5 Ways Food Trucks Can Dominate in the Off-SeasonWinter’s not so bad when you have a few revenue-producing tricks up your sleeve.
Like a farmer, you know how to make hay while the sun shines. But if you own a food truck, how do you keep revenue coming in in the off season?
“There are very few places that don’t have some sort of down season,” said Eric Weiner, president of FoodTrucksIn.com. “Every marketplace will have peaks and valleys, so even in some of the best markets, you should always have a strategy for less busy times.”
Weiner and Richard Myrick, editor-in-chief of Mobile Cuisine Magazine, offer these ideas.
Cater a party
The top way to get business during slow months is by catering events, said Myrick. Food trucks are rising in popularity around the country, he said, so there’s more awareness of their availability for special events.
“When it comes to doing parties — or even weddings — one of the fun things people are doing is having a food truck at the reception or catering to feed party guests,” he said.
Catering during the off-season also helps with staff retention, allowing owners to keep on summer staff.
Partner with a brewery
Myrick also suggested partnering with craft breweries or distilleries. The bonus? You can do this year-round.
“Distilleries are becoming a real big thing and many of them don’t have kitchens,” he said, “so having the kind of partnership where you can just park in front of the bar can benefit both businesses. Just parking out front, the bars going to be happy because their customers are going to be fed and continue drinking.”
Weiner added, “I think the same thing is true with breweries. More craft breweries are opening up that don’t serve food.”
Take your show on the road
Another idea is to take the “gypsy approach,” said Myrick, “working in the northern climates during the summer and fall months, and then during spring or during the winter time, heading out West or down South.”
La Cocinita is one truck that’s done it fairly successfully, he said, “to the point they now have a truck in Chicago and also have a truck in New Orleans. They do minimal work during the winter up in Chicago, but their other truck down is year-round down in Louisiana.”
But according to Weiner, having a migrating food truck can be very difficult for two reasons. “One, it’s very hard to establish a following in multiple locations. It takes time for that to grow. And number two, it’s also very difficult to find out what the local rules and laws and procedures are to operate, so I think there is a very small amount of people who can do that successfully.”
Connect with office parks
For employees stuck the office all day, especially if there aren’t any good take-out restaurants nearby, a food truck parked outside the building may be a godsend.
In the Detroit area, Myrick said many food truck owners plan their winter stops at more office parks. “They’ll park in front of a building of 500 people. People will come to their truck or send orders out so they don’t necessarily have to stand in line, and just wait for their order to get called to bring it back into the office.”
“I’ll see trucks park in front of a single building for two to three hours at a time, and they’ll go to five or six buildings throughout the week. This allows them to move around and still keep customers wanting them to come back because they’re not there every day.”
Wait for the kitchen to close
Weiner suggested reaching out to restaurants whose kitchens close early. “A lot of restaurants will have a kitchen that closes at 9:00 or 10:00 at night, but the bar stays open until midnight or 1:00.” Having a food truck park outside once their kitchen is closed means the restaurant doesn’t have to pay to staff the kitchen those extra hours.
“They’re often very willing to have a food truck come and work outside once their kitchen is closed. The kitchen staff can clean up, but there’s still a food truck outside to feed their guests, and it’s a way for food trucks to get their food inside to a place where people can eat and where it’s warm and comfortable.”
Close up shop
While it may sound scary to some business owners, Myrick said he also sees trucks plan ahead so they can take a break during the winter. “They maximize their bookings during the summer months so they can actually shut down three or four months out of the year, but maintain paying their staff members,” he said.
“That’s one of the tough parts about it: You can’t just get rid of your staff and expect them to come back the next spring. They’re going to move on. What I’ve seen some truck owners do in Chicago is set money aside for the winter so they could keep paying their staff members so they would be there when spring came.”
It’s all about being strategic and thinking ahead, said Myrick. In the off-season, owners should work to develop new business opportunities, “even if it’s just to cover their costs in the off-peak times.”
Related: How to Hire Reliable Summer Employees