A successful food truck has all the operational requirements of a Quick-Serve restaurant, without the conveniences taken for granted in a brick and mortar venue. It is quite a unique food service challenge.
All front-end, food prep, cooking equipment and business processing have to be packed into a space only a fraction of the size of the customer service areas of most QSRs (minus the seating areas). Travel time to the food service site has to be factored in each working day. Sometimes overnight accommodations for the staff have to be arranged. Different city and state taxes have to be calculated for food trucks on the move. Hardwired internet that is always connected is just not an option, and it is difficult to give up valuable space for large order processing and credit card payment systems along with the network cabling they require.
For some food trucks, fuel may need to be transported for the cooking equipment. And in some cases, like Carolina Firehouse that serves real pit cooked barbeque, there are 15 hours of set up and food prep that has to be done right at the event site, as it is required by the health inspectors that all food is prepared in the certified kitchenof the food truck. It takes Carolina Firehouse 12 hours to cook the food in the real wood fire smoker on the back of the truck. This means for a weekend festival opening at 5 pm on Friday, the truck has to be at the festival site by 2 am for the meat to be smoked by the time the festival starts. If the festival opens in the morning, they have to be on site by 5 pm the night before, and have the smoker cooking all night to be ready on time.
Carolina Firehouse has refined the mobile food truck service challenge to a fine art, serving the kind of specialty menu items festival and event attendees don’t mind lining up to order – Famous Wood Fired Lasagna, Pulled Pork and Smoked Turkey Sandwiches, Apple Fritters and Russian Tea. They serve 500 to 700 meals each day at the large weekend festivals and events they work around North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.
“Once we open our serving window, our line never goes away until we run out of food. Our lines move pretty quickly. Customers will stand in line for a good amount of time to order, but when they get to the order window, they want to place their order, pay and get served fast,” says Paul Baity, Carolina Firehouse owner. “We have to be able to take the orders and payment and manage the whole process without delays.”
Baity did a lot of research on available Point-of-Sale (POS) systems to find one that provided the exact features needed by a busy food truck business. He chose TouchBistro iPad POS and knows he made the right choice. “We couldn’t run and have grown our business as well as we have without TouchBistro,” Baity says.
One of the features Baity wanted was a system that is wireless as he knew this would be critical in moving people through the line fast. He chose the TouchBistro wireless iPad system as the order entry is easy for the staff to learn and use, it transmits the orders wirelessly to food prep area, and it processes payments in cash or by credit or debit cards or mobile wallets wirelessly over the internet.
“Using TouchBistro, it takes us only 30 seconds to a minute to move a person through the order and payment process after arriving at the window,” Baity says.
It is also imperative for a food truck at a multi-day event to know exactly what was sold by quantity and revenue every day, so automated reporting is another critical feature Baity required in the POS system he chose.
“At the end of the day, I simply run the EOD report and it tells me everything I need to know about the sales that day. I know what is selling and what is not. It automatically calculates different city and state taxes as we move from city to city so itmakes tax payment easier to manage. We alsoutilize the inventory feature to help us determine when it is time to re-order,” Baity explains.
It was equally important to Baity to find a system that was easy to install, easy to learn, easy to use, robust and stable so it didn’t break down. Baity says there is always a learning curve with any new systems, but it took him only a couple of hours to go through the training on TouchBistro, and a couple of hours testing to get it up and running. He was able to train his staff himself quite easily.
“Customer service is also really important and they were very easy to work with, but I haven’t needed to contact them much since the system was installed,” Baity clarified. “That’s a testament to the ease and stability of the system.”
Lastly, as the Carolina Firehouse was just starting up, it was important that the system would fit in its startup budget without high upfront costs for proprietary hardware, and long contracts that would lock them into a system that may or may not prove out to be the optimum solution after real world testing.
“I chose a system that uses an iPad because I believe in the quality and ease of use of Apple productsand they were a lot less expensive than the proprietary hardware offered by other POS systems,” Baity says. “I was able to test out the POS software for 30 days for free, so I felt even more confident when I found out there were various POS app subscription options that didn’t require a long term contract. This fit perfectly within my start up budget.”
What five top tips would Paul Baity like to share with other food truck owners about point-of-sale systems?
- If you don’t have a POS system, get one! The value it will provide your business in increased efficiency will more than return your investment.
- Do your homework before you buy. Put your hands on the system yourself and test it to see if it is easy for you to use. Move through the features yourself and personally take a look at the features it says it has that you want. Go through all the steps it will take to install it and get a feel for how complicated they are and how long it will take.
- Go wireless. Don’t even consider a system that requires a hardwired network inside the truck, or requires a hardwire internet connection for payment processing.
- Make sure it has easy to generate reports for tracking what is sold and inventory. Take a look at the reports yourself, and make sure there aren’t hidden programming costs to customize reports for what you need.
- Don’t commit to expensive proprietary hardware or required long term service and upgrade contracts. These just aren’t necessary. Chose a system that utilizes off-the-shelf hardware, like an iPad, with variable term contracts and great customer service that offers free upgrades.
At the end of the day, you’ve gotta give it up to the Food Trucks. These guys are working harder than you can imagine, and in much tighter quarters than most any kitchen! If they offer up some advice on being successful, you should probably listen.