November 19, 2020
It's no secret that the food industry has been hit hard due to COVID-19. Brick and mortar restaurants in particular have lost a lot of staff and revenue, because they can't have their dining rooms open or at least at full capacity. Indoor dining simply isn't recommended due to the health risk, since the virus is spread through airborne particles.
People can't eat with their masks on; so outdoor dining is much safer. As the weather turns colder, those brick and mortar restaurants are starting to sweat it, because they won't be able to serve customers outside. However, there’s one type of restaurant in the United States that just may come out of the winter mostly unscathed. Those restaurants are on wheels.
The popularity of food trucks has been a force to be reckoned with since Chef Roy Choi opened the Kogi BBQ Taco Truck that serves gourmet Korean-Mexican tacos in Los Angeles. Now, food trucks are found in every major city from New York in the East to Los Angeles in the West. They serve just about anything you could wish for. There are barbecue trucks; trucks that sell gluten-free items, and food trucks that specialize in burgers. You name it, there's probably a truck for it.
Perhaps the draw of the food truck is the psychological experience of eating gourmet food essentially from an ice cream truck. It's fun, whimsical, and an experience that customers will remember for a long time. Food trucks are so mainstream that you can even watch films, like Chef on Netflix, where the whole adventure’s about traveling the United States in a food truck.
Since food trucks are such a part of the zeitgeist, they're exclusively outdoor dining, and food truck owners have already adapted for winter in cold locations, they’ll hopefully be some of the few restaurants untouched by the pandemic. That's great news if you're a food truck owner. That being said, there are specific ways to ensure that your food truck business survives COVID-19. Here are a few examples.
Although your business might have its own style and flair, following safety protocol's one of the most important standards you can set. Face masks might not be the most stylish piece of your wardrobe, but they will keep you and your customers safe. You can push culinary boundaries with your burgers, but you can't push the boundaries of safety protocol. No matter what your feelings are about wearing masks, you have a responsibility to your consumers to keep them away from harm. Imagine what would happen to your company if an outbreak of COVID-19 were traced back to your establishment. That would be very bad for business.
Although you have more flexibility, because you're not a brick and mortar restaurant, you may still need to be adaptable. Make sure you follow OSHA's COVID-19 guidance as closely as you can. If you're not always great about giving your employees time off when they're under the weather, now is the time to do that. Depending on what kind of food truck you own and operate, you may have to cut how many people are working inside the truck at one time, so they can maintain at least six feet of distance. If that means only one person is working inside, you may not be able to serve as many people, but it will keep your workers from catching the virus.
In order to also keep your customers following guidelines, you may have to get creative. A lot of people don't seem to be able to maintain six feet of distance when they're out in public unless prompted. Before you open your truck for business, draw something like circles, stars, or smiley faces with chalk on top of the pavement. Measure them, so they’re six to ten feet apart. Make signage that's specific to your company asking your customers to distance and wear masks when interacting with you or your workers. If someone isn’t following protocol, you don’t have to serve them.
Although these are particularly crazy times, maybe it's a blessing that you can step back and take a look at your business model or menu while you might not have a huge influx of customers. Everything’s in the midst of a shakeup. If you've always had an idea for specialty sandwiches, now might be the time to put it on the menu.
Everything takes a little bit more planning anytime someone is leaving the house. Gone are the days of making totally last minute plans. For your next event, use social media to advertise in advance. Part of the intrigue of the food truck might be the spontaneous nature of where it pops up, but in the pandemic, it might be better for business to keep customers in the loop about where you're going to be setting up shop.
While you're planning your menu, make sure the top of your priority list is figuring out what food you're actually going to be able to get your hands on. Due to food shortages, you may be surprised by what you no longer have access to. Do a little research before setting and publishing your menu online.
Everything's constantly evolving. The CDC comes out with new information every few weeks as their understanding of the virus deepens. Try to prepare for every situation you can think of. What happens if a second spike sends your city back into Phase 1? As part of the food industry, you're used to rolling with the punches. Extend that attitude to the changing information about the pandemic.
If you don't own a food truck and are just a fan, the best way to keep your favorite trucks in business is by visiting them. Make Friday taco truck night. If your favorite food truck offers gift cards, buy a few in advance of the holidays or just for fun. Your business helps chefs, owners, and other workers stay afloat.
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