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The Food Truck Explosion: How Much Does It Affect The Restaurant Business?

News Flash:   While food trucks are slowly diving into the mainstream of several major cities across the United States, Chicago is still in the midst of deliberating the issue.  City aldermen are still debating on the pros and cons of legalizing the operation of rolling restaurants, as some camps are determined to protect the interest of brick and mortar restaurants in their metropolis.  In as much as the city government is supportive of the trend, they want to tread the grounds more cautiously—trying to balance the issues at hand.  They want the food truck businesses to grow, and at the same time build an even playing- ground for everybody.

With the growing presence of food trucks everywhere in the United States, major cities have been compelled, since last year up to now, to come up with ordinances that would lay out the rules and regulations for this emerging culinary culture.  Los Angeles, New York, Austin, Portland, Milwaukee, Miami and Jersey City are just some of the few cities which have accepted the existence of rolling restaurants.  They have laid down rules that would, in effect, legitimize these businesses as an additional segment in their city’s food industry.  Although their food truck ordinances vary in some specific details (time and distance, for example), the basic stipulations are generally the same:

o    Food trucks cannot stay in a certain place for more than 20 minutes (in some areas, it’s 15 minutes) and they are only allowed to sell pre-packed food.

o    They are not allowed to carry out their business within 50 feet (this varies per city) of another food truck with the same concept, and they cannot operate within 30 feet (in some cities this goes as near as 10 feet) of a brick and mortar restaurant.

o    Just like conventional dining places, they are also required to submit to health inspection, and are also mandated to post their letter grades based on the food inspections  that their facility have undergone.  They, too, shall be shut down if they score a D or lower in terms of fundamental safety and food sanitation practices like filthy counters, food left uncovered and unwashed hands.

Chicago does have its reasons to hesitate – the public is amazingly responsive to the trend. The food truck revolution has taken away a substantial portion of the conventional restaurants’ market share.  Why?  People love the creative, diversified, innovative, gourmet food that is coming out these trucks’ tiny kitchens.  These rolling kitchens have excellent, imaginative chefs worthy of a towering chef’s hat who have created a sophisticated food culture with an affordable cost. Customers love the value that they get for their money, and all the more now that these rolling restaurants are already subject to health inspection.  Deborah Beckman, one avid customer, said she feels safer as she would now give close attention to the grade that is posted in the food truck.

Food truck operators do not mind the ordinances at all – in fact, they welcome it.  They love the idea of being legitimized and being regarded as an actual part of the food industry.  Their only worry is that these ordinances might soon be used against them to try to chase them out of business, in the government’s attempts to watch over the interest of conventional restaurants.  Vince Giangrande, food truck owner, voiced out the concern, saying, “It’s great to have these letter grades, let’s just trust that they do have our interests at heart.”

But then, many say that restaurant owners do not really have to worry.  While it is true that both share the same consumers, customers look for varying experiences at varying times.  For one, food trucks do not have the time-honored, conventional dining ambiance, nor do they have enough seating areas.  No air-conditioning, no alcohol.  If it rains, their customers are there with the rain, too.  The food truck revolution is, in fact, a way to challenge the restaurants even more.   They just need to enhance every aspect of their business so that customers would look past the nearby food truck and walk towards their dining place, ready to bask in their unique ambiance, outstanding service and great food.