Food Truck Etiquette

To go along with an earlier article I wrote, I decided to write about food truck etiquette. I’ve been wanting to write something like this for awhile, but I didn’t want to do it while I was still working on a truck. I didn’t want to make it seem like I was a jerk and potentially alienate some customers. Now that I’m no longer in that line of work, I thought I’d write some things down to help your food truck experience.

When you order, speak up

Most people don’t realize this, but the inside of a food truck can get noisy, especially when it gets busy. You usually have 3 exhaust fans going full blast, other workers yelling out directions and spatulas clanging against the grill. When you order, please speak up. It helps us get your order accurate and it helps speed up your order. We also don’t want to mishear or mispronounce your name. I’ve called out a person’s name repeatedly and after almost 10 minutes, someone standing in front of the pick up window, who has also been standing there for 10 minutes says, “You mean so-and-so?” (I forgot her name exactly.) She didn’t know her food was ready until she realized I was butchering her name. I’ve never felt so embarrassed. Speak up, speak clearly.

Once you order your food, DO NOT wander away.

This was my number one pet peeve of food truck customers. Back in the early days, Dos Chinos was notorious for long lines and long waits. It took a couple minutes for food to come out, so it was understandable for customers, once they placed their orders, to peruse other food trucks or socialize with their friends. It took us a few months, but once we streamlined the process, we were a well oiled machine. We could get orders out rather quickly. The bottleneck then became customers who would order food, then walk away. Having to call out a customers name multiple times is frustrating and annoying. Aren’t you guys hungry? Come get your food! Not only does the unclaimed food clutter the pick up window, your food gets cold and the last thing we want is the customer to have a bad experience because their food has been sitting. Please, stay within earshot of the pick up window.

Go easy with the special requests

This is easily my second biggest annoyance with customers. Now this may start to sound like a disgruntled food truck worker’s rant but I’ll explain. If you ever notice at the bottom of some restaurant’s menus, you’ll often see, “Changes and modifications politely declined.” I’m not talking about your chain restaurants, but a real restaurant with a head chef who has a vision and creates dishes for the menu. I never really understood why this existed until I started working in the food industry. On our truck, there’s a reason why certain condiments and sauces go on specific tacos or burritos. Different flavors complement each other and if you take something out, you won’t be able to experience your food the way it was intended. Now, there is something to be said about allergies and of course, we would do anything to acccomodate a customer’s needs if they’re allergic. On our truck, we didn’t have a “no changes allowed” policy but some of the special requests we got were absurd and I gladly vetoed some of them. Here are some of the more ridiculous requests:

  • Cutting a burrito into three pieces. I wonder who was the poor unfortunate soul who got the middle piece.
  • Ordering half a taco. You try to figure out how to cut that taco.
  • Ordering a burrito with certain condiments on one half, another set on the other. The customer actually pointed out that some condiments drifted from one half to the other. YOU figure out a way to do this cleanly then.
  • Deep frying quesadillas.

Further, asking for special requests will almost always take longer. Ninety percent of the time, someone will add something even if you’ve asked to leave it out. It’s hard to change the habit of always adding onions, cilantro, etc. Plus, you don’t want us just to take out the onions or scrape off the sour cream right? That means we have to start over from scratch. I once screwed up the same order three times in a row because I was so used to adding sour cream to our Papas Fritas. Unless you’re allergic, at least try the food as it was intended. If you still don’t like it, we’ll gladly make you a new taco to your liking. And if you must, it’s easier to fix adding something (extra onions, add fried egg) than taking something out.

Be kind to the tip jar

This can start a whole other argument about when it is appropriate to tip. At a full service restaurant, sure it’s standard practice, but what about the Starbucks barista or, you guessed it, the food truck workers? I can tell you this. If you’re a regular customer, you better be showing some love to that tip jar. A couple bucks here and there can be the difference from, “Here comes such and such asking for their ridiculous, pain in the ass special order” to “Hey, what’s up?! You want your usual? Grab a soda too if you’re thirsty.” After taking orders week after week, you get to know who your regulars are and you notice who adds to your bottom line. Whenever we had spare tacos (see previous point), I had no hesitation giving those to our loyal and generous customers. Is it buying preferential treatment? You’re damn right it is and sometimes, that’s just how the world works.

Throw away your trash

Food truck meet ups are fun and are a great way to sample multiple trucks. After everyone pigs out and goes home, guess who has to clean up? Most of these meet ups are held in parking lots of private businesses. These businesses host these events to give us a venue to serve dinner and potentially attract new customers to their business. If the place is littered with garbage and empty soda cans, those businesses are less likely to invite us back for another meet up. Please clean up after yourselves. Not only will it keep the business owners happy, it makes our jobs easier and lets us come back week after week.

Food trucks are a great phenomenon that shows no signs of slowing down. They’re quick, you don’t have to deal with reservations (although lines can get long), you can sample multiple trucks easily and a few of them actually make some really good food. I just wanted to share some tips that might make your experience, and the workers’, a little bit better.

Posted on May 3, 2012 in Food.
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