5 lessons from operators’ first food trucks

Turn up the tunes—and other lessons from operators’ first food trucks.

minneapolis food bus

When Dawn Aubrey, associate director of housing for dining at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, decided to roll out another food truck this fall, she knew exactly which lessons she would take with her from her first mobile operation. “We have learned so much from the first truck,” Aubrey says through chuckles.

Austin Independent School District in Texas also is growing its fleet with a district-wide Vietnamese food truck, launched after the stationary Nacho Average Food Truck increased breakfast and lunch participation at its Anderson High School. Learn from these FSDs’ mobile adventures to keep trucking without a hitch.

1. Get customers on board

Taking a collaborative approach to branding the truck was really important to Nacho Average Food Truck’s success, says Anneliese Tanner, director of Austin ISD nutrition and food services. The student body determined the truck’s name and theme, and an art student designed the truck’s wrapping. “Getting [students] involved in the process created a lot of ownership and buzz,” Tanner says.

2. Think beyond the truck

If you want the flexibility to go anywhere, trash receptacles are a necessity, says Aubrey. Her trucks also come equipped with brightly colored tables, fold-out chairs and a canopy to provide customers some shade in the hot summer months—but she advises that operators not forget to close the canopy before moving to the next stop.

3. Hype it up

Before Tanner rolled out her truck, she live-tweeted coverage of the staff’s training day, posting photos of the principal eating street tacos and having fun with the operation. “We got, I don’t know how many retweets and likes for our tweets,” she says.

4. Less is more room

Ice is superfluous, says Aubrey. Limited space means planning ahead, so prechill drinks to avoid bulky ice bags. Her less-is-more philosophy also extends to menu planning. “You want to do five things really well,” she says. “You want some crossover ingredients and to make sure your equipment works across all the items on the menu.” For example, Aubrey’s trucks use naan, which takes up less space than buns, for sandwiches.

5. Pump up the jams

A food truck needs tunes to draw in customers and pump up staff, Aubrey says. Her crew just uses satellite radio stations to set the vibe.

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