The $25 Food Truck Meal

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

Food Truck Events: Working with Organizers

Food Truck Events

Working with special events organizers can be one of the more profitable segments of your business. A special event, or a food truck event that is well organized and attended can make the difference between profitable month and just getting by.  However, an event that charges you a large fee and ends up being a dud can seriously impact your bottom line for the month.  So how do you protect yourselves from the bad organizers while focusing on the great ones?  We’ve put together a list of tips:

Has the organizer worked in your area before? 
1.  If the organizer is established, ask them about their previous experience with events locally.
2.  If they’ve worked with food trucks, reach out to food trucks that have experience with them.
3.  Read reviews of their previous events on yelp or other review sites.

What type of social media presence does the organizer have?
1.  Check their facebook, twitter, instagram and snapchat accounts to see how many followers they have
2.  See how often they post about their events or events in general.

Are the organizers easy to get a hold of?
Communication is very important when going to an event. Make sure the organizers are good at getting back to you before you commit to doing an event with them. If they don’t get back to you in the setup process, they’ll be less likely once they have your money.

What permits will they be pulling for the event?
Will they be pulling a community event permit? Has the fire department approved the organizers layout plan? Do they have a business license to do business in the city where the event takes place?

Will there be clean and accessible restrooms for the food and food truck vendors?
It’s important to make sure that there are accessible bathrooms with handwashing sinks for all of your employees. All health departments require that you wash your hands after you use the restroom and BEFORE you go back to your truck. It’s important the the organizer understand their responsibilities to you and your crew.

What are they charging, a flat fee or a percentage?
Make sure that you can afford what they’re charging. 10% used to be the standard percentage rate, however some larger events are charging up to 35% and asking trucks to raise their prices. Percentages can protect you from a bad event by eliminating a large flat fee, but can also end up costing you big time if the event is a huge success.  Ask the organizers charging a flat fee if they have a refund policy for inclement weather or other forced cancellations beyond your control. Ask them via email so you have it in writing.

How will the organizer be promoting the event?
Be cautious if the organizer only plans a social media promotion campaign, or if they believe that the food trucks will promote the event themselves.  Every good event needs a good promotion strategy and it will help you make an assessment if you know what it is.

What other trucks are doing the event?
Ask the organizer about other trucks doing the event and give them a call.

What is the expected turnout and how many food vendors will be serving the public?
Be sure to ask the organizer how many food trucks will be attending the event. Also ask about other potential food vendors that may be working out of tents. The ideal ratio of attendees per truck is between 200 and 300 if everyone is expected to eat. With less than 200, it’s difficult for the trucks to make money. Over 300, the lines often get long and the customers are unhappy. If it’s not an “eating” event, that ideal ratio should double. For more info 

Will there be any free or promotional food at the event?
Sometimes events will have a sponsor that gives away free food. This always hurts the food sales of all the vendors. Be sure to ask if the organizer will have any freebies or samples.

Will the organizer be charging customers for the event?
If the organizer is charging an exorbitant fee, it’s going to hurt attendance. If the event is a food event, many people don’t want to pay to get into an event if the food isn’t free or has reduced prices. Make sure the event has something of real interest to patrons if there is a large entrance fee.


The most important thing to remember is to use common sense. If you see an event listed on lotmom, or you get an email from an organizer, don’t just blindly book the event. Make sure to talk to the organizers to gather some information first. If the organizer is rude or short with you, don’t reward them with your attendance.  Good luck!


Kitchens for Food Trucks

Slauson Commissary offers food trucks prep kitchens!

Full prep mobile food facilities in California are amazingly self sufficient. When used in conjunction with a commissary (which is the law: CA Code 114295) they can operate without a licensed prep kitchen. In Los Angeles a food truck’s ability to operate independent of a kitchen is important due to the lack of kitchen facilities currently available to caterers and food trucks. As we all know, most kitchens are limited to restaurant use. However, some food trucks have found that with their growing commitments in catering, festivals and standard street service, they can hardly keep up the pace needed to supply their food truck. Luckily there are now some options!

The day to day of running a food truck can be exhausting, especially when all of your prep has to be done in a 16 foot standard food truck kitchen. When vendors aren’t selling, their acquiring product or prepping that product for their next shift. In the Summer when festivals and other outdoor food events are available most food trucks have to say no to some opportunities because they have to resupply or spend time prepping on the truck. Obviously, it would be best if busy food truckers were on the streets selling while also acquiring product and getting the prep done.  There are some options, but typically they do not cater to food trucks. The kitchens are too far from commissaries where trucks park or too expensive.

Now there are catering kitchens located at a popular commissary in Los Angeles. The distance between kitchen and where the trucks park are mere feet away and you’ll be able to accept deliveries of product directly to your kitchen. The kitchens range from $1500-$2500 a month so you’ll have to determine whether the additional cost is worth the convenience. For many trucks, this is a game changer. It will allow them to prep and receive product while out servicing customers. Instead of breaking to do prep, the truck can come back by the kitchen and resupply. Slauson Catering (750 E. Slauson Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90011), a well known food truck commissary in South LA now has kitchens available.

We’re hoping to see more opportunities for food trucks to rent usable prep kitchens for their operations. It’s nice to see a food truck commissary provide a service that is needed in the food truck industry.

To inquire call or email: Luis Cruz DSC_1098(323) 235-6659 

Supporting Independents

Supporting Independents

Food trucks paving the way

The New York times recently released a 52 places to go in 2014 list. Downtown Los Angeles ranked number five in the world of must-see places. Say that last line out loud because it’s hard to believe.  Because of its incredible food scene, Downtown LA is a must-see destination for world and local travelers. How did Downtown Los Angeles and LA in general become such food mecca? The answer is simple, Los Angeles and California in general, support independent food producers and sellers.

In 1978, Governor Jerry Brown signed the Direct Marketing Act that allowed for Certified Farmers Markets (CFMs) to sell their own produce to consumers in locations that were deemed appropriate by the Department of Agriculture.  The first Farmers Market in Los Angeles was sponsored by the Interfaith Hunger Coalition in 1979 in a small parking lot consisting of 4 vendors in Gardena.  From there, Farmers Markets have grown statewide to include over 700 weekly markets. This support for independent food producers started a statewide trend.

Growing out of these Farmers Markets were also temporary tent vendors.  These vendors were able to sell food prepared on site with a temporary food facilities permit (in conjunction with a community event permit) to enhance the environment of their particular farmers markets. It gave independents an opportunity to serve the public without having to open their own restaurants. Non farmers market food events also flourished in Los Angeles with arts and crafts, activities and more food! All of these types of events gave independents more opportunities to bring their cuisine to the masses.

Los Angeles has a rich street food history starting with horse drawn tamale carriages in the late 1800s. The food truck industry got a boost in the 1970s with the modern day food truck that was essentially a kitchen on wheels.  These new food trucks allowed owners to prepare and serve straight from a vehicle. Independent food producers with dreams of opening a restaurant could start with a truck to hone their skills and serve the people.  In 1985, California passed Cal Vehicle Code 22455 which restricted a city’s power to regulate vendors.  Regulations have to be public safety oriented. That meant that a city could not impose arbitrary anti-competitive regulations on vendors.  The explosion of the modern food truck industry (starting with Kogi) has been able to grow and thrive because California and Los Angeles by extension, doesn’t hamper independent food producers. Of course, in the beginning of the modern food truck industry there were some battles. The SoCalMFVA was at the forefront in fighting for food truck rights using statutes and case law from the preceding generation to obtain rights and freedom from regulations that were not public safety or public health oriented.

So what does this all have to do with Los Angeles being a top food destination?  I’m glad you asked…. Los Angeles supports independents. Like so many other industries, innovation comes from the fringes, the independents, and people who are least restricted by monied interests. Los Angeles has an environment that supports restaurants, food trucks, farmer’s markets, tent vendors and as of last year, cottage food producers. The culinary landscape is spurred by innovation and competition. Large restaurant groups can’t relax. They’re constantly being challenged by the next best thing, which could be coming from a tent vendor a food truck or even a cottage food producer.

Los Angeles’s culinary scene will continue to expand while other cities that are controlled by strong restaurant interests will decline.  Any food industry that does not support independents will, in the long run, go into decline.  Other cities should look long and hard at how they support their culinary scenes.  Consumers should demand that their local government enhance and promote competition.  Anti-competitive laws that stunt competition in the interest of entrenched businesses, will inevitably hurt any industry.  If a city has anti-competitive regulations, than they should really rethink their model.


Los Angeles Food Trucks

Food Trucks Los Angeles




How to Book a Food Truck: Company Lunches

A great post from our friends at the Peaches Smokehouse & Southern Kitchen Truck

Are you thinking about bringing food trucks out to your company for lunch? Or maybe you’ve been tasked with booking trucks but don’t know where to start? It can feel a little overwhelming at first, but here are some tips that might make the process a little easier:

TIP #1: Research the food trucks you want. Not all food trucks are created equal. Try asking your co-workers for suggestions or do a quick search on Yelp or Google. Start by contacting food trucks that have a good reviews and a strong online presence. These are often the trucks that are the most professional and are nice to work with. You can also get suggestions from your local food truck association. In Los Angeles, we have the SoCal Mobile Food Vendors Association. You’ll find tons of useful information about food trucks on their website, check it out:

TIP #2: Attract great trucks. Many food trucks have a sales minimum they need to meet whenever they go out. A good rule of thumb is 50-60 tickets. If you’re able to get at least 50-60 people to buy their lunch from the food trucks, that’s a good start. Don’t forget to promote the trucks that are coming, designate a parking spot that’s big enough and keep an accurate calendar! As long as the trucks are making money, they’ll spread the word to other food trucks. Then you won’t have any trouble at all getting the best trucks to come out and feed you their tasty, tasty grub!

Continue Reading at Peaches Smoke House & Southern Kitchen’s website


photo credit: Got Food Trucks?

How did food trucks become so popular?

How did food trucks become so popular in Los Angeles?

How did food trucks become so popular in Los Angeles?  Is it the price? How about the food?  The modern food truck industry seems to have come out of no where.  One second there were traditional taco trucks the next second there’s Roy Choi and Kogi!  How did the new trend become so popular so quickly?  There are many facets to the answer.

The most common answer; Roy Choi launched Kogi in late 2008 just as the economy was slumping. During this time Twitter was exploding onto the nascent social media scene.  Kogi used Twitter to connect with Los Angelenos.  The cuisine was different but familiar to city residents who had grown up with both Mexican and Korean food.  It was a perfect storm of cuisine, promotion and the public’s desire for deals.  This answer ignores a few other variables.

So what lead to the huge surge in Los Angeles?  In order for there to be a surge we needed the demand, but potential new vendors also needed food trucks.  The economic downturn had a dramatic effect on the construction industry in Los Angeles County.  The huge drop in construction projects meant a decline in the market for traditional taco trucks.  Many of the trucks that had served construction sites went out of business once construction sites disappeared.  Those food trucks were returned (or repossessed) to builders/lenders who were the original owners. The industry had a huge supply of permitted food trucks waiting to get rented to any aspiring entrepreneur with a dream.  Our industry went from one food truck to ten to sixty in 18 months.  So this addresses how the industry was able to grow so quickly. Now on to the why….

Why are people so enamored with food trucks?  In 2010 The first Los Angeles Street Food Fest expected 4000 people.  18000 people showed up and 6000 were turned away.  People came to wait in line to get into a festival where they waited in line to eat at a food truck. It was simply an amazing spectacle. City officials, some restaurant owners and many bloggers didn’t really grasp the draw.  From my perspective, the draw was a combination of three variables.

Eating at a food truck is a social activity. While waiting in line or for an order customers feel very comfortable interacting with each other.  Most of the time it’s to talk about the food.  The community in Los Angeles, a traditionally car-centric community, has very few opportunities to interact with one another in public spaces. Once three or more food trucks occupy a block, the normally unused sidewalk becomes an organic public space. Eating great food and socializing is nice way to spend the lunch hour.  People leave the experience full from the food and happy about the social interaction.

The innovative cuisine has been a huge draw.  The restaurant industry has a high barrier to entry for most fledgling entrepreneurs. The high cost of opening a restaurant requires most people to seek loans or investments. Moneyed interests can sometimes put a damper on a chef’s innovative ideas.  Imagine asking an investment group for $500,000- $1,000,000 pitching the Korean taco concept pre Kogi. It would have been a tough sell and I can imagine that most investors would rather go with a proven cuisine.  The desire to limit risk in food service can slow innovation. However, with the lower cost of entry into the market food trucks can take wild chances and introduce cuisines not normally found in their respective marketplace.  Grilled cheese sandwiches, Korean tacos, Chinese mexican fusion, Indian street food were all some of the first cuisines to hit the streets in LA.  There were little if any counterparts in brick and mortar restaurants.  The new cuisines were exciting to a public looking for something different.

A food trucks’ lower operating costs means they can provide high quality ingredients at a lower cost. As a lunchtime option, trucks are typically more expensive than fast food but cheaper than a mid range sit down meal. The quick nature of service lends itself to a lunchtime crowd looking for quick food at reasonable prices.

So how did food trucks become so popular?  It’s combination of innovative food, reasonable prices, and a welcome social experience. The food truck industry is expected to continue its meteoric climb. It’s important that the food truck industry continue to offer the food and experiences that have made it so popular. As the industry grows in popularity, more and more communities will embrace the trend.



Getting on the Road: Starting a Food Truck

Starting a Food Truck

The popularity of food trucks has continued to grow! As such, new food trucks continue to open throughout the United States (and the world). Every new food truck has an opportunity to add to their respective market.  They can do this with their cuisine, their service and their organization. But where does the prospective new food truck start? Should the new food truck merely go to where all of the other food trucks vend?  Many new trucks are frustrated with their inability to find places to vend in their first few weeks on the road. Ongoing lunch lots are typically booked up and organizers usually like to wait and hear how a truck is received before booking them at their events. Starting a food truck requires a lot of time spent developing your market.

New food trucks must understand the importance of creating their own market and customer base. It’s not the industry’s job to find new food trucks customers, and it’s best not to be at the mercy of your regional event organizers. So how do you acquire customers? Start with your friends, relatives and coworkers. Does anyone in your group of friends/family work at a building or complex that has limited food options?  Do you have friends that need food for a private party?  It’s important to reach out to everyone that may need your services and let them know that you’re now the proud owner of a food truck!  There is no easy answer and it’s important to have enough cash reserves that you can make mistakes and/or develop your market.

Many food trucks that have been on the road for a long time have developed spots and areas that are popular with customers.  These spots can be parking lots near a building, or just streets where food trucks congregate.  As a region’s industry grows it’s important that new opportunities are developed.  If newer trucks simply go where other trucks have already created the market, an oversaturation occurs.  In instances where a space is on private property, many new food trucks get frustrated when they’re not allowed by the organizer (often the organizer is another food truck) to vend.  The best way to ensure your new food truck has access to organized spaces is to organize some spaces of your own.  Asking an established food truck if you can vend from one of their developed spaces is much easier when you can offer that food truck something in return.

Developing your own market ensures success without having to rely on others.  The more places and spaces you can develop yourself the better your chance for success.  Don’t forget how important catering is. Make sure that everyone who walks up to your food truck, sees it driving on the road or checks out your website knows that you cater!

Starting a food truck