How to Run a Food Truck 13: Stay Motivated Through the Winter

Food Truck

Today’s lesson marks an important moment in “How to Run a Food Truck”—not only are we wrapping up Unit 3, but we’ve also officially reached the halfway point of the entire series! You guys have been doing an awesome job getting your businesses up and running and proving that you have what it takes to succeed as a food truck owner. There are so many things to learn during your first year (and just as many challenges to face along the way), but you’ve really stuck with it and shown your commitment to this challenging career path. So, congratulations on a job well done!

The fact that you’ve been doing so well is even more impressive when you consider the fact that this time of year can be a real challenge for FoodTruckrs living in chilly climates. With the excitement of the holidays come and gone, you may still be facing another month or two of winter weather. And even if you’re able to overcome all the challenges you’ll face while serving (frozen equipment and ingredients, snowy and icy roads, simply dragging yourself out into the cold early in the morning), you’ll still face problems in selling (getting customers to wait in line in the cold, decreased foot traffic, New Year’s diet resolutions).

Now, we’ve written about ways to combat some of these problems in the past. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out our articles on preparing for the off-season with alternative business strategies, preventive food truck maintenance to keep you going through the winter, and what to do when you don’t have enough customers. These lessons all help you to address day-to-day problems that affect your business and your bottom line, but what should you do when there’s a larger problem brewing at the surface—a problem that looks and tastes a lot more like discouragement, uncertainty, and doubt? A problem that paralyzes you from taking action, leaving you frozen in fear?

If those feelings sound familiar, it’s time to spend some time focusing on yourself, your team, and your motivations. Today, we’re going to look at some things you can do to keep your spirits high during a long, cold winter. It’s the hardest time of year to keep your truck going, but we know you can do it—after all, we’re here to show you how! Let’s dig right in.

Motivate Yourself

Before you tackle any other problem in your business (be it a lack of customers, a route full of icy roads, or a grumbling employee), you need to be motivated and feeling good about your business and yourself. Your attitude has a direct influence on your team members and customers and how they all feel about your truck—and, most importantly, it also influences your own behavior and how effectively you can do your own job. Try these four strategies to get your head back in the game and to get yourself feeling excited about life as a food truck owner once again.

1. Take Time for Yourself

This first piece of advice is one that we’ve emphasized before, but it’s something that we can never really say too many times—no matter how busy you get, you need to take time for yourself. Every food truck owner should have some time built into his or her schedule to simply relax and get away from the business. Whether it’s a full weekend off, a few nights each week, or a couple hours in the morning before you get started for the day, you absolutely must give yourself time to rejuvenate.

There are dozens of ways to take care of yourself, but sometimes you just need someone else to push you in the right direction. Here are a few things to try:

  • Take a long bath with your favorite book.
  • Grab a couple drinks with a friend or partner and catch up on everything that’s been happening lately.
  • Indulge in a Netflix-binge session.
  • Bundle up and go for a brisk walk.
  • Hit the gym.
  • Catch a matinee of a recent flick you’ve been waiting to see.
  • Treat yourself to your favorite meal at your favorite restaurant—and don’t forget dessert!

2. Remember Why You’re Doing This

Feeling a little more refreshed? Relaxing is the first step, but the next thing you need to do is remind yourself why you’re working in this industry in the first place. Is it a passion for cooking? A will to work for yourself? The desire to spread happiness and smiles among all your fans?

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Sit for awhile and think about your reasons for running a food truck. If you’re having trouble getting into the spirit with this one (and don’t worry, many people do!), try one of these activities:

  • Read through the documents you collected and prepared during the early part of your food truck journey. Review the mission statement and company description from your food truck business plan and remember the inspiration you felt during the early days. Check out the materials in your business plan’s appendix and remember all the hard work you’ve achieved so far.
  • Write a journal entry about your experiences so far. Start at the beginning, or write about what’s been on your mind as of late. Get everything you’re feeling out on the page, and don’t worry about the quality of your writing or about whether or not your train of thought makes sense.
  • Follow a guided mediation to quiet your mind or to explore your thoughts on a particular aspect of your entrepreneurial journey.
  • Take a day to go around your city and visit other food trucks. Observe customers at other trucks and other food truck owners, looking for positive experiences. Think about what your own truck must look like to an outside observer, and try to imagine the joy it might bring to someone walking by.
  • Think about your ultimate goal and visualize yourself attaining it. Do you dream of owning a fleet of trucks or someday expanding to a brick and mortar restaurant? Picture yourself actually living that dream in as much detail as you can. What does your daily routine look like? Who are the happy customers waiting in your line? How does it feel to have achieved your dream?

3. Ask for Help

Of course, sometimes the best thing to do when you’re feeling unsure about your business is to reach out and ask someone for help. If you’re in need of a little boost of motivation, ask a friend or family member to meet you for dinner or coffee. You can talk about other topics and get your mind off your business, or you can ask him or her to help you sort through the challenges you’re facing. Ask questions like “Have you ever experienced a roadblock like this before?” or “What would you do if you were in my situation?”.

You may also want to consider reaching out to someone else in the food truck industry who might have a little more insight on what you’re going through. Here are a few avenues you can pursue:

  • Take another local food truck owner out for coffee and discuss his or her early experiences. Ask what he or she does during the winter and if he or she has ever felt discouraged when business slows down. Most likely, the other food truck owner will have experienced the same things you are and can commiserate with you and share valuable advice!
  • Look for a food truck organization in your area and see if there are any local meetups or events going on. You might be able to meet new people in the industry or find a local cause that you can dedicate some time to while you’re waiting for the weather to warm up!
  • Contact the FoodTruckr team at [email protected] or by sending us a message on Facebook or Twitter. We’re always here to help, and we’ve seen other truck owners face many of the same problems that you’re experiencing right now!

4. Connect with Your Fans

Sometimes when you’re having trouble motivating yourself, the best thing you can do is give someone else the opportunity to inspire you! That’s why our final (and perhaps most effective) strategy for motivating yourself involves some of the people who are most important to you—your fans.

Many food truck owners do what they do because of their fans—and even food truck owners who got into the business because of a love of cooking or entrepreneurship recognize that their fans are the ones keeping their trucks going. For that reason, when you’re feeling a little down about the current state of your business, connecting with your fans can have one of the most dramatic impacts on your emotional state.

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Here are a few ways to connect on a deeper level and to get closer with your fans:

  • Hold a “Customer Appreciation” event with a special discount, samples of a new menu item, or a giveaway of some kind. You’ll likely get increased traffic to your truck, which will both serve to remind you of how loved you are while also giving you the opportunity to chat with dozens of people. Thanking your fans and showing your appreciation for them is one of the best ways to remind them why they love your truck—and it will undoubtedly put you in a better mood.
  • Make it a point to ask each customer who comes to your truck a question about their life. It could be as simple as “How’s your afternoon going?” or “On your way to work this morning?” or even something more personal like “I noticed your name badge says you work at ________. How do you like it there?”.
  • Ask customers for feedback on your truck. Tell them you’re looking for ways to take your business to the next level, and you’d like to know what areas they think you’re doing well in and where you could possibly improve. Of course, be prepared for their honest feedback—and be sure to give them a coupon or a free menu item to thank them for their time!

Motivate Your Team

After completing these motivational strategies and taking some time to focus on rejuvenating yourself, we’re willing to bet that you’ll be feeling better and more excited to focus on your business once again. However, there might be more people besides you who need a little boost of inspiration! Check out our top three strategies to energize your employees below.

1. Give Everyone Some Time Off

The first way to refresh your employees is very similar to the first tip we shared for motivating yourself—give them some time off! Running a food truck is hard work, and your employees are probably used to leaving their shifts feeling pretty run down from standing all day, working over hot grills, and rushing to serve hungry customers. They deserve a little free time to relax just as much as you do.

If you can’t afford to give everyone a paid day off, never fear—even something as small as letting your employees come in an hour late or leave an hour early can be a big morale booster. You can also organize a team outing where everyone can relax and enjoy their time off together. Think of simple, fun, and affordable activities like bowling, a movie, or even having everyone over to your house for dinner and drinks.

No matter what activity or avenue of downtime you choose, the key here is to make sure your employees know how much you appreciate their hard work and how thankful you are to have them representing your truck—and in return, you’ll enjoy the benefits of a happier, more motivated team.

2. Make Coming to Work Fun

Beyond giving everyone time off, there are also plenty of ways to make the work day a little more exciting. In some cases, monotony is the greatest enemy of motivation—so do what you can to break up your employees’ typical routines and get them energized about spending their days on the truck once again. Try loosening up their days with these fun tips:

  • Install a stereo on the truck so they can listen to their favorite songs or podcasts. Let each team member have a day of the week or a week of the month where they get to be in charge of the remote.
  • If your team members normally wear uniforms (even if it’s as simple as a truck t-shirt and jeans), have a “Wear What You Want” or a “Costume Party” day. Come up with a fun theme for everyone to follow or let everyone choose their own.
  • Bring doughnuts to work for the morning crew or start taking a detour through a Starbucks drive-thru each afternoon for a little boost.
  • Run mini-competitions throughout the day to see who can make a burrito the fastest or who can come up with the craziest (but still delicious!) new recipe. Offer prizes like gift cards, check bonuses, or free truck swag.
  • Have fun with the tip jar by letting your employees come up with a funny pun or silly picture to put on it. Just make sure to keep it classy—and make sure everyone remembers that tips are always optional so that no one harasses customers who don’t tip!
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3. Offer Rewards and Bonuses

Finally, one of the surest ways to motivate your team is by offering them a reward or a bonus for a job well done. Whether you choose to offer them when individual employees do a good job, when the truck surpasses its sales goals, or simply at random intervals, every employee on your team is sure to appreciate a little extra gift. Add the money on to their checks or offer a bonus as a personal tip from you yourself for all the hard work they’ve been putting in. You can also show your appreciation by giving your employees birthday gifts (and cupcakes!) or by bringing in holiday treats for the whole team.

Extra gifts and small bonuses might not seem like they make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, but even an extra $10 or $20 can really make all the difference in the world when it comes to your team’s morale. This is a case where it’s truly “the thought that counts”—your employees will feel appreciated because you took the extra time to think about them, and they’ll be more excited to come to work each day and give your business their all. Doing small, nice things for your team is the easiest way to show your thanks—and it’s also the most effective way to boost morale in your employees who have been working hard in a tough business.

Give It Your All

Though working through the winter can be a physically and emotionally demanding time for anyone in the food truck industry, you can ease the burden and keep yourself and your team going by putting a little extra care into staying motivated. Even when your food truck journey becomes tiring and stressful, always do what you can to remember why you’re here and what your ultimate goals are. Every successful food truck owner out there has endured some especially tough challenges, and you can do the same if you just keep pushing onward and giving it your all.

Coming up next: We’ll move on to Unit 4—a section dedicated entirely to helping you be the very best FoodTruckr you can be. We’ll cover topics like consistency, work/life balance, and staying in touch with the latest industry trends. If you feel like you’re getting the hang of this whole “being an awesome food truck owner” thing and you’re ready to take yourself and your business to the next level, this is the unit for you.

Until then, we’d love to hear about what you’re doing to keep your business going through the winter. Do you have a special morning ritual or personal mantra that gets you pumped? What about a fun promotion or a team ritual to get your employees excited to serve? Connect with us on Facebook or Twitter and tell us and other FoodTruckrs what you’re up to!

image by Steven Pisano

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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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  • Loco Taco January 30, 2015, 7:05 pm

    Being in Massachusetts I visit many food trucks in the Boston area that are out in the snow serving up everything from clam chowdah to Boston Baked Beans. I think giving your customers what they want during certain times of the year is important. You would serve ice cream during a December blizzard, but a steaming hot bowl of chilli may work.

    • foodtruckr February 10, 2015, 1:26 pm

      So true! Warm comfort food is a surefire hit when it’s cold and snowy out. 🙂