Food Truck Design: Menu

A methodological approach to choosing menu options.

Based on our locations and demographics, menu items had to satisfy the following three conditions:

  1. Ready in two minutes or less, from the time someone places an order to the time the order is ready and in the window to give to the customer. There is little time for embellishments and fancy little garnishes.
  2. Easy to eat. No extra cutting, slicing, dicing, mixing, pouring required. That means chicken should be sliced for the customer before plating.
  3. Familiar and casual. There are strange Hawaiian food items like squid lu’au, chicken long rice, poi, and opihi among others we love to eat in Hawai’i but probably wouldn’t be a big hit up here in the mainland because they aren’t familiar and are often more “acquired tastes”. So I had to keep it simple: pork, chicken, beef, fish, veggies.

These criteria might seem obvious, but only in the context of the kinds of people I was serving and the type of food truck I wanted to run. There are times when these criteria wouldn’t be right for the people being served. For example and as noted in a previous article, the first two criteria didn’t matter much for the brewery crowd; they were engaging in more of a sit-down restaurant dining experience, so they weren’t in a rush and they had tables and chairs to eat on.

Some Hawaiian food options wouldn’t fit the criteria well. Fortunately there are other options that do. In the section below I’ll address what works and what doesn’t work.

Plate Lunch

A standard Hawaiian plate lunch consists of an entree, two scoops rice, and macaroni salad. If all the food is ready to serve it takes about 30 seconds to plate.

Rice is easy, and it hot-holds in the same appliance it cooks in. Less transfers, less dishes. Bonus! Satisfies all three conditions above. Fast, easy (to eat), familiar.

Macaroni salad is easy and the base stores well cold, but it doesn’t store well ready-to-eat (fully prepared) overnight. So there will have to be final prep on the day of service. Nonetheless, satisfies the three conditions. Fast, easy, familiar.

Concerning entree options, there were some that fit the criteria and others that did not.

Based on the criteria, I narrowed the options down to Kalua Pork, Beef Stew, Barbecue Chicken, Chili, Spareribs, and Poke. After further analysis of cost and availability I eliminated Beef Stew, Chili, Spareribs, and Poke. There were other secondary factors as well: cost, prep, storage.

The remaining options were Kalua Pork and Barbecue Chicken. Laulau is not familiar, but it’s easy enough to explain as “salted pork and fish, steamed in taro leaf”. Adding laulau as a staple Hawaiian food would also add fish to the menu, and I could do a vegetarian version using Hawaiian sweet potato and taro. So that was the original menu: Kalua Pork, Barbecue Chicken, Traditional Laulau, and Sweet Potato Laulau.

I eventually removed both laulau because they weren’t selling (probably the price and familiarity, but everyone that tried it liked it). Doing so removed the only vegetarian option as well, but the demand wasn’t there anyway.

Ahi Poke was added to the menu after some convincing by a fellow food trucker. It was my favorite item and a top-seller. Poke is becoming very popular here, it’s easy to serve and eat, and it’s easy for me to prep.

These changes simplified the menu and added an entree in which fish was the primary protein. Pork, Chicken, and Fish as entrees with Spam as a side; that’s a good variety of entrees all prepared differently and with a variety of flavor profiles.

The final menu was clear and easy for people to understand. Even those who were not familiar with Hawaiian plate lunch figured it out quickly. Best of all they loved the choices and loved the food, often expressing thanks and delight at how quickly their orders were ready.

Top Left: Kalua Pork plate. Top Right: Barbecue Chicken plate. Bottom Left: Poke sampler. Bottom Right: Spam Musubi.

With the menu decided, I was ready to design the kitchen :)

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