How a San Francisco food trucker fine tunes his business strategy, Part II

| by Elliot Maras
How a San Francisco food trucker fine tunes his business strategy, Part II

Photo courtesy of The Boneyard.

Since launching his first food truck, The Boneyard, in 2013, Rich Mainzer, an environmental engineer by profession, has paid close attention to the numbers. Undoubtedly, his attention to business strategy and cost is playing a big role in creating a successful food truck operation, which now includes two trucks and a catering facility.

Assisting Rich Mainzer on the truck are his wife, Aleah, and sons Callahan, left, and Hunter.

As the first part of this two-part series described, the former construction contractor is using his well honed business skills to succeed in the ultra-competitive San Francisco market.

For example, Mainzer has established rules about how many order tickets can be given to the kitchen at a time. The amount of time allowed is based on the experience of the cook, he said. Most cooks can handle four to six tickets at a time. When Mainzer is doing the cooking himself, there can be eight tickets on the board. If there are too many orders coming in at one time, the order takers move slower to keep the pressure off the food prep team by spending more time talking with customers.

"We can never give them the impression that we're slow or that we're intentionally slowing things down," he said.

Yet it's important that a line does not form at the pickup window, as it creates a bad impression.

There is one person who is responsible for calling the order to the customer, in addition to the expeditor, the cashier and the cook.

"That expediter role is actually the lead on the truck," Mainzer said.

Menu items that can be made quickly are placed at the front of the menu to promote a larger number of faster made items.

"A food truck should be producing food really rapidly, and really good quality food," Mainzer said.

Work speed also varies based on the type of event. More time is allowed for serving at festivals than at work sites.

"My engineering background has bled over deeply into the way we approach our food truck business," he said.

Finding the right locations

Mainzer has paid careful attention to where he takes his trucks.

The San Francisco market is unique for its food truck markets where multiple trucks park. The markets are known destinations for customers. They provide seating and occasional entertainment.

The Boneyard trucks' main selling venue is the Off the Grid market. The trucks usually spend eight hours a day at the market during the summer.

Food truck markets are undoubtedly helpful, but Mainzer said truck owners have to pay careful attention to profitability. The food truck pays a fee and a percentage of the sales to the market.

Once a truck has signed on with a market, customers expect the truck to be there. If you don't show up, the truck loses credibility with the customer.

Mainzer did not find the market successful in the winter. So in the slower winter months, the company now spends time evaluating its computer management tools, its training, its menu and its equipment.

"We were able to start working on the business in the winter time rather than working non-stop and losing money," he said.

Mainzer tracks his sales using point of sale software.

"It's very robust in the way of tracking and reporting," he said, noting it also interfaces with accounts receivables and accounting.

Focus on private events

Much of the company's growth has come from serving at private events.

Individual servings at private events can yield as much as $27 per person.

Mainzer's biggest event was an employee appreciation day that did $50,000 in 18 hours. He took his two trucks to the event and hired three other trucks dressed as Boneyard's truck to serve his food.

When he goes to a special event where there are other food trucks, Mainzer finds out what the other trucks will be serving and changes his menu to minimize competitive offerings and maximize variety.

He looks to do $20,000 per weekend.

"We go to the customer we want to work for and say, 'let us bring this to you,'" he said.

The hardest part of the business is finding and keeping good people.

"Starting a food truck business is very complex," he said. He recently hired a business coach and is looking at taking some business classes.

"The place that I really need to grow, and it came as a surprise to me, is how to grow a business," he said.

So far, he's off to a promising start. The business has 16 employees in peak season and targets serving 500 customers a day.

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Food & Beverage, Independent Operators, Operations Management

Elliot Maras
Elliot Maras is the editor of and

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