Booking services help more clients find food trucks
Photo courtesy of iStock.
Editor's Note: This is part one in a three-part series about food truck booking services.
When Navin Ajodhya decided to start a West Indian food truck in Columbus, Ohio, four years ago, he made sure his truck, Trucking Delicious, was listed with streetfoodfinder.com, a website and mobile app that posts food trucks' locations, along with their schedules.
To get bigger jobs, he got listed on RoamingHunger.com, which specializes in booking food trucks for clients nationwide. It wasn't long before he received a call from FoodFleet.com, which also finds clients for food trucks in multiple states. Both of these services have gotten Ajodhya jobs serving Fortune 500 companies and property management firms.
While Ajodhya doesn't depend on these services for the bulk of his business, he appreciates them.
"They definitely are an asset to food trucks," Ajodhya told Food Truck Operator. "We do get a lot of individual requests throughout the season."
Booking services expand
As food trucks have expanded in the last decade, so has the number of booking services that match clients with food trucks. The booking services help clients find food trucks for providing regular meals as well as special catering events. The booking services typically charge the food truck a fee or a percentage of the sales.
Many food truck owners, such as Ajodhya, find the booking services helpful. Others claim the services have become a middleman between the truck and its customer, bringing an additional cost and creating another layer of management for truck owners to deal with.
As food trucks have become more visible, many businesses and organizations want food trucks to give their customers and employees the food truck experience. A location can offer a large variety of high quality food by having different food trucks visit their premises on a rotating basis — and a booking service can manage this task, freeing the client from having to make arrangements with different trucks.
One satisfied client's experience
When residents at the Valentia Apartments in San Diego expressed an interest in having food trucks visit their complex, the management of the 318-unit complex obliged.
Vincent Harper, a leasing specialist at the complex, found himself spending a lot of time contacting food trucks and arranging for them to serve food at the complex from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. every other Thursday. About 100 residents show up for the food trucks on average.
In the process of finding local food trucks, Harper last year came across Downtown Bites, a San Diego food truck booking service. Harper originally thought Downtown Bites was a food truck, and was pleasantly surprised when the company offered to take over the task of finding different food trucks to visit the complex on a scheduled basis — at no cost to the client.
Harper's Downtown Bites representative emails him a schedule of what trucks will be coming on which days, along with flyers about the trucks. Harper then passes this information along to the apartment residents in advance of the truck's visit.
According to its website, Downtown Bites has 150 trucks and can schedule according to the clients' needs.
For catering events, clients submit the type of cuisine they want. Downtown Bites sends a list of available trucks for the client to select from. Downtown Bites then negotiates a rate with the selected truck and coordinates the logistics.
Caterers enter the fray
Traditional catering services have also gotten into booking food trucks.
Yum Dum Truck in Chicago delivers food to customers for several catering services, said truck owner Jeff Wang. This has proven a profitable add-on for Wang, as he collects a couple hundred to a thousand dollars a month profit for cooking food and delivering it in a van to the catering accounts.
Food truck owner experiences vary
Food truck owner experiences with booking services vary. Most of those interviewed by Food Truck Operator agreed the booking services are helpful, particularly when food trucks are just getting started.
"When we first started, we were talking to these guys all the time," said Kyle Hollenbeck, owner of Aioli Gourmet Burgers & Catering in Phoenix, who has worked with at least five different booking services. On average, he paid a 10 percent commission to the booking services.
Four years ago, booking services accounted for about 40 percent of Hollenbeck's business. Now, as his business has become more established, booking services account for 5 to 10 percent of the business.
Lance and Beth Smith, who operate three food trucks in Phoenix — Grilled Addiction, Wandering Donkey and Noodles A GoGo — have had good experiences with booking services, but like Hollenbeck, they are relying on them less as their trucks have become more established.
Lance said the services know his minimum expectation for sales, and they only send him events that meet that number. The services usually send him a schedule of available stops 30 to 60 days in advance and offer him a chance to sign up for a spot.
One of the booking services the Smiths use, FoodTrucksIn, promotes the trucks' schedules on Facebook and Twitter.
Lance was among those food truck operators who have noticed the number of booking services is on the rise. He said the local booking services primarily get schools and building complexes, for which they charge $50 to $80 per event.
"Companies pop up all the time trying to make a go at that sort of thing," he said.
Matt Basile, who operates Fidel's Gastro, a food truck in Toronto, finds the booking services helpful for getting catering jobs during the slow cold weather season. He uses Roaming Hunger and several local services.
Denis Levashov, who started Alaskan Dumplings in Seattle a year and a half ago, has found booking services helpful for his business. He lists with Roaming Hunger and SeattleFoodTruck.com.
Levashov estimated he is spending $500 to $1,000 per month on booking service fees.
"They both bring me a lot," Levashov said. "It's like rent, but I'm getting really busy spots with them." He pointed out that many food truck events charge a higher participation fee than the booking services do. The highest booking service fee he has paid for an event has been $125.
Benjamin Aragon, who owns Sabores de Mexico in Los Angeles, said he has stopped working with booking services since the cost did not justify the return. Aragon said he has no problem finding his own events.
How much leverage to they have?
How much the booking services dominate large accounts and events is a matter of debate among food truck owners.
One food truck operator who spoke on the condition of anonymity said he could not have served at the Los Angeles Auto Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center without working through a booking service.
Another food truck owner who wished to remain anonymous said she has worked with the Las Vegas Convention Center directly for several years and has never used a booking service.
Sue Bilginer, owner of Street Chef California, recently got the Hewlett Packard site in San Diego through Roaming Hunger. She pays $50 upfront per spot for four spots, and is guaranteed $700 for breakfast and $500 for lunch. The upfront payments are deducted from the 10 percent commission she pays. Bilginer gets the guaranteed payment four weeks later.
Food truck operator experiences with food trucks obviously vary. But there is no question they are becoming a bigger part of the industry.
Part 2 in this three-part series will take a closer look at some of the food truck booking services.
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.