Food trucks find good parking spaces in the suburbs

Photo: Instagram/dreamydrinks/curiocityseattle
Aug 27, 2020

Food trucks, the darlings of urban-dwelling foodies and office workers looking for quick lunch options, have hit the road in search of customers, and some are finding them in nearby suburbs surrounding cities such as Austin, TX, Nashville and Seattle, The Associated Press reports.

The move by office workers and others out of cities has negatively affected a business that looked unstoppable prior to the pandemic. The food truck industry expanded at a nearly seven percent compounded annual rate between 2014 and 2019, according to IBIS World. A study published in March by forecast annual compounded growth of six percent through 2025. Of course, all of these sales numbers and projections were made pre-pandemic.

As a result of COVID-19’s spread, large numbers of workers, not furloughed or laid off as a result of the virus, moved their workplaces from urban offices to their own homes.

In July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 26 percent of Americans were engaged in telework, down from 31 percent in June. Those most likely to be working from home are those in management, financial and business operations (46 percent), followed by those in professional and related occupations (44 percent). Only five percent of people in service occupations are working from home, according to the government’s numbers.

B.J. Lofback, who operated a truck serving Korean food in Nashville prior to the pandemic, shifted to just making lobster rolls once the full effects of the pandemic on his business became clear. He took his truck to nearby suburbs where he found plenty of customers.

“The economics just worked,” Mr. Lofback told the AP. “Me personally, I’m hoping that even if a vaccine dropped tomorrow and herd immunity was accomplished tomorrow, I hope neighborhoods still have us out.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you expect food trucks to continue to expand their routes into suburban areas after the pandemic has passed? Is now a good opportunity for restaurant operators and food retailers to be pursuing food truck opportunities?

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13 Comments on "Food trucks find good parking spaces in the suburbs"

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Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Director, Main Street Markets
1 year 8 months ago

I have seen food trucks out in full force into suburban areas and people are responding positively to them – it’s outside, people are social distancing as they wait for orders, and there are a lot of them. It’s a good move to service a clientele that likes to eat out, but really don’t want — or are not ready — to do a sit down meal at a restaurant.

Shep Hyken

Food that travels well is one of the ways that restaurants can survive as restaurants have capacity restrictions. Food trucks already had that down prior to the pandemic. Fresh food you can buy just down the street or around the corner from home – in your neighborhood – is a great opportunity. We are seeing customers’ buying behaviors change. They will change again as life returns to a normal that looks something like pre-pandemic behavior. (Aren’t our customers’ behaviors always changing?) For now, food trucks can capitalize on this behavior. They can get their customers used to their new locations/routes in the suburbs.

David Naumann
David Naumann
Marketing Strategy Lead - Retail, Travel & Distribution, Verizon
1 year 8 months ago

Suburbs have been an overlooked opportunity that now has become a survival strategy for food truck operators. Finding the right location with high traffic patterns and good demographics for your food truck concept can deliver much better revenues than being parked in a downtown area next to closed office buildings. Once food trucks establish a loyal following in a suburban location, they may continue to service this area after the pandemic. Restaurant operators that have closed or have limited capacity for indoor dining may consider investing in a food truck. If they do, they should be evaluating it through a long-term lens as the investment should be based on estimated post-pandemic demand as well.

Bethany Allee

I thought the moment of the food truck had come and gone, but no. The moment of the food truck is here and now. Suburbanites have turned food truck visits into socially distanced opportunities for revelry and states like Texas are now offering bars an opportunity to open, if they have a food truck onsite. This is an opportunity for struggling food retailers and restaurant operators to leverage the assets they already have (food handling and liquor licenses, parking lots, etc.) and capitalize on the opportunity.

Gary Sankary

On one hand I love the creativity and small entrepreneur aspect of it. On the other hand I am sympathetic to small restaurants who pay rent and have other overhead seeing these trucks parked on the street in front of their businesses. This was an issue when I worked in downtown Minneapolis. I think spreading them out is a good thing, and actually fills a need for food options in the suburbs.

Neil Saunders

Dining out and foodservice spend are down sharply. Some of this is due to less socializing; some is a function of people working from home more, so they are not grabbing food to go or having lunches or dinners out while at the office. However none of this means that people don’t want tasty and convenient food rather than getting everything from the supermarket. There is a real opportunity here for food trucks and if they go into the right locations at the right time they can most certainly capitalize on the demand!

Patricia Vekich Waldron

Interesting, locally prepared food options that come to ones neighborhood appeals to city-dwellers as well as suburban residents. Food trucks have gone mainstream – especially when food is one of the few pleasures allowed during the pandemic.

Gene Detroyer

I think the food truck opportunity in the suburbs was always there. The operators just need some impetus to find the neighborhoods. COVID-19 brought them there but, as the cities reawaken, this new market for the food truck guys will stick.

Does that mean food trucks will not return to the city? Not at all. They will be back with new or expanded operators.

One of the most popular weekend city activities has been food truck parks. I could certainly see that happening in the suburbs in commuter parking lots or outside of malls.

Food trucks are fun and fun breeds opportunity.

Chris Buecker

A clear yes. Quite a number of new behaviors or company policies will remain in a post-pandemic era; e.g. there will be a higher number of people working from home in their suburbs and, therefore, I see a clear potential for food providers.

Ryan Mathews

It depends on how well they can establish themselves during the pandemic, but in general — since so many are urban-based — I would expect to see them return to city cores once COVID-19 is done. Running a food truck is not like running a restaurant. It has different economics, requires a different way of thinking about menus, and obviously requires different culinary techniques and skills — and it’s not cheap, so it clearly isn’t for everyone.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Unlike physical restaurants, a major advantage of food trucks is that they can move to where the customers are located. If physical restaurants want the same advantage, using food trucks might be a good investment. That investment now might make it possible for physical restaurants to participate in festivals and outdoor events.

Craig Sundstrom

Not to be a grump, but I wonder how much this enthusiasm will endure once winter hits.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

This is a terrific opportunity for food trucks. Post COVID-19, many Americans will still be working from home and there’s nothing better than to take their lunch breaks by visiting a convenient, locally placed food truck. Food trucks have evolved their menus to fit the palates of today’s disrupted and variety-starved patrons. Food trucks also represent a portable opportunity for established restaurants to expand their businesses. Food truck development by traditional restaurants could also serve as a defensive strategy to combat the expected downturn in business, when cold weather will negatively affect those restaurants currently precluded by regulations from offering inside dining.


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