As the food truck phenomenon continues to spread, more and more communities realize these restaurants on wheels are feeding more than just a hungry crowd. Often, food trucks and food truck rallies can satisfy a pent-up demand for diverse cultural experiences and novelty cuisines, injecting a shot of cultural excitement into outdoor events that otherwise wouldn’t be there.
In fact, studies have shown that food trucks help create vibrant public space in a variety of ways. Because they’re pedestrian-oriented, they bring more feet onto the street, which can lead to more foot traffic (immediately or over time) for brick and mortar businesses as well. In addition, by introducing new lunchtime options, they disrupt the “brown bag” culture in some communities and lead to greater patronage of all establishments.
At McKenna, planners have been working with dozens of communities to help them take advantage of the food truck phenomenon in a way that has broader community benefits. Principal Planner Greg Elliott advises communities to:
- Encourage food trucks to play to their strength, namely mobility. Food trucks that visit underserved areas tend to thrive, while those that serve the same locale over and over may lose their novelty.
- View food trucks as startup businesses and work to keep barriers to food truck entrepreneurship as low as possible. Hold fast to health standards, but with an eye toward helping food trucks succeed, not hindering their existence.
- If there aren’t yet food truck upstarts in your community, consider contacting food truck owners from other areas and inviting them to patronize your town to see how locals respond.
- Recognize that while food truck owners may not pay property taxes, they do generate other tax revenue (namely via sales tax on the purchase they make) – and they contribute to the community in other ways, including by adding to the fabric of the community and patronizing other local businesses.
Finally, recognize the food truck phenomenon as an opportunity to draw “foodies” and the culturally curious to your community. These visitors are often seeking new ways to invest their time and money. So be sure that when they come, your community provides clean common spaces, trash and recycling receptacles, and most importantly, a welcoming attitude that says your town is open for business.