Food Truck Design: Concept Overview

Discovering what people need from my food truck.

I didn’t build a food truck to serve food; I built a food truck to serve people. As a food truck owner, I couldn’t only focus on the food. In doing so I would have neglected many other things that people need from their food vendor.

So while the business was thematically designed to reflect my cultural Hawaiian heritage, it was conceptually designed to serve people.

Food trucks have evolved. Their menus are more refined. Mobile food vendors saturate business centers in downtown hubs like Seattle’s Westlake Plaza and South Lake Union truck pods. That means that people are expecting more from their local food trucks; convenient locations, cleaner and faster service, accessible menu options.

Before deciding what food to make, I had to figure out who I was serving. I posted a generic “Hey I’m starting a food truck” on Facebook, and it was met with the following kinds of responses:

  • “Will you be in Seattle?”
  • “Find a spot downtown!”
  • Westlake please. Now!”

That last one wasn’t too helpful, but I appreciated the enthusiasm :)

With some initial feedback and a bit of intuition I went about figuring out who my audience was and starting setting design priorities.

1. Location

Of course geographic location mattered a lot, and specific physical constraints also had to be considered. I won’t go into detail about state/county/city compliance specifications; hungry customers didn’t care that the gray-water tank was 15% larger than the fresh-water tank, if they knew about it at all. It was an obvious design requirement though neither people-focused nor service-focused.

Location generally did not affect design in terms of how people were served, but the demographics of a location did affect the menu; college students vs working professionals, hospital vs brewery. So it mattered in considering what kind of food to provide and how the food should be presented to best serve the people in those locations.

I knew I’d be serving office-working professionals (mostly) during weekday lunches. They’d (usually) have scheduled lunch hours during which they would be intentionally out of office and looking for food, as opposed to tourist areas where eating is (often) more impulse-driven. Hang out at Westlake Plaza or South Lake Union during lunch…you’ll see people empty out of the buildings like water through an open floodgate.

The other audience was brewery goers, and Seattle has a lot of them; both breweries and goers. These people would be primarily out to have a drink with friends, and they’d want some bar food that complemented their brewery experiences well. Salty snacks, fresh fish, savory pork, barbecue chicken. Writing this entry is making me hungry…someone grab me a Roggenbier, I’ll be in the kitchen.

[1 hour later…] Ok, back to writing :)

2. Time

Reading between the lines of Facebook comments and chats with friends and inquisitive eavesdroppers, it was imperative that people wanted their orders to be ready fast and and their food to be easy to eat.

People weren’t going out of their way to visit the truck. When they did show up, it was important to get them served quickly. Smart prep, efficient cooking, and fast plating were among the top priorities in designing the truck.

The menu had to be simple. Superfluous menu items were non-starters, no extra garnishes, no special plating. I wasn’t going to win any “fancy food” awards, but I would win the appreciation and loyalty of my guests.

The kitchen had be designed for efficiency. If an appliance didn’t help in getting food out faster, then it didn’t belong in the truck. Sure that $4k refrigerated chef base would have been a very nice convenience, but it would not have gotten orders out any faster. In fact it might have gotten in the way and restricted movement and flow through the kitchen, which would have increased order times.

Those were the two primary driving factors behind most of the design decisions I made.

What did people need from my food truck? Familiar, accessible, easy to eat food ready in less than two minutes. That was my concept: Easy food for people who need their orders in two minutes or less.

The Hawaiian theme, the company motto, aesthetics, look and feel, logos and branding; all of those things mattered too. They were the outward-facing shell. They were the interface to food nirvana. Behind all that was an efficient and powerful kitchen that brought it all to life. All of it built for to give people the best Hawaiian food truck experience they will ever have.

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