In the wake of COVID-19, caterers and event planners have had to get creative with how to approach food service. Everything from attended buffets, to action stations, to bento boxes have been tossed around. However, one idea that has flown under the radar, that might be worth a second look, are food trucks.
“If you can have a location where you are able to serve out of the truck, that helps distance people to plate up, then that’s great,” said Mark Lopez from Crave Catering, which operates a food truck as part of its business model. “The more metal and glass between them and the guest isn’t a bad thing at this point.”
Food trucks offer a unique opportunity for guests to social distance. Photo courtesy Louis Marfoglio.
From weddings to corporate lunches
Food trucks are uniquely set up to survive COVID-19. They are a business built out of spaces with no room for diners—a particularly relevant concept given the current climate and the need for social distancing. They can offer the convenience and safety of customers being able to pick up hot food nearby without an additional delivery person in between.
“Of late, we don’t sell food anymore. We sell safety, and we sell the reassurance that our facilities are clean and disinfected on a regular basis,” said Steve DeAngelo of DeAngelo Catering and Events, which frequently partners with food trucks. “There’s definitely an opportunity for trucks and for caterers since we now have an opportunity to sell something we haven’t been able to sell previously—you're not selling food, you’re selling the opportunity that it’s now easier to social distance.”
There are myriad ways to incorporate a food truck into your catering business. Looking for something unique for an outdoor wedding, or want to provide a little fun for the late-night snack? You got it. Are corporate clients forced to cancel their team building events and instead are looking to cater in lunch for those working in the office? They have you covered. Are front line workers confined to the hospitals and clinics without time for a traditional lunch break? Are there a lot of at-home workers in a particular neighborhood that could use an afternoon treat? Sure, just park your truck and use it as a daytime side business.
“If you’re creative enough, you can use that food truck in so many different ways—use it as a mobile kitchen, use it as a prop, use it as a sales device,” Lopez said.
Food trucks can oftentimes find their niche by offering unique food options, such as these tacos from Crave Catering.
Food trucks can also offer a potential solution for those caterers who were met with financial struggles on the heels of events being wiped off the books. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, maybe trade in a brick and mortar facility for a fleet of food trucks, which is considerably less expensive.
“Caterers are trying to figure out how to be caterers again,” DeAngelo said. “Are we ever going to see corporate gatherings like we’ve seen in the past? Maybe not, but the truck could help facilitate some of those things.”
Incorporating food trucks into your business model can offer myriad benefits to your business, everything from being a mobile business card to freestanding revenue generation, and even a new style of serving method for trend-savvy clients. However, the road to setting up a food truck for the first time can occasionally be a bumpy one. So, make sure that you go in with both hands on the steering wheel.
“If you are a food truck operator wanting to be a caterer, educate yourself on how a caterer does things—what sort of menus sell, what sort of variety is in your wheelhouse,” Lopez said. “If you are a caterer looking to partner with a food truck, the sky’s the limit.”
Some of the first items to consider regarding food trucks include your menu and how you want to use your food truck because it’ll have to be set up differently if you intend to use it as a retail business as opposed to an event.
“If you use a truck for a wedding and it’s a mobile kitchen and you’re selling steaks, that’s different than going to a festival and selling tacos,” DeAngelo said.
Consider this possible food truck setup: You limit the personnel on a truck to two people. You take pre-orders as much as possible through either by telephone via an order app. Once orders are ready, they are placed out on a table where they can easily be grabbed and taken to the table.
“All of us caterers can go out and buy trucks, we all know how to make something on a grill,” DeAngelo said, “but there’s more to it than that.”
“There’s flexibility in having a food truck and how it can fit into your event in a different way,” Lopez agrees.
Make it fun
Regardless of how you decide to incorporate food trucks, the one constant that is universal is that they have to be fun. It’s the fun factor that makes food trucks so popular and such a draw.
“Food trucks help make outdoor events more unusual, elegant, palatable,” said Louis Marfoglio of Staten Island’s Daddino’s Grand Ballroom. “It’s about doing something a little bit different, making things a little more fun, a little ‘wow’ factor.”
And don’t underestimate the importance of offering non-traditional food choices, whether it’s tacos, desserts, or even pizza.
“From the guest’s perspective, it allows for a casual experience with a varied level of quality and expertise of food,” Lopez said. “You can get really amazing food off food trucks that you normally wouldn’t expect.”
Even after COVID-19 and social distancing concerns, food trucks won’t be going anywhere, so why not start thinking about how you can bring food trucks into the fold.
“I think it works and it needs to work in conjunction with a caterers’ expertise,” Lopez said. “It’s going to continue to grow, especially right now with the uncertainty of how business is moving forward.”