Food Truck Design: Location

Location-based design considerations.

I can’t drive through South Everett (about 20 miles north of Seattle) without seeing some variety of Hawaiian-influenced decals stuck to someone’s rear windshield.

There are a lot of Hawai’i-friendly people living here in Everett, WA; but I know there are many other native Hawaiians living here as well. There are also several Hawaiian restaurants in Everett and an L&L in Lynnwood. So there is demand for Hawaiian food in this area (where I currently live). What’s not to love about an entree, two scoops rice, and macaroni salad all on one plate?

I could have opened a Hawaiian food truck in Everett. Instead I chose Seattle. There’s better support in Seattle for the food truck business (commissary kitchens, regulations, permitting, special events, breweries), and most of my Facebook followers were in Seattle anyway. Of the initial feedback I received, Seattle and Bellevue/Redmond received an overwhelming amount of representation with Seattle being the majority.

Seattle

There was one big detail I missed when initially designing the physical truck layout. I should have done better research; let me explain…

Curbside street parking (SDOT spots, so-called because they are regulated and permitted by the Seattle Department Of Transportation) require the customer service window to be curbside. Easy enough right? Most trucks have right-side service windows, because parking is generally done on the right side of the street.

What I hadn’t considered about the location was one-way street parking. On a one-way street, parking is also available on the left side of the street. Such a spot would require a left-side service window. Most trucks, like mine, only had a right-side service window, so they were all vending on the right side of the street; leaving the left side of the most downtown streets available for vending! This omission resulted in right-side SDOT spots being full in Seattle, while left-side SDOT spots were barely being utilized.

Building a left-side service window even as a smaller, auxiliary service window would have given me a major advantage in squeezing into the last few remaining available SDOT spots in the food truck saturated streets of downtown Seattle.

People

As stated in another post, the majority of people attending my food truck would be office-working professionals (downtown lunch service) and brewery-goers (brewery late lunch and dinner).

At breweries, people were more likely to have time to wait. They didn’t need their food right away, they didn’t want their food right away. They wanted to place and order, then get in line for a beer, then grab a table, then come back to the truck for their food. Time wasn’t too important. Most brewery people simply wanted menu options that paired well with their drinks, or a light snack to enjoy with their favorite seasonal. Of course there were some people stopping by the truck for a quick lunch who only wanted to order and go; so I had to consider their time as well.

For the office people, time mattered a lot as most of them weren’t taking a full one-hour lunch break anymore. That hour had slowly whittled itself down to 30 or 45 minutes, sometimes less. The medical staff next door noted that they only have 30 minutes for lunch. Bankers and business people needed to be back in office asap to work with clients on the East coast. They couldn’t be waiting 10–15 minutes for their orders; two minutes, tops.

I also spent time in the field downtown observing people getting their lunch from at the Westlake and South Lake Union pods. Some trucks had their customers waiting over 10 minutes to get their meals. Online reviews showed criticism for long wait times and praise for short wait times.

What I Learned

Based on location I’d be serving brewery goers, office workers, a lot of hospital staff, probably very few tourists, and possibly a healthy dose of Hawaiian locals (we call ourselves locals even when we’re not in Hawai’i). Hawaiian-style plate lunch food would fit these crowds well. I’d have to chose the menu options that can be served in two minutes, of which there are many options.

By designing the kitchen and menu for a two minute order-to-ready time, I could gratify both groups of people. On-the-goers could get their food in less than two minutes, and I could easily slow down orders for brewery customers that needed extra time to get a beer first.

  1. Hawaiian plate lunch is casual, fast, and familiar. It also goes great with beer. It’d be perfect; people were going to love it!
  2. I should have done better research and installed a left-side service window in addition to the right-side window.

I had enough information to begin designing the physical truck (minus the overlooked detail of the left-side service window) and designing a menu for the people we’d be serving.