Tips for new food trucks: an eater's manifesto

We're ready and hungry for a new crop of food trucks
We're ready and hungry for a new crop of food trucks

There are likely no bigger fans of food trucks than those of us here on the Hot Dish. We have eaten at nearly every one currently roaming the streets -- as well a few that have already driven off into that great parking lot in the sky. As the season revs up, we'd like to offer a few tidbits of worthwhile advice for the new crew coming up.

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Tip 1: Find a unique concept

If your truck's food can be found in your average mall food court, it's likely not a big winner. Chicken fried rice is plenty available, and


? How great can that be? If your menu boasts anything that goes from Sam's Club freezer aisle to fryer to face, it's likely not going to win the hearts and stomachs of the hungry masses. Search your food memories for what moves you. Was it your abuelita's tortilla soup? Perhaps you spent late spring days digging in the garden to make grandpa's favorite rhubarb pie. Or even if your Auntie Carol used to whip off this ethereal green Jell-O "salad," chances are if your dish is packed with the love of those memories, you're on the track of a concept that diners will adore.

Tip 2: Invest in Square
This little credit card reader is so convenient for your customers to use that you'll be sure to win new friends. It's also a great way to reel in curious new folks, who perhaps hadn't planned ahead to carry cash.

Tip 3: The early bird gets the Minneapolis meter
The concentration of trucks along Marquette Avenue has been the source of some contention. Both skyway and street-level businesses are bothered by the amount of traffic on the streets and curbs of this street. For better or worse, this is where you're likely to get the best business, but spots are tight. Many of the established food trucks have their usual parking spots. Arrive early, park respectfully, and whatever you do -- don't let that meter go unpaid! You will get a ticket and that is always a buzzkill. Finding a spot in St. Paul is easier, but I'm not kidding about making sure you pay those meters on time. It's like those traffic cops have ESP.

Tip 4: Join the Minnesota Food Truck Association
Corporate lawyer and part-owner of AZ Canteen John Levy noticed that there was a lack of advocacy for these small businesses. When grumblings began coming from the city and annoyed skyway restaurants, he took action and reached out to his food truck-owning brethren. Not only does the association advocate for trucks, but they also help newbies navigate the business world, promotion, events, and more. Plus, they'll connect you with the elder statesmen of the industry. Trucks like Chef Shack and World Street Kitchen broke boundaries and helped build this business. These are the best mentors you could ask for.

Tip 5: Who works the window is key
It should go without saying that customer service is number one, but that friendly face taking orders is your only opportunity for a first impression. Make absolutely certain that you've got someone who will care for your customers -- not insult them. Telling a Latino customer that your nachos will honor their heritage is not a way to make new friends. Help them find the menu item that they can fall in love with. You need someone who can take the heat, both literally from the relentless summer sun and also from cranky customers who could try anyone's patience. 

Tip 6: Don't fear the Twitter
Social media is great for connecting with customers, not just to tell them where you'll be. Share a little bit about yourselves. People who love you will likely love your food. So, Facebook those menus, Instagram those dishes, and Tweet your very own deep thoughts. It's a careful line, though -- easy on the over-sharing. Just try to be funny, be honest, and interact with people. If someone tweets you a question or request, that's your open door. Get on it! We're starving.

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