Note: This is an op-ed piece, and I’m approaching the topic from the vantage point of a person who loves food and dining out. No more. No less.
As I’ve stated in previous writings, I don’t have much experience in the food industry. I’ve never worked in a kitchen, be it between four walls or on four wheels. Maybe that’s why I find this “war of words” that has started up in Boston between Adam Gendreau and Patrick Gilmartin, owners of the Staff Meal Food Truck, and the Andelman brothers of the Phantom Gourmet to be so intriguing.
So a little backstory first: There has been a growing divide for some time, but most recently the two sides have argued as to whether or not food trucks should be allowed to provide service near brick and mortar restaurants. The Andelman’s are of the mind that food trucks should not be allowed to set up shop near restaurants, apparently feeling that any closer than 1000 feet is too close. Their claim, and the claim of some restauranteurs who have been heard on the Phantom Gourmet radio program (it should be noted that some of these restauranteurs are sponsors of the show), is that food trucks steal their business.
The Staff Meal guys, on the other hand, stand by the idea that brick and mortar restaurants already have a leg up over food trucks as it is, and further regulations forcing the trucks to keep such a distance from restaurants would be crippling to their business. Considering the number of restaurants in the Boston area, I’m not sure you can blame them.
Both arguments have some level of merit, but I have to be honest and say that I feel more inclined to side with the food trucks. So, bear with me while I give you what I believe to be relatively commonsense reasons for my inclination.
I worked in Boston for about 10 years. As is the case with most office jobs, few are the days that are slow paced. More often than not you’re eating at your desk, if you even end up eating at all. So, in those instances when you do manage to make your way outdoors, you rarely do so without a plan. If my plan was to head to a restaurant, that is where I am headed. A restaurant. Seeing a food truck nearby isn’t likely to draw me away. Unless of course they add “Do your ears hang low” music like old-school ice cream trucks. Then I might be screwed (what IS it with that music??).
That takes me to the core of the matter, though. It’s clear that people are always on the hunt for a good deal, which food trucks can provide. But, let’s face it. Most people that enjoy food aren’t just interested in cost. They want quality. They want food that is going to rock their world. If it’s on the less expensive side, all the better!
So, that raises the question: If people are indeed choosing food trucks over brick and mortar restaurants, is it really a regulatory issue? Or is it a culinary issue? Is it really the trendiness of food trucks that is causing people to give them a shot? Or, is it simply the fact that the food they’re getting at food trucks is just, dare I say it, better?
A little healthy competition never hurt anyone! Rather than push for regulations or sanctions against food trucks, pushing the competition out of the way, why not step up to the plate (pun!) and be competitive? “Those damn food trucks take our business!” Then give diners a reason to come back to your restaurant!
I’m not a restauranteur. I don’t run a food truck. I am a diner. I think restaurants and food trucks are rad, and I believe they can work together. Maybe I’m wrong. But, just remember: If you’re in favor of regulations that handcuff food trucks, making it extremely difficult for them to set up shop in major cities like Boston, people aren’t coming back to your restaurants because they like you better. They simply had their other choices taken away.