Most food truck product ideas that fail do so because they are never synchronized with a well thought out 'Menu Execution Strategy!' Since "ideas" are a dime a dozen, rarely do menu ideas cause a food truck failure. Rather, most menu ideas sink because they are supported by a weak menu execution strategy – and the same could be said for many QSR menu product failures.
Origin of food truck menus
I trust that we can agree that most food truck ideas originate from either a Mom's, Grandmother's, or family heirloom recipe. The same principle also applies to ethnic product recipes like Korean BBQ ribs. Unfortunately, most of these recipes are limited in scope such as one or two products – which is not enough to make a menu to build a brand around. A stronger brand, and the execution of new products, translates into a stronger business strategy and financial model.
Food truck comfort foods
A second driving characteristic of food truck menus is the concept of 'comfort foods.' Comfort foods reflect those menu items that have a degree of flavor familiarity, contain locally grown ingredients, contribute to eating indulgence (without guilt), and provide a "one-up" eating experience.
Menu execution mistakes
New food truck operators can significantly improve their business bottom line profits through avoiding the following food menu execution pitfalls:
Resist the urge to sell large numbers of core products. Instead, build a menu around a limited number of core protein-based products like chicken, seafood, beef and pork. Remember that core protein products also represent the highest food costs, and the highest end-of-day food cost if they are not sold. The driving principle is to manage down core protein food product availability, portion size, and food costs.
Failure to focus on higher margin protein product carriers – usually the carriers like french fries or mashed potatoes (a la KFC and other Southern fried chicken restaurant chains), rice (a la Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indian restaurants, noodles (a la Chinese noodle favorites, etc.) are lower cost, have longer service hold times, and can create an additional point of differentiation.
Resist the tug to add numerous "accent sauces." Instead, limit the number of accent sauces. Examples of these sauces are a range of Mexican sauces such as pico de gallo, green pepper sauce, hot pepper sauce; or a range of Indian sauces like Tikka, Vinaloo, Saag, or Korma. I recommend limiting "accent sauces" to four when you begin the food truck business. Never forget that "accent sauces" may represent the highest per ounce food cost on your menu.
Resist the pull to list multiple menu add-ons. Instead, limit the number of add-ons used to build check average. Examples include biscuits (used on fried chicken menus), fresh vegetable sides (apply mix and match blends), breads (used to top of Asian or Italian dishes), jalapeno peppers, etc. Menu add-ons can represent high margins like jalapenos, or high per serving costs like flour-based products.
Resist the urge to have multiple dessert items. Instead, limit the dessert food cost exposure, and leave desserts to food trucks that specialize in sweet tooth products.
I trust this menu discussion will make your food truck menu more indulgent and profitable. The guiding menu principle is always to sell fewer items at higher margins - which will allow you to spend more time on operations execution and customer interfaces.
In follow-up, Food Technical Consulting (www.foodbevbiz.com) has scheduled a 3-day industry Food Truck Workshop in Denver on Aug. 20-22, 2012: How to Start & Grow a Food Truck Business. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-471-1443. A course manual will be available for sale to international small business operators who cannot attend
Darrel Suderman, Ph.D., is president of Food Technical Consulting and founder of Food Innovation Institute. He has held senior R&D/QA leadership positions at KFC, Boston Market, Church's Chicken and Quiznos and led KFC’s development team of “Popcorn Chicken”, now a $1B international product –invented by Gene Gagliardi.