I started my first food truck ‘Wich, Please way back in 2014. Like so many other first-time food truck owners, I invested a lot of time thinking about the menu, but almost no time thinking about hiring employees.
After all, part of the dream of starting a food truck is that it will be a simple business to operate. No long-term lease like a restaurant, no complicated corporate chains of command and processes, and of course no boss! Just you, your customers, and the food you serve.
But as I soon discovered after opening ‘Which Please, I needed help. A food truck is a simple business to run, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy without help. There’s too much to do!
My hope is that this brief guide will offer insight on the topic from the perspective of someone with real-world experience hiring staff for a mobile food unit each summer. Instead of giving you general best practices for hiring that apply to any role, I’m going to share considerations that apply to a food truck only.
Consideration 1: You Need to Be Very Comfortable with Whoever You’re Working With.
My first tip is obvious at first glance. You should consider very carefully who you employ to work in the truck with you. Of course, you will want to find someone that can follow basic directions, show up on time, and provide a superior level of customer service. This timeless advice applies to any position in hospitality.
But there are deeper considerations that must be made on a food truck than restaurants... Because chances are, you’ll be forced to become very friendly, very quickly with whoever you decide to hire. Before starting a food truck I didn’t consider, really, how strange it would be to spend entire summers in an 8×10 metal box with an employee I barely knew.
During my first summer, my employee and I averaged 55 hour weeks (more during festivals), watching the world go by from our tiny service window, taking time to step outside into the bright sunshine, warm air, and blue skies only when the 125 degree -plus temperatures* inside the truck became too hard to bear.
Author Note:*This is not an exaggeration. One day, we held a probe thermometer into the air. It registered 125 degrees inside of the truck, and we live in a cooler climate than many food vendors.
Working on a food truck is different than owning a restaurant. On a food truck, the owner usually works shoulder to shoulder with staff. You’ll be sweating right alongside staff during the busy summer months. You want someone that’s a hard worker, but you’ll also want to spend time with someone that you get along with too. It’s weird to think about an employee/owner relationship this way, but you’ll probably be spending more time with your new hire than your spouse some weeks.
Consideration 2: Test Potential Hires at Events Before Bringing Them on Part or Full-time
The nice thing about owning a food truck is you can “test” your employees before hiring them on for a more permanent position. As a food truck vendor, one of the major ways you’ll generate sales is through catering. Catering gigs can be extremely lucrative for food trucks and restaurants alike because they are the closest thing you’ll find to a guaranteed paycheck in the food industry.
In addition to being a nice windfall for business, catering or events can serve as a testing ground for permanent hires. I truly believe there’s no magic set of interview questions that can tell you more about what it will be like to work with someone then hiring them for an event or two.
Let’s face it. The traditional interview process is flawed. Some people that could be terrific hires for your business may not be good at interviewing. Some punk kid in a rock and roll t-shirt that looks lazy, may actually be an incredibly hard worker when it’s time to get to work. On the flip side, we’ve all met people that weren’t great workers but could ace any interview question with ease.
Offering prospective employees the opportunity to prove themselves at a catering gig or event is a low-risk way for you as a small business owner to more effectively vet new hires. If they aren’t a good fit after one or two venues, don’t hire them. If they do a terrific job, you can be confident in knowing they’re going to do well on the truck too.
Consideration 3: Poach Rock Star Food Service Employees
As business owners, we have been brainwashed into thinking that when it’s time to hire you’ve needed to go online, post a job ad, and read through resumes. I don’t believe this is the best way to go about finding a quality food truck employee, however.
If you’re thinking about starting a food truck business, odds are that you live in or near a city that has hospitality-based businesses like bars, restaurants, and other food trucks. The next time to you dine at these places, be on the look-out for someone that fits your ideal mold for an employee: Someone that works hard delivers exceptional customer service and might be looking for a change.
I believe one of the best places to find these individuals is to look toward the golden arches of McDonald’s. I read somewhere that 1 in every 8 people in the United States has been employed by McDonald’s at some point in their lives. If you fall into this group of people you know how hard it really is to work at the fast-food chain.
There’s little time to be idle when employed by Ronald McDonald even though the pay is usually close to as low as what is legally acceptable within the state. Since you know these employees are paid so little, it gives you the opportunity to poach their talent.
As a food truck vendor, you may not need to compensate these employees more than the fast food chain. There are plenty of benefits you can offer to these employees.
Here are a few good perks you can offer over just about any fast food chain to a prospective employee. First, as simple as it sounds, offering a more casual dress code at work can really help out. Uniforms at these fast food chains aren’t flattering on anyone and if you can offer the opportunity to wear something more comfortable take advantage of that.
Next, most food chains don’t offer tips. If your food truck has a tip jar make sure that your potential employee understands that they could make well beyond their hourly salary with tips and walk away with spending cash literally every time they work! For a young person specifically waiting for a paycheck, every two weeks can feel like an eternity.
Finally, working on a food truck is infinitely more fun than working at a corporate job site. Food trucks regularly vend at the biggest and best events around the city from events at parks to concerts. This can be a really appealing aspect for an employee that’s tired of being stuck inside.
I truly believe that hiring a food truck employee is different than any other type of business. Due to the small space and close proximity, you’ll be working with your employees you’ll get to know them on a much deeper level than you ever expected. Happy hiring!
This post was written by Malcom Bedell, owner of ‘Wich, Please food truck based in Rockland, Maine, and contributor-at-large with FoodTruckEmpire.com where he writes about mobile food entrepreneurship. In this post, Bedell shares the unique hiring considerations for food truck employees overlooked by other guides on the topic. We hope you enjoy this unique perspective on best practices for hiring in a mobile environment!