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5 Tips for not being a newbie when booking a food truck for the first time.

It is getting close to summer! For us, that means food truck bookings for graduations, weddings and other celebrations. After 7 seasons of operating a food truck we have seen and heard it all. Everything from last minute booking requests, outlandish location requests, unrealistic numbers of people, to changing what's on the food truck menu. We have come up with 5 tips to help you book a food truck (and not look like a newbie while dong it).


 

1. Know what you want!

First step: Knowing what you want. BEFORE you call 100 food trucks.

We know, you just got engaged after dating for 2 years, your wedding reception is set for 2 years from now and you want to "get a jump" on booking the catering or food truck. Take a deep breath... let the excitement of the wedding engagement set in and don't let your food truck inquires be the first humans you tell the good news to. We will still be here once the adrenaline subsided.

Take some time and brainstorm for a while about everything you want for your special day no matter the occasion. Wedding reception, rehearsal dinner, graduation parties, anniversary or birthday bash. Where do you want to have your event? What type of feel do you want? Most importantly what's your budget? You want your day to turn out exactly like you envision and so do we. For those of us in the industry we have lots of experience and plan things all the time. It's what we live for. For you, this is new and exciting and there are lots of questions.

Some of the questions that you should be answering PRIOR to looking into that new trendy reception venue.


When do you plan on having your event?

There is a peak season for most food trucks. Ours is June-September. Waiting too late to book could mean you miss out on the truck you had your heart set on. Most food trucks will book up anywhere from 3-8 month in advance. For Hatfield's Food Truck we suggest booking 7-8 months in advance. On the other hand booking a food truck too soon could cost you the loss of a deposit. Many food trucks have nonrefundable deposits to secure the date and time you are booking. If you jump the gun and put down a deposit over a year in advance and plans change you will be stuck with the date and time. We have seen enough plans change over the years and it is hard for food trucks to reschedule and make major adjustments last minute.

Keep in mind most food trucks are not run by huge companies with lots of staffing. Most of us are mom and pop operations and we run every aspect of our businesses. Not only are we booking the truck for you, but we are also screening inquires year-round. We manage our books and invoicing; we are hiring and training people and most likely doing a lot of the work ourselves. Making sure you have a solid date is key.


What is your budget and how much of it do you want to dedicate to the food portion of your planning?

Do you have a beer budget and champagne taste? It's time to be honest here. Taking the time to dream and brainstorm can get expensive. I think for most of us this can be true. We want to make our special day better than the last wedding or grad party we went to. We want to impress the neighbors by having a commercial kitchen parked in our driveway and no need for a clean-up crew.

A few things to keep in mind. Food Trucks aren't always cheaper than traditional catering. They are in demand and take a lot of prep, maintenance, additional insurance and licensing that traditional catering doesn't require. This can add to your per person cost. I have had some pretty rude people lecture me on food truck pricing. Mind you these people didn't know the first thing about running one. When considering the food truck to hire you want to make sure they have a few key things that make them safe and reputable.

  1. Proper food licensing and food safety training

  2. Proper insurance

  3. Fire certifications

We all want to have a great day but we also want to be safe and healthy while we do it.


avoid looking like a newbie when it comes to budget, the price is the price. Food Truck operators are not negotiators. Nor do we enjoy the value of our service being questioned or diminished. If it's out of your budget, you can reduce the guest list, change the day to a weekday with a smaller minimum, or see if others want to go in on the party. This works great for graduation parties. Combining a few graduates and having a joint party is fun and more cost effective.


Who is coming? The Mystery

Me: How many people are coming? Them: I don't know I just need a quick quote.


If I could insert the cricket soundtrack or 1000 eye rolling emojis I would. If catering is priced per person and you don't know who's coming how am I supposed to know and even better yet, how do you expect to "get a quick quote" catering and food trucks are customized to your event. A lot of details go into that quote, and you can't expect to call and say, "how much fer a food truck?"

Knowing the exact number isn't required but a good ballpark is helpful. Are we talking 30 or 300?

Don't be surprised if there is a minimum. Food trucks are designed to serve a lot of people very fast (at least ours is, and most others we encounter). Most food trucks I know serve hundreds of people in just a few hours depending on their menus. They are also accustom to making the money from a few hundred people in just a few hours. Set pricing for a food truck generally reflects that aspect as well. We have a 75-person minimum during the week and 100-person minimum on weekends we serve for 2 hours and charge for additional hours.

Can you book the food truck for 30 of your friends for a super bowl party? You sure can. Will you pay for 75 to 100 people depending on the day of the week. This links back to budgeting, either you have the budget, or you don't.

Calling a food truck business and asking if they will "swing by for an hour so your friends can eat during a birthday party" Is a grand idea. But, food trucks do not drive around like the little ice cream truck with the cute music selling food as it rolls by. They take time to set up and they work a shift. They park a private, commercial kitchen at your location and hand craft every dish one at a time to order and literally hand it directly to you. "swinging by" isn't happening. Unless you have a neighbor that is trying to get their food truck business started and needs to work out the kinks in his operation, then you're in luck!


When are we serving?

"Sometime between 12pm and 8pm"? Do I look like the cable company?

When booking services for any event you would think it would go without saying that knowing what time to be there is pretty important. I understand that your "open house" might be from 12p-8pm and if you refer to the know your budget section, you will gain some insite. Most truck (at least the smart ones) try to book at least 2 jobs a day if possible. Most food trucks have an hourly fee on top of the minimum that is paid. They can sit and burn propane in your driveway while Suzie's high school friends make their way to their 5th party of the day. But they rather not and will charge accordingly. Some have those wedding guests that drink first and drunkenly lingering for the free food and booze, you can pay for the extra time so they can get the last round of burgers they want to take home, but it will cost you more.

Having a set 2 hour time frame you want to concentrate on the food service aspect of your event will keep cost down and everyone will go home happy. Most food trucks also cater and offer appetizers and leave behind things to keep your guest munching and your cost down. Ask about this when booking and you will be your food trucks best friend and we could all use some more friends, right?


What are we serving?

Well, in most cases our menu. Believe it or not food trucks usually specialize in one thing and do it really well. Some have a more diverse menu and some even change theirs frequently. Most I would say, have what they do and that's what they do. This leads to the next important step.

 

2. Do your research.

You should be researching a lot before calls are made. Photographers, catering, linens, venues. Don't go into it blind. The planning starts with conversations, brainstorming and research. Start by googling Food Trucks or Food Truck Menus, you could start by googling Hatfield's Food Truck (shameless plug, it's my blog and I can make the recommendations I want, lol)

If you have made it this far into this post you must like something you're reading. I know, it's my snarky tone that endears me to you, or my straightforward honest approach. Either way your still with me... You're still with me right?

Research is key. I get phone calls on a daily basis about booking the food truck and here are some of my favorite questions. Mind you we have a menu of angus beef burgers, pulled pork BBQ and some wraps that are a little on the "lighter side." Ok, we are southern comfort all the way. Light isn't really our specialty. But, back to my favorite questions.

Q: We really want tacos can you do tacos?

A: We can but there are actually taco trucks you might enjoy. We charge an extra fee for specialty menus.


Q: Can you provide vegan food?

A: We are a burger and bbq truck, might I suggest a few vegan trucks?


Q: We are having a 2-day festival for the first time; we have no idea who is coming but can you park your truck here for the weekend and see how it goes?

A: ummmmm...... NO


A: I can't afford the food truck but my daughter really wants one and we think there will be a lot of people. Could you just bring it and see how it goes? Our guest will be paying their own way.

Q: All though I feel your desire to please your daughter.... No


Research the type of food and type of service you want and see who already fits that need. Remember who you are dealing with, professionals in the food industry, we have a way of doing business and that's just the way we do it. We aren't in the habit of making exceptions and throwing around discounts and taking chances on unknown things. Opening a business was a big enough chance to take.


 

3. Understand that small business are BUSINESSES their goal is to make a profit.


***SPECIAL NOTE FOR NON-PROFITS and FUNDRAISER FANATICS***

We appreciate your passion and dedication and willingness to ask anyone to give aways anything they are willing to throw your way. But.....

Our businesses aren't your cash cows. Being called and asked to come serve at a location that isn't going to guarantee our minimum and then ask if we will donate a portion of our perceived profits back to your organization so you can donate to a cause you are passionate about is ludacris.

Ask yourself these few questions. Have we as an organization supported this small business in any way, or are we sending our request to as many businesses as we can find emails for? Have I ever purchased food from this truck in my life or ever hired them and contributed to their success in any way? If you haven't done any of these things for that business or food truck please stop asking for these types of things from us. What motivation do they have to take a lose for your cause.

You're essentially asking a small business owner to turn away paying customers so your guest have food and entertainment, and to give away all the money made from their hard work, for the cause we aren't financially able or ready to give to. I much rather be asked for a direct donation check.

Instead, ask for a roundup or to add to my bill! Allow those attending the event to round up their purchases and then the overage can be donated. Everyone wins. Speaking from experience we only do this for those who frequent our business and are a vital part of our network. It's all about community and mutual support. I'm not some mean ass money hungry business owner that doesn't care about your cause. I'm just trying to pay my employees, keep my lights on in my kitchen and keep the food truck running till next season. Those attending your event are passionate about reaching a donation goal and will be more than happy to donate to the trucks so we can write that check.


The nasty word FEE. Yup I said it. Fees and gratuities. It takes people to run a business and people need compensated for the work they do. Many catering and food truck companies charge fees and some of those fees go towards paying commissions for those working hard to book your events and to keep the business running. Every one that has ever advocated for $15 minimum wage should be bending over backwards to pay fees. It's how those hard-working people you advocate for make their money.


 

4. Be realistic

It's hard sometimes to keep things realistic when planning big events. We all get excited, we all want things our way, and most of us have other people telling us all about what we should do and how we should do it.

Some of the most common unrealistic request we get are too many trucks for a small number of people. We had a request to be the 4th truck for a company party of 100 ppl.

Is this realistic? Depends on the company budget. Each truck most likely had a minimum and most the guests probably only ate food off of 1. But, for that company they had the budget and wanted a big todo and they paid for it.

On the other hand if you want 4 trucks for a backyard party and can't pay for the minimum for one truck, you should probably get that idea out of your head and find a truck with a wide variety and a low minimum.

One truck can serve upwards of 150-200 easily, quickly and efficiently. Some, depending on menu can do even more.

Another common request, while faltering is requesting a truck from out of state. Well aren't you a mobile kitchen? You ask.

Yes, we are but most of us don't have generators that stay on while driving. We need to keep food either hot or cold and depending on travel time that can get tricky.

Don't ask for food trucks for 6hrs for a party. No one is hanging out that long. We all love a good party but think about it a minute, when was the last time you hung out at a party for 6hrs? Last weekend you say, well my friend you are on another level then the rest of us. Most people love to go and be seen and have a few drinks eat the snacks food or food truck dinner someone else paid for and then they are on their way. Most (there are exceptions) are happy to keep the celebration brief. 2-3 hours tops for food service should be long enough. If you are midnight warrior and really want to provide munches hire a dessert truck to come as well or ask your food truck if they have party trays they can prepare and leave behind for an additional cost.

At the end of the day keeping realistic and simple is always the best equation because after all these gatherings are all about Having Fun.

 

5. Have fun!

Food trucks are the epitome of fun.

First, off you have the best food, super fresh made right in front of you!

Second, there is minimal clean up, and no set up for you.

Third, you will be the coolest host. Kids love trucks for graduations and more and more brides and groom are choosing food trucks for their wedding receptions.

So, relax and let your food truck staff take care of things. We are meant to be low key and low maintenance. Who wouldn't want a kitchen to pull up and feed your guests and then drive off with no sign they where there.

Let's get this party started!



For more tips on how to hire a food truck or starting a food truck business, please follow us all social media and subscribe to our blog.

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