” can get a conversation going and allow you to learn more about your customer than what he or she likes on a pizza.

These conversations might seem like basic small talk, but the fact that you’re even taking the time to engage your customer can make a huge impression. Most likely, the far majority of your customer’s transactions at stores and restaurants are kept to the basics of placing an order, paying, and leaving. Taking just a couple minutes out of your day to find out something more about the customer’s life shows him or her that you care about more than just selling food—you want to make sure your customers are happy and that they feel comfortable and welcomed at your truck. And most importantly, you’ll begin to earn repeat business—which gives you even more opportunities to talk with your customers, to learn about their lives, and to build relationships that run deeper than a shared love of chocolate cupcakes and chili cheeseburgers.

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2. Reward True Fans

Once you’ve gotten to know your customers and you start seeing people returning for second, third, and twenty-seventh visits, it’s time to reward your true fans. This practice is very much related to last week’s lesson on promotions that inspire fan loyalty. All of the suggestions in that lesson are great ways to reward people who have made multiple trips to your truck, so be sure to refer back to it for ideas.

Keep in mind, however, that you don’t have to have a formalized loyalty program or a regular promotional schedule in place to give special deals to your favorite fans. Simply surprising someone with a random free discount or a bonus treat tucked into their order bag is one of the best ways to show people how much you care. Your fans will love the extras, and they’ll be excited to return again in the future. There’s nothing like showing fans that you appreciate their loyalty by doling out a little extra food truck love from time to time—and by showing them that you remembered them enough to reward them for making return visits.

3. Give People a Reason to Return

Similarly, we love it when food trucks show fans how eager they are for their repeat business by giving them a reason to return in the form of coupons and discounts. Print a coupon for a “buy one, get one half off” deal at the bottom of select receipts or tell people that they can get a free sandwich on their next visit when they leave you a Yelp review or like your page on Facebook. The key here is not just to show people how much you appreciate them coming in, but to let them know how much you want them to return. Show them that you can’t wait to see them again by giving them something to enjoy on their next visit.

4. Get Involved with the Community

Finally, one of our favorite ways to show customers how much you care about them and their happiness is to get involved with your local community. There are dozens of ways to be an active member in your city’s local events. Here are just a few ideas of how you can show fans your passion for the area:

  • Participate in food truck festivals, local benefits, and community-oriented events.
  • Give shout-outs on social media to local sports teams and groups that are doing cool things.
  • Hold benefits for local charitable organizations (such as animal shelters, youth programs, and homeless shelters).
  • Offer a city-themed menu item.
  • Run specials on days that are special to your community (anniversaries of big city-wide events, your city’s birthday, or days when a local team is competing in a big game).

The trick here is to show your fans that you’re proud to be a part of the community and that you want to be involved in the things that are going on in their lives. Celebrating local events and staying aware of important things that are happening in your town helps fans see that you care about the city and that you’re committed to serving as an integral part of local life. No matter what types of promotions you decide to run, you can become more involved in your customers’ lives and show them how passionate you are about their happiness by working to be an active member of your local community.

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Let Your Fans Spread the Word

Showing fans how much you care is an on-going endeavor that you should continue to focus on throughout your entire food truck career. The practices you’ve learned in this lesson aren’t just something you should institute during the first few months of your life as a food truck owner—they are behaviors that should simply become a part of how your truck does business.

As you continue to grow your business and turn more customers into loyal, impassioned fans, you’ll begin to notice something special happening—those brand new fans who are excited about your truck will begin telling their friends, who will come to check out what all the hype is about. Slowly but surely, they’ll become fans, too—and they’ll tell their friends, who will come to check you out, and so on, and so on. Over time, you’ll develop a loyal pack of fans that can serve as ambassadors for your brand—and who will be the type of people you can always rely upon to keep your truck running.

Coming up next: We’ll bring you more lessons on customer service and satisfying your fans in the future, but next week, it’s time to move on to a brand new topic in Unit 3 of “How to Run a Food Truck.” The next few lessons will be all about preparing for some of the challenges new food truck owners face—including getting ready for the off-season, what to do when you don’t have enough customers, and what important truck maintenance tips you need to know. Stay tuned!

Until then, we’d love to know what practices you use to show your customers how much their happiness matters to you. Who is your biggest fan? What do you do to keep him or her coming back? And what is your favorite way to thank someone who has made multiple visits to your truck? Share your stories in the comments below!

image by Trishhh

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About the Author

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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