So imagine my interest when food trucks first started gaining traction in the Southeast a few years ago. With kids often in tow, the idea of casually walking up to a dining establishment on wheels – all without getting dressed up, finding a babysitter or even expecting to pay a tip – was an exciting prospect. Plus, based on the variety of options around, I could choose between Cajun, barbecue, Italian, Mediterranean, All-American and homemade ice cream.
At first, the food trucks were such a thrill. The food came quickly. It was hot, fresh and made to order. We could enjoy it on site, usually at a park. Or we could take it home in the portable containers offered upon request. Our orders were usually tasty, and the portions generally hit the spot in terms of flavor, seasoning and size.
But over time, it seems like the number of food trucks grew in number, corresponding to their national popularity as the new media darlings of U.S. food culture. However, that increase in profile seems to have invited a number of new jacks to the mobile kitchen kiosk scene who, perhaps, should not be there. Lately, it feels like anyone with the money and skills to morph a trailer or truck into a kitchen on wheels is deeming themselves as good cooks (chefs, even) with the business smarts to woo customers and retain clientele.
And here’s what recent experiences have me thinking:
They get away with things they couldn’t if they were operating a real restaurant. Deceptive photos of the food? Check. Portions so small they wouldn’t satisfy a mouse? Check. No true process to submit a complaint or aggrieve an issue? Too bad. These sorts of practices are becoming par for the course with these food trucks. And everyday Joes and Janes, when disappointed, often feel they have no true recourse to resolve their complaints. There is no manager on duty, no formal process for filing a claim, no district manager to escalate concerns.
They aren’t where they say they will be. Many food trucks advertise their planned daily stops or usual schedules on their websites. But sometimes the food trucks stand people up – not being where they said they would be, when they said they would be. This leaves customers in limbo, wasting gas to arrive at the food truck’s supposed destination and having to find other options, when they had their taste buds and wallet ready for a particular experience.
There’s no real quality control. Food-truck food is more inconsistent than dishes from a restaurant. Sometimes, even the very same order from the very same place, can be off-key and nothing like your prior experience. In many localities, food truck operators must adhere to food safety, preparation and sanitation standards. But consistency in quality and quantity seems a bit hot or miss.
After several less than stellar food truck experiences as of late, I’m not feeling the phenomenon as much anymore. Most of our meals are prepared at home, often with fresh ingredients and cooked on a stove or in the oven rather than warmed up in a microwave. While I don’t always feel like serving on kitchen duty after a long day of freelance assignments, deadlines, an occasional conference call and cleaning, the consolation prize is a meal well-made – in flavor, cleanliness, portion size, nutritional profile and a consistency that often has my diners coming back for seconds.