A woman in glasses and a black apron smiles proudly while holding a wooden platter of gourmet tacos garnished with lime slices. Behind her is a large yellow food truck. Attached to the side of the truck are several menus with the names of Mexican foods, such as pollo, tripa and chorizo, written in bold black type, and descriptions of the food written in smaller text. A smaller sign reads "Ya abrimos! We are open again!"
You've got your truck fueled, your ingredients stocked and your menu set. Now all you need to do is attract customers. — Getty Images/grandriver

Food trucks continue to deliver excitement to the dining space, combining exciting menus and fresh flavors with a built-in fun factor that is inherent to this novel dining experience. With a revenue of $3 billion and approximately 5,500 individual establishments, food trucks make up an industry that is currently outpacing the growth of the traditional restaurant category, appealing to those in search of something new as well as safer dining options.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, the challenge for food truck operators is how to maintain momentum in a space where customers are always in search of the next new thing and new trucks are rolling in to appeal to their evolving flavor profiles. Beyond getting creative with your menu, getting creative with your marketing could be the secret sauce to standing out and keeping people lining up.

Create an app for that

Put your food truck at diners’ fingertips with a custom mobile app and they will always know where to find you, what you’re serving and how to communicate with your team. Having your branded app downloaded on customers’ phones means you will always be visible and top-of-mind, and sending users compelling push notifications like exclusive discounts and a “dish of the day” alert will keep them engaged. Other incentives just for app users that can help you edge your way ahead of the competition include ordering ahead and mobile payment features.

Food truck app listings

Whether or not you have an app of your own, there are platforms that list and promote food trucks all across the country, organized by location and type of food. They attract thousands of visitors looking for cool eats in their area, and some will even facilitate ordering right from the app. Getting your truck listed on apps like Where’s The Food Truck or Street Food Finder, as well as apps that serve local cities or towns, could be a boon for your business.

Strong social media presence

To have street cred among the younger demos that frequent food trucks, a social media presence is a must. Food truck goers want to know where, when and what to expect, so create an account and post often, from food truck locations and schedules to daily specials and mouthwatering photos. Instagram and Facebook are both important tools for day-to-day storytelling while TikTok is great for serving up more entertaining fare like behind-the-scenes videos, cooking demos or Q&As. All of these are key to enhancing your brand’s transparency while gaining the trust of and winning over food truck foodies. Make sure to research and use relevant hashtags and cross-promote your social handles and hashtags across all social media, on your physical food truck and on your menus.

Rewards program

There are few people who don’t love the idea of attaining VIP status and earning discounts, swag or free food for their loyal business patronage. In fact, it's a major factor among consumers who, in 2020, spent twice as much on takeout from those offering rewards programs than those who didn’t, showing there is a correlation between customers who feel valued and how customers value businesses. Digital programs, whether in the form of a virtual punch card or a points system, are considered more advantageous for both the food truck operator and the customer. These programs are app-based and they more intuitively streamline the rewards management system, with many different types to meet various business objectives.

Catering is where the money is at. You have a specific set menu and a guaranteed number of guests.

Shelly Hiser, owner of The Diner On Wheels

Community outreach and sponsorships

There is no better way to cultivate a relationship with and stand out in a community than by supporting its residents and businesses through local sourcing, sponsorships, fundraising events, volunteerism and donations. When you give of your business and give back to the people you serve, it's a win-win proposition. Sponsor a local little league team and, in doing so, help offset expenses for players and coaches while gaining valuable advertising exposure. Schedule dedicated days for treating frontline workers to a free meal. Volunteer with a local nonprofit that aligns with your truck’s story or is just near and dear to your heart. Participate in school PTA fundraising efforts by being the featured vendor and donating a percentage of sales from the event back to the PTA for school programs. There are endless opportunities, so choose wisely, build it into your budget and highlight your efforts on your website and social media to show you’re a business with a conscience.

Winery, beer garden or microbrewery collab

Wineries, beer gardens and microbreweries attract tons of visitors looking for a good time, yet most are missing a key ingredient that can help keep customers on-site, and drinking, longer—food. In terms of audience, novelty and vibe, the synergies are many. Food and drink go hand-in-hand and the typically outdoor nature of these modern bars-with-a-twist makes food trucks the perfect pairing. To gain entry into this world, identify the businesses in your area who offer an experience similar to yours and reach out with a proposal that outlines what you can bring to the party, such as an exclusive menu for the event. Listing on a site dedicated to promoting food trucks, like Roaming Hunger, can help wineries, beer gardens and microbreweries discover your business as well. When you find a place to partner with, promote their business and your partnership on your social media and marketing channels. Keep in mind that your partner may expect a percentage of your business while on-site for the valuable built-in traffic their location is serving up to you.

Influencer food tastings

Word-of-mouth is by far the best way to develop a loyal audience. People trust the advice of others in their orbit, or in their social news feed, far more than an anonymous review or a search result. They want those they relate to and admire to guide them to the next big thing and, once tipped off, major FOMO (fear of missing out) often kicks in and sets off a wave of excitement. Businesses who tap into that power tend to see a return on investment 11 times larger than those who don’t have an ROI strategy. As a food truck owner, finding local foodies with social clout and an audience to prove it could lead to big business. Create an outreach program to connect with local food bloggers and invite them to enjoy a complimentary meal. If they are wowed by what they taste, chances are they will write about it and tempt the taste buds of their followers, sending them straight to your food truck.

SEO and keyword marketing

The phrase “build it and they will come” is a misnomer in the digital world. Build a website, make it mobile-friendly and populate it with relevant content, keywords, tags and links, and you will significantly increase the odds of improved search engine rankings and people finding you and, ultimately, your food truck. Make content like menus, blog posts and schedules of events sharable, and make sure menus filled with words and descriptions that are part of your brand identity are built into the site as HTML text (instead of as pdfs, which do not get picked up by search engines). Utilize every metatag opportunity, as these words and descriptions will help to fortify the keywords specific to your business and climb up in rankings.

Catering opportunities

Food trucks have the ability to bring something extra special to an event that traditional caterers cannot. They are an attraction unto themselves and they create an excitement and quality that is hard to compete with. Shelly Hiser, owner of Phoenix-based The Diner On Wheels, has seen her catering business grow so significantly that it’s now on par with her location-based day-to-day revenue. “Catering is where the money is at. You have a specific set menu and a guaranteed number of guests,” Hiser pointed out. “You can appeal to clients by customizing menus with specialty items, offering quite a few options and making orders fresh right there in front of guests. The key is marketing to those advantages,” she underscored. Sites and apps like Roaming Hunger are great places to list your food truck catering services, attracting those in the market for something special for their events and making it easy for them to find you.

Create a signature dish

Signature dishes are the uniquely special items that put you on the map. They are often symbolic of the chef’s passion project, their star creation, and they are what people will most likely think of you for, develop memories around and tell others about. They have the power to generate buzz and keep people coming to see what all the hype is about as well as make loyal customers of those hooked on their unique ingredients and flavors. These dishes get a lot of love on social media and should be integrated into your marketing at every touchpoint.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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