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The $25 food truck meal.

Have you ever been at a festival with food trucks and wondered, “How on earth is my burger, fries and a drink over $20?” Answer: it is not the food truck. Event organizers are now charging up to 40% of a food truck’s gross sales to participate in their event. Participation fees for food trucks used to be 10%.

Food trucks, like many restaurants, operate on very small margins. After a food truck owner pays for food, employees, food truck and commissary rent, propane, gas, insurance and incidentals they’re typically left with about 10-15% profit. Well attended events with big sales numbers will increase the margins a bit, but not enough to justify a 40% fee. So what happens? Food trucks must pass along a portion of the participation fee to the customer so they don’t lose money on every order. The public, understandably, sees these higher prices and mistakenly assumes the food truck is taking advantage of the customer’s attendance. We’ve seen terrible Yelp reviews that start off with: “I used to like this truck, but then they overcharged me at an event and now I won’t go back…”

Customers who are already paying the high costs for a ticket shouldn’t have to pay exorbitant prices to get a meal while enjoying an event. Food trucks provide a great service to outdoor festivals. The eclectic food options and the ability to serve anywhere makes them the perfect choice for large scale events. But the food truck industry is successful because food trucks bring great meals to the public at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, when food truck owners are forced to pay 40% to be part of an event they have to raise their prices to a level that most food truck owners find unacceptable. The question I hear most often is, “why don’t food truck owners just skip the high fee events?” Food trucks have to get out and do business. They can’t pass up events, especially in the areas that have a short season. Food truck owners have to get while the getting is good. They would most definitely prefer to do the events and charge their normal prices.

So what can the public do? If you see an awesome food truck event, why not try asking the organizers via social media how much they’re charging food trucks to attend? Currently, organizers aren’t blamed for the high cost of food because it’s not clear how much they’re charging the trucks. Instead, the blame for high prices falls directly on the food truck owners. If the public joined with food truck owners and demanded that organizers lower their fees, food trucks could charge their normal (or close to normal) prices. Let’s bring down the price for food this upcoming event season. #driveforfairness

By Matt Geller
SoCal Mobile Food Vendors’ Association, National Food Truck Association

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