When you run a food truck, your customers are literally the lifeblood of your business. They post gorgeous pictures of your food on Instagram, they bring their friends and family to sample your specials, and they wait in what are sometimes long lines in the blistering sun, all in the name of supporting you and your food dreams. They are your most valuable resource, and on our food truck, we love every single one of them and recognize the contribution their loyalty to our ideas makes to our bottom line.
Customers also all have their own idiosyncrasies, however, and I’ve noticed that most seem to fit into at least one of the following 13 categories:
The Social Media Maven
The Social Media Maven is one of your most valuable assets in the food truck business. She will take gorgeous, well-composed photos of your food, even at the expense of getting to actually eat it while it’s hot and fresh. She’ll post photos with appropriate hashtags to Instagram, artfully styling your pile of tater tots into a perfect pyramid, to ensure that both your food and her photos look their very best. She’ll share your specials on Facebook to her group of eager followers, and handle the heavy lifting of a lot of your marketing efforts. Treasure the Social Media Maven. Keep her close, plate her food carefully, and cook her something off-menu once in a while so that she feels special, and so her legion of followers get to see how “in the know” she is.
You can spot The Expert right away, because he’ll march right up to your service window with all of the cocky swagger of a college frat boy wearing his newest pinstriped button-up, push his entire head and shoulders through your service window, and visually inspect the inside of your operation from top to bottom, offering feedback all along the way. “Boy, you guys don’t have a lot of room in there,” he’ll helpfully point out, or “Y’know, if you checked the belts on that exhaust hood you might get better ventilation.”
The Picky Eater
The Picky Eater may be willing to try eating food from your truck, but only if you can tailor your menu to their specific needs. If you’ve got a multi-layered burger on special, made with house-cured bacon, fresh vegetables you bought from the Farmer’s Market that morning, and this really cool candied jalapeño jam you worked on all night, the Picky Eater will ask for a burger served plain, and then complain on social media that your prices are too high for such a basic burger. The Picky Eater will also want all sauces served on the side, and ideally, want none of the components of their dish to touch one another.
The Festival Attendee
Woe is the food truck operator that tries to provide a big bounce in income by setting up shop at an all-day festival, and particularly one where alcohol is being served, for he is sure to come in contact with The Festival Attendee. Sporting a serious sunburn, with two white strips of flesh along the shoulders from an ill-fitting souvenir tank top, and speaking with only the kind of clarity reserved for someone that’s been shotgunning cheap beer and smuggled nipper bottles of Fireball in the 95 degree heat all day, The Festival Attendee isn’t looking to have his culinary horizons expanded upon. He needs food, and lots of food, fast, before he succumbs to alcohol poisoning and heat exaustion. Get this guy something smothered and covered, stat, and don’t waste time telling him about the pedigree of your aiolis. Other identifying characteristics include a cigarette being smoked at your window, a tasteful calf tattoo, and/or brand new dollar store flip flops revealing feet that may have never previously seen sunshine.
The Disposables Monster
The Disposables Monster will chew through your slim profit margins right before your very eyes, as he consumes every bit of disposable item he’s entitled to, while you count the cost of every extra item you pass out the window. Expect double trays (for sharing), extra straws, wet-naps, packets of salt and pepper, packets of ketchup, hundreds of napkins, a few to-go containers, and a full service of plastic forks, knives, and spoons to all be consumed in this whirling dervish of unfulfilled lunchtime disposable need.
The Cash Crumpler knows what the hierarchy of the food business is: you work for him, and he’s going to make sure you’re painfully aware of that fact at every possible opportunity. The Cash Crumpler reveals his true identity when it comes time to pay, and instead of handing you an appropriate amount of money in a neat stack like a human being, his hand outstretched politely in a little cup to receive the change to which he’s entitled, he instead reaches inside your service window and deposits a damp fistful of wadded-up, crumpled cash onto your work surface, before wordlessly turning and walking away.
The Reporter is doing a story on you for the local free newspaper, and that’s going to be great for business. She’s chosen to drop by to do some light photography and ask you a few quick interview questions at 12:30 on a Saturday, however, when service is in full swing and you’re working as hard and as fast as you can to keep your line moving and keep your ass separated from your face. You recognize the value of this person and the story she’s trying to write, but your answers to her questions are a little more curt than you want them to be, and you spend weeks worrying that instead of the boost to your business you so desperately need, the finished article will end up making you sound like an asshole. Most of the time, it won’t.
The Food Industry Vets
The Food Industry Vets travel in packs, are universally exhausted and covered in fryer oil, arrive at weird times of the day (usually during breaks or slower times in their own commercial kitchens) and are without question, the surest sign that your food truck is doing something right. The Food Industry Vets have already thought of every possible sauce to put on every possible protein, can recognize a proper sear when they see one, and know the difference between the bun you had custom-baked at a local bakery, and the ones your competitors get thrown off the back of a Sysco truck. If the Food Industry Vets embrace your truck as a good spot to get a quick meal, keep doing what you’re doing, because you’re nailing it.
The Drive Thru
The Drive Thru is very short on both time and patience, has a very small window in which to eat lunch during his workday, and needs his food to be ready within mere moments of placing his order. The Drive Thru doesn’t understand that, just as you would never walk into a sit-down restaurant and say, “Yes, I’ll have the bone-in Porterhouse for two, medium rare, with truffle bernaise and a side of scalloped potatoes and roasted asparagus, and I’ll have that…IMMEDIATELY,” you shouldn’t necessarily expect instantaneous results from a food truck serving dozens of people at once during a busy lunch hour.
The Regretful Orderer
There are actually two sub-groups of The Regretful Orderer. The less soul-crushing variety didn’t know that her sandwich would automatically come with lettuce and tomato, and will sweep it off of her food in one swift motion, onto the ground in front of your food truck. The Regretful Orderer that really plays a game of psychological torture with you, however, is the one that orders the special, and then throws the entire thing away, uneaten.
This will be the same special that other customers have ordered and raved about all day, and she won’t give you a word of feedback about what was wrong with the food. And yet there’ll you’ll be, alone with your ridiculously self-critical thoughts, staring forlornly into the trash can, looking at the food that SHE BARELY EVEN TRIED, wondering if you have any business cooking anything for anyone, ever again.
The Freelance Health Inspector
The Freelance Health Inspector needs to make sure that your business is on the up-and-up, before he’ll decide if he should place an order. He’ll crane his head around the inside of your tiny kitchen, taking note of things like the amount of steam coming off the water in the hand wash sink, the temperature readouts on the outside of the reach-in, and the types and quantities of cleaning supplies under your sink. If your business passes muster and meets his impeccable standards of hygiene, he will order french fries and won’t leave you a tip.
The Old-Schooler is baffled by your food truck. Why, he’s eaten at food trucks before, way back when Ollie’s Hot Dog Wagon was in business back in 1943, over on the corner between the phosphate stand and the internment camp, and did you know they pressure cooked all of their hot dogs in beef tallow, and you could get homemade sauerkraut added to anything for just a nickel, and nobody in town has ever made a chili as good as the kind Ollie’s used to put on their hot dogs, and what do you even mean you don’t sell hot dogs? I thought this was a food truck?
The Enthusiast is, in short, the most fun customer you can have on a food truck. If you get one a day stopping by, consider yourself lucky. The Enthusiast is a huge supporter of what you do, and loves your cooking. The Enthusiast will wait patiently in a long line with a big smile on her face, understanding that good food sometimes takes time, and enjoying the anticipation of the meal she’s about to order. The Enthusiast will gleefully order any bizarre concoction you have on your menu, because she’s liked every meal you’ve ever made her, and understands that part of the implied contract of eating food outside of your house lies in trusting the person who is cooking for you to make you something awesome and a little outside the realm of your every day experience. Love The Enthusiast, because The Enthusiast loves you and loves what you do, and after all, keeping her happy is why you’re in this business in the first place.