Ray Camillo – Founder & CEO, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many industries, especially restaurants. As lockdown rules keep changing, many restaurants are unable to stay open. Others are forced to switch their model to only takeout and delivery. If you have a restaurant, you might want to consider a creative alternative —transforming your restaurant into a food truck.
Why This is a Good Time for Food Trucks
Restaurants are going through a rough time in 2020, and there are signs this will continue well into 2021 and perhaps beyond. In many cities and states, lockdown rules are once again getting stricter, forcing many restaurants to offer only takeout and delivery options. Food trucks, on the other hand, were created for the very purpose of providing takeout meals. Making it the perfect business model for these times.
The Popularity of Food Trucks
The popularity of food trucks didn’t start in 2020, of course. They’ve been rapidly expanding. Once considered a place to get cheap and fast food, many are now, for all intents and purposes, restaurants on wheels, serving high-quality food from all parts of the world. According to IBIS World, food trucks have grown 7.5% per year between 2015 and 2020.
The growing numbers are only part of the story, though. The last few years have seen a wider diversity in the types of food trucks and a change in public perception as more consumers embrace the idea of fine dining at a food truck. In this climate, the idea of turning a traditional restaurant into a food truck isn’t far fetched at all. Rather, it’s a creative response and a practical way of remaining agile in the food industry during challenging times. As Business Insider suggests, food trucks are a viable solution to dining out during the pandemic.
Advantages of Food Trucks
There are some key advantages food trucks have over restaurants, especially now.
- A perfect business for takeaway dining.
- Lower overhead costs than a restaurant.
- Flexible location — you can find the best location and move if necessary.
- Maintain and build your brand — you can always leverage the customers and reputation you build with your food truck in future endeavors, including restaurants.
- If you own or rent a parking lot for your restaurant, you have a default location on which to park your food truck.
How to Start a Food Truck Concept
What practical steps can you take if you want to make this transformation? Here are some important considerations when you start a food truck:
- Use your existing kitchen. You already have a place to cook. We’ll look at this in more detail below.
- Write a business plan. You have to treat a food truck as the serious business that it is. You’ll need to do market research, look at the equipment you’ll need, estimate revenue, and look at all relevant numbers.
- Study the competition. Other food trucks, even those selling foods completely different from yours, are competitors. At the same time, they can provide you with ideas and inspiration. Observe which locations do the best business, what types of foods are popular, prices, and when people tend to visit them.
- Get the necessary permits. You need to be clear about what permits you need. This may differ depending on your location. Most areas have rules about where you can and cannot park to sell food.
- Market your new enterprise. In the past, street vendors and food trucks relied mostly on spontaneous traffic. Today, you can leverage social media and online reviews.
Don’t Completely Close Your Restaurant: Turn Your Restaurant Space Into a Ghost Kitchen
When you consider transitioning into the food truck business, one of your first questions is probably, “what do I do with my existing restaurant?” The good news is that your current space can help you launch your food truck business. You can leverage the power of the ghost kitchen.
Advantages of Ghost Kitchens
Ghost kitchens refer to restaurants that don’t offer sit-down dining at all and only deliver. The concept of a ghost kitchen became very popular in the past year but is likely to endure even in the post-pandemic world.
The concept of ghost kitchens works perfectly with popular food delivery apps such as Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats. Many traditional restaurants lose money using food apps because of high overhead costs. Ghost kitchens, however, are far more lean and agile. With less need for labor, maintenance costs are lower than the traditional restaurant and require less space than a restaurant with in-house dining.
How a Ghost Kitchen Can Support Your Food Truck
You have a fully-equipped restaurant, so why not make the best possible use of it? You can leverage your resources to serve as a ghost kitchen that meets your food truck’s needs. You can make these two distinct, but closely related enterprises complement one another.
- Use your ghost kitchen for storing and preparing food. While modern food trucks are full of amenities for cooking and storing food, they can’t compare with a traditional restaurant. With your own ghost kitchen, you can store and cook items and then use the truck for heating and serving.
- Allows you to keep your kitchen operating, making it easy to reopen your restaurant for traditional dining when restrictions are lifted. In that case, you can have two viable businesses going simultaneously, as food trucks can thrive even when restaurants reopen. There are also in-between possibilities, as when a city allows for dining at 50% or 25% capacity. When you have both a working kitchen and a food truck, you can handle any scenario.
- You could simultaneously operate your ghost kitchen as a delivery service while also running your food truck. This allows you to serve different customers or the same customers at different times. You could cross-promote both operations on your menus and in your marketing.
Food Trucks and Ghost Kitchens: Two Flexible Options for a Changing World
Both food trucks and ghost kitchens allow you to operate under challenging and unpredictable conditions. They are agile and economical alternatives to traditional restaurants. You don’t have to think of closing your restaurant permanently even if it can’t operate in the way you originally envisioned it. If you’re open to creative solutions, you can pivot and find new ways to take your love and talent for food in new directions.
Blue Orbit is a national hospitality consulting team. We can help you with all aspects of opening, investing in, or even transforming your restaurant into a food truck. For more about our services, contact us!