Truckin' Along: 4 Tips for Hiring a Food Truck to Cater Your Event

“Food truck operators have lots of regulations to meet, especially when they are serving at private events.”

 

Are you a food truck fan?

I’m talking about the new age food trucks that offer anything from Asian to Indian that are popping up all over town – day and night. Food trucks and mobile food vendors are becoming a trendy way to feed a gang of event attendees because they offer a variety of food options in a fun and social environment. They provide a quick set-up and tear-down too. It’s no surprise that it’s now super common to see them frequenting music festivals, fairs, fundraisers and outdoor events of all types.

I recently planned an outdoor picnic event for a client. We were expecting 1000 hungry people and a food truck rally seemed like the perfect fit! Unfortunately, working with food truck operators turned out to be WAY more challenging to work than I ever could’ve imagined. Boy, did I learn a lot about food trucks.

Here are some things that I eventually came to understand about the food truck industry. If you’re a rookie when it comes to food truck catering (like I was), take note of these tips:

 

Tip #1 – Know How Many Food Trucks You Need

This was my first mistake. My client was originally estimating 1000 guests. So, I decided that 10 food trucks (a combination of main meals and dessert or novelty offerings) seemed like a good number. My blunder was that I didn’t base that on any specific calculation. I literally picked the number 10 and decided to go for it.

It turns out that food truck operators aren’t keen on competition! One of the first questions that the food truck owners asked me was what other local food trucks were also going to be at the event. Because they can literally almost set-up anywhere on any given day, food trucks are looking for the best spot where they can maximize sales. If you have too many food trucks at an event, each trucks ends up serving fewer people and making less money.

Apparently the rule of thumb is this:

  • If your event is primarily an ‘eating’ event, you should hire 1 food truck for every 200-300 guests.
  • If your event is not 100% focused on eating, the ratio is more like 1 food truck for every 400-500 guests.

 

Tip #2 – Be Able to Accurately Estimate Your Attendance

My client’s event was a first-time event so there was no previous history on attendance numbers to go on. We optimistically started off planning for 1000 participants that was based on the client’s optimistic attendance estimate. However, registration for the event was slow to take off and that original attendance estimate dropped from 1000 to 750 to 500 to 400, and at one point, it was as low as 200 people! Yikes!

As a result of the poorly calculated attendance estimate and my lofty goal of having ten food trucks (when I probably only needed two – see above), the local food truck operators weren’t giving me any love. Most of the food trucks I contacted to cater the event did not want in on it.

I now know that food truck operators have a lot of pre-event prep and expenses. They will begin ordering and preparing the proper amount of food days in advance. They don’t have the luxury of having a big kitchen in the back with extra supplies, so when they run out they run out. If they’ve ordered too much, they may have food waste. If they’ve prepared too little, they will have to close up early and miss out on serving more event attendees.

Plus, they have to travel to the event site and those food trucks are gas guzzlers!

It’s a tricky business and food truck operators are counting on event organizers to give them accurate estimates and to set them up for a successful day.

 

Tip #3 – Hire Food Trucks Who Are Familiar with Special Event Requirements & Regulations

Food truck operators have lots of regulations to meet, especially when they are serving at private events. As an event organizer, it’s your responsibility to make sure they have permits, health and safety regulations, insurance, licenses, etc. in place prior to the event. To save yourself some grief, go with food truck operators who do a lot of special events like festivals, sport events, and fairs and are ‘in the know’ about all the paperwork.

 

Tip #4 – Determine Who Pays for the Food Consumed – Individuals or the Event Host?

This is another key element to food truck success! You need to decide if individuals will pay for their own food (presumably in cash directly to the food truck operator) or if the event organizer will treat guests and then settle up with food truck operators after the event.

In the case of my picnic, we decided to have the event registration fee include coupons to be redeemed at the food trucks during the event. I called them ‘food truck bucks’ and they were handed out in denominations of $5. Some event participants had $5 included in their registration fees and others had $10 or $15 – it depended on their registration category.

In my original budget estimate for this event, I assumed 80% of event attendees would actually redeem their food truck bucks onsite. However, the food truck operators that I was approaching to cater the event felt this was high.  They argued that only 50% of event attendees would likely use their food coupons. They also felt that most people would only spend the amount they were given by event organizers and wouldn’t spend any additional money of their own on food.

As you can see, my event was a tough sell for the food truck operators because of so many factors that could potentially substantially reduce their sales on the day of the event. It didn’t help that there were several other festivals and outdoor spectator events taking place across the city that day that were potentially more attractive locations for the food truck operators. This savvy group had lots of other options and they were asking all the right questions to help them maximize their revenues on that particular day.

Conclusion

These are only a few of the many things that I learned about working with food trucks! Wow – do I have a new appreciation for these small business owners who are reinventing the event food industry. The next time I am interested in having a food truck cater an event, I will definitely be going into it with much more knowledge and understanding of how the business works and what they need from event organizers like iSPARK to have a positive experience catering an event.