Technology, social media topics lead top 10 stories in 2017
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In its first year, Food Truck Operator has gained a strong following by providing news and feature articles on topics addressing the most important challenges facing the young and growing industry. An analysis of the top 10 best-read stories of 2017 revealed that readers are most interested in learning about using technology and social media to win more customers, and about what their fellow operators are doing to make their businesses successful.
The top three articles in 2017 addressed technology and social media tools to help food truck operators win more customers. This is not surprising, seeing that the recent growth of the food truck industry is largely because of the growth of social media.
The most-read story of 2017 was about phoodio, an app that automatically updates food truck schedules for food truck patrons. Denver software engineer Rob Toftness created the app after having a hard time keeping track of where his favorite trucks were. Food trucks can create a schedule on the app, and the app automatically updates their locations.
Customers can open the app and tap a button to locate trucks active in their vicinity. They can also create a list of favorite trucks and opt into notifications when the trucks update their locations.
Food trucks can also connect their calendars to the app and the app will automatically keep their schedule updated for a fee. Updates post automatically to Facebook and Twitter.
The app also lets trucks post profiles and menus.
Walmart in Norfolk, Virginia raised a lot of buzz on social media when it offered customers free sliders and encouraged them to take pictures of its food trucks and post the pictures on Twitter. Walmart food trucks also gave away tacos in Richmond and ice cream in Glen Allen.
Because they rely heavily on social media for business, food truck operators are naturally curious to know how their competitors use social media to create buzz and win more business.
Given the importance of websites to food truck businesses, it's no surprise that one of the most read stories of 2017 was about how a food truck improved its website traffic by 800 percent. The story explained how Ribshack Foods created timely, value-driven content to improve its SEO rankings.
One step was tapping industry experts, people who already had high performing websites, and giving them reasons to link to Ribshack's site.
They also posted a blog soliciting recipes for Valentime's Day and received recipes from all over the country.
Thirdly, they repurposed their blog content to create more engaging posts for social media sites. They identified their Twitter handles and thanked them via Twitter. They also followed their post contributors on Facebook and added hashtags that gave them added exposure.
This story described how a fast casual chain, Wayback Burgers, used food trailers and trucks to establish its brand in New York City, one of the most expensive and competitive markets in the U.S. The test marked the company's foray into food trailers.
The story offered an example of how food brands are learning the nuances of the different markets they want to serve.
Wayback Burgers teamed with Move Systems, a provider and operator of food trailers that was already partnering with Nathan's Famous Inc. in operating trailers at around 20 New York City locations.
Once the trailers establish the company's brand in New York City, it could consider opening a brick-and-mortar store there.
Food trucks are proving to be excellent marketing tools for restaurant chains looking to expose more customers to their brands. The fifth most-read story explained how Cousins Subs launched a food truck to penetrate markets where they don't have brick-and-mortar locations.
While the company views the truck mainly as a branding tool, it is run as its own profit center. The truck has provided a good return for the company since it strengthens the chain's brand awareness and can be operated economically. The employees can be repurposed elsewhere in the company's operations when not working on the truck.
In addition to providing incremental sales, the truck builds brand awareness and supports the company's franchisees.
Food trucks, in addition to providing a good business opportunity for entrepreneurs, also provide great promotional value for organizations looking to generate awareness for their causes. The sixth most-read story described how a Long Island, New York civic group is using food trucks for a community awareness effort.
The Flanders, Riverside & Northampton Community Association hoped to have 15 food trucks at the festival. The organizers of the festival got the idea from attending another food truck festival and witnessing the excitement among attendees.
Food Truck Operator readers are as interested as any segment of the foodservice industry in what's new and exciting, which is why a report from the National Restaurant Show in Chicago made the top 10 list.
Exhibitors that lined McCormick Place showcased ways to make the ordering experience easier for the consumer and more efficient for the operator. Integrated solutions that allow consumers to place orders via their mobile phones were pervasive on the show floor.
Food purveyors, cooking equipment companies and software providers at the show all reported fielding more inquiries from food trucks. One software provider that did not want to be quoted by name estimated having about 1,200 food truck customers for his company's POS solution.
Food truck exhibitors also witnessed steady traffic, as chains and independent restaurants alike are interested in learning more about food trucks.
Two thousand seventeen was a banner year for massive weather related disasters, and rescue operations found food trucks to be an indispensable ally in getting relief to victims. Food trucks responded to the need to help millions of Hurricane Irma victims who were without power and therefore had limited access to food.
Food trucks didn't hesitate to heed the call for help, as did certain food truck event organizations.
As new food truck events are popping up nationwide, Food Truck Operator readers paid close attention to news about new events, especially in the early spring. An April story about a new event in Odenton, Maryland was the ninth best read story in 2017.
The opening night of Food Truck Thursdays at the Odenton Volunteer Fire Company in Odenton, Maryland brought hundreds of diners willing to stand in line, as much as 30 deep, for a plate from a dozen food trucks.
Rounding out the list was another story about how food trucks make great marketing tools for brick-and-mortar restaurants, in this case a pizza and wings restaurant, Il Primo Pizza & Wings in Richmond, Texas.
The partners moved to the Houston area from Florida knowing that Texas was a growing market.
The food truck's impact on the restaurant business was noticeable. The restaurant's lunch business nearly doubled on certain days after deploying the truck to construction sites. There was a 5 to 7 percent increase in the restaurant's total sales.
While the restaurant familiarizes customers with the truck, the truck, in turn, promotes the restaurant. The truck's biggest benefit is the growth it has delivered in restaurant sales, in addition to winning more catering business.
Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience, Food & Beverage, Independent Operators, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Policy / Legislation / Regulation, Systems / Technology
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.