Corporate food carts may signal the death of a trend
For many Vancouver foodies, the words “food cart” have a Pavlovian effect. Eyes light up with excitement, out comes the smartphone with apps mapping the current whereabouts of their favourite vendors, and discussions of which dishes they’ve tried ensues. In Vancouver, having someone make your meal on the side of the road and eating it curbside is still a novelty—so new that the city is still learning how to handle all of these roaming restaurants, and granted only 12 new vendor licenses this year.
In the United States, it’s a different story. Cities like Portland, San Francisco, New York, and Austin all have established and burgeoning food-cart scenes. In fact, the food-truck trend in the U.S. may have already hit its tipping point.
An article this week in Adweek talks about the rise of corporate food trucks across America. Chain restaurants like Sizzler, Taco Bell, Applebee’s, Red Robin, and Jack in the Box have all debuted branded food carts, using the vehicles as moving marketing campaigns, finding new customers, and testing-driving new products. According to the article, the accidental partnership between food trucks and Twitter is also being utilized by these big companies. Earlier this year, Taco Bell successfully launched its Doritos Locos Tacos by encouraging customers to use a Twitter hashtag in conjunction with visiting the Taco Bell food truck.
Restaurant chains aren’t the only large companies riding on the success of the food-cart trend. Clothing brand The Gap wheeled its Pico de Gap truck around Los Angeles in 2011, somehow tying in “tacos” with “denim”. Customers who showed up at the cart’s window with a receipt displaying a same-day Gap denim purchase received their meals for free. Those who just wanted to buy some tacos would receive a $20 coupon towards a pair of Gap jeans.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that a contributor to Forbes recently listed food trucks at the top of “America’s 8 Worst Food Trends”, saying that these carts offer nothing new to consumers, that they actually encroach upon neighbouring brick-and-mortar restaurant business, and that food-cart gatherings are nothing more than a hipster interpretation of shopping mall food courts.
While Vancouver has yet to experience corporate- or chain-restaurant food trucks on its streets, several of the 103 carts in our city are associated with local restaurants, such as La Brasserie Street and Vij’s Railway Express.
You can follow Michelle da Silva on Twitter at twitter.com/michdas.