Evolution of the mobile eatery
Operators’ relationships with mobile eateries keep evolving.
The popularity of food trucks has gone from a trickle to a traffic jam in just a few short years. Noncommercial operators have made the investment in trucks and trailers, which provide great opportunities for flexibility, catering and flashy marketing.
But as diners’ tastes evolve, technology improves and mistakes are made, even the best food trucks have room for improvement. FoodService Director talked to mobile-dining veterans from across the country about how their trucks have evolved, their surprising features and whether they think food trucks are just a phase.
District manager for Aramark, Pflugerville Independent School District; Pflugerville, Texas
Food trailers: Talon Taco Co. and Connally Chow House
Why food trailers were right for the district: Projections during the summer of 2014 showed the Austin, Texas, suburb’s Hendrickson High School growing by 400 students that fall, Holle says. “The district needed a solution, because obviously time wouldn’t be friendly for construction, and we had already maxed out our service areas at the high school,” he says. “Food trailers just seemed like not only a viable solution, but also a logical one given the climate of food trucks in the Austin area.”
How the trailers have evolved: “One of the things we didn’t think of is, in May, it gets really hot in Texas, and you’ve got staff in a silver metal box,” Holle says. “We wanted to make sure we enhanced or enlarged our AC capacity.” He encourages employees to report back on menus at commercial restaurants to keep abreast of trends.
How they’ll be used in the future: While Talon Taco and Chow House currently are parked in a stationary location, once new dining facilities are completed, Holle plans to “take the trailers where the volume is.”
Whether food trucks have staying power: “I field a call once a week from someone in the country wanting to know what we’re doing with the food trailers,” he says. “Based on the flexibility and solutions a truck provides, I think they will remain popular.”
Executive director of dining services, University of Connecticut; Storrs, Conn.
Food trucks: UConn Dairy Bar Ice Cream Truck and Food for Thought
Why food trucks were right for the university: After a failed food truck attempt near a campus construction site in the mid-’90s, UConn launched an ice cream truck, an extension of its campus dairy bar that’s popular at catering events, about two years ago, Pierce says. Food for Thought, which serves full meals, is regularly parked at the center of campus but also served as a supplemental dining location this spring when a dining hall was closed for expansion.
How the trucks have evolved: Instead of sticking with tried and true favorites, Food for Thought features a rotating themed menu: tacos one semester (including an infamous version featuring crickets as a topping), burgers the next. For the summer, two types of lobster rolls are on offer, as well as hot dogs, sandwiches and a beet and kale burger.
On the move versus single location: Before investing in the trucks, Pierce and his team imagined parking outside of popular bars at night or doing the rounds on campus and tweeting the trucks’ locations. But that plan was a major flop. “We found out that with the ice cream truck, you’re scheduling it because there’s an event going on,” he says. While students can follow @UCDairyBarTruck on Twitter for pop-up appearances, the truck is parked in a regular spot on Thursdays and Fridays.
Whether food trucks have staying power: Pierce cited the trucks’ mobility and flexible use as catering kitchens as reasons trucks will keep rolling