Veteran restaurateur helps bring pizza truck kiosk to reality
Customers order from the Luv Pizzas truck. Photo courtesy of Luv Pizzas.
Many longtime pizza restaurateurs will tell you that the business just gets in your blood. That was the case for Bob Stephens, a 30-year veteran of the industry who found himself, after a diverse career, sitting in a home office managing his investments. It just didn't work for him.
That's when his girlfriend suggested he think about something a bit less of a financial risk: A pizza truck.
|Bob Stephens finds running a pizza truck more rewarding than sitting|
home managing his investments
Knowing about the growing popularity of food trucks in South Florida, Stephens agreed.
He also knew that some restaurants were using self-serve kiosks, which he thought would make even more sense for a food truck. After all, food trucks need to serve customers quickly.
In doing his field research, Stephens observed that customers spent as much as five minutes at a food truck order window.
"Any time you start a conversation with somebody, you've increased the amount of time everybody is waiting in line," he said.
A self-serve kiosk, he reasoned, would cut ordering time by more than half.
McDonald's points the way
Eventually, Stephens got chance to test his self-serve kiosk theory.
"I walked into a McDonald's and there was a line of people in front of the [kiosk] screen," Stephens said. None of the customers were waiting at the manned counter. This was just two days after the kiosks were installed in this particular restaurant last winter.
"That solidified it," Stephens said.
Finding a self-serve kiosk that could be used on a food truck wasn't easy, however.
"I knew what I wanted, I just didn't know what to call it," he said. He also worried that the technology would be cost prohibitive for a food truck.
After spending several days searching for kiosks on the internet, he came across someone who said he could provide the kiosk he was looking for — at an affordable cost.
A partner emerges
The company, Grubbrr Systems International LLC, did not have an off-the-shelf self-order kiosk for food trucks. But company owner Bhavin Asher, whose South Florida-based company provides POS solutions and management software for the restaurant industry, told Stephens that he could develop such a kiosk for him.
"The food truck was a very unique challenge," Asher told Food Truck Operator.
|The touchscreen was mounted onto the side of the truck.|
There were two challenges, in fact: firstly, the touchscreens that Asher had worked with for his restaurant POS kiosks did not emit bright enough light for outdoor use; and secondly, he needed a way to mount the touchscreen on the truck.
Asher was able to find a touchscreen with sufficient brightness from Partner Tech Corp., a manufacturer of POS terminals and peripherals. Where most touchscreens have a brightness of 250 nits, Partner Tech provided one with 1,000 nits, which is essential for outdoor use.
Asher worked with the truck builder that Stephens hired, IL Professional Equipment Installation in Hialeah, Florida, to figure out how to mount the touchscreen on the truck.
The builder was able to open a space on the side of the truck — a 2003 diesel-powered Mac Tools truck with 165,000 miles on it — for the 15- by 29-inch touchscreen.
The technology investment was well within Stephens' budget. He paid about $3,000 for the touchscreen, three printers, a cash drawer and two tablets used for taking orders during busy periods. He pays $125 per month for the POS and inventory management software.
Stephens received a discount from Grubbrr for the technology since he was the company's first food truck customer. Normally, the hardware would cost $4,000 and the monthly software fee would be $150, according to Asher.
Customer response encouraging
While his truck has been in operation for only a few weeks, Stephens has been encouraged by the response.
"We found that people will buy more because it's a touchscreen," he said. "They don't have to interact. They don't have to talk to the clerk."
The kiosk prints the order, which has a number and the customer's name. Once the order is entered, the customer pays using a credit card, a smartphone or cash.
|The pizza truck has served at breweries, a festival and a movie night.|
Cash-paying customers, who comprise approximately 30 percent of all orders, have to pay at the window since the kiosk does not take cash.
Once the customer has paid, the order goes to the kitchen and the pizza is ready in two minutes. The server calls the customer's name when the order is ready and hands their food to them at the service window.
For the touchscreen to be effective, it has to be easy for the customer to use, Stephens said. While most kids 15 to 20 years old know how to use a touchscreen, many customers need assistance. Hence, one employee is on hand at all times to assist customers.
If the truck gets especially busy, an employee will use one of the iPads to take orders from customers waiting in line. The employee takes payment on the spot.
Simple menu helps
The truck serves only pizza and salad. There is no formal menu; customers simply pick one of two cheeses, along with toppings, for their pizza. Minimizing the number of choices helps keep customer traffic flowing, Stephens said.
The base pizza is $9.99 plus $1 each for additional items. Because customers often add as many as seven or eight items, the average ticket is around $15.00.
In a standard pizza restaurant, there are as many as 10 specialties that employees have to memorize. Stephens thinks the "build your own" system the kiosk offers is easier for both customers and employees.
Stephens buys frozen dough balls for the pizza. In a truck, he said, there isn’t the time to prepare everything from scratch. Dough has to be cured and made consistently.
|Stephens' girlfriend, Liz Kohout, designed the logo.|
Stephens' girlfriend, Liz Kohout, brought management and marketing skills from her experience operating a manufacturing job shop. She designed the logo, a cartoonish pizza slice with a face, arms and legs.
She also designed the website, luvpizzas.com, and handles social media. The website lists Miami-area food truck events and other information.
So far, Stephens has taken his truck to breweries, a movie night and a festival that charged a $400 admission fee for the food truck. He did more than $1,100 in sales at the movie night, which was attended by about 1,000 people. For big events, he needs four people on the truck.
Stephens said that the hardest part of getting the food truck up and running has been getting the permits he needs from all various local jurisdictions in addition to his state permit.
Stephens is hoping to do between $600,000 to $800,000 in annual sales, which he thinks is about double that of the average food truck. He expects he will need to go to festivals to accomplish this, and hopes to keep entrance fees at 10 percent of his sales. He figures he'll need to do $1,000 in sales daily to reach this goal.
Stephens said he finds running a food truck enjoyable — he clearly prefers it to sitting at home managing his investments.
Photos courtesy of Luv Pizzas.
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.