Are Food Trucks a Threat to Hotel Catering Business? Part I

Food trucks competing with a well-equipped catering department at a midscale or even upscale hotel? Forget it, I’m kidding.

[FYI: the second highest Zagat food quality rating for any restaurant in San Francisco, 28, is a food cart that’s available 2 days a week. I’ve been. Zagat’s right.]

I don’t know a single catering director who has expressed concern about this. I’m not sure it’s on anyone’s radar. Yet. In fact I know some pretty smart hoteliers who have hosted food truck events. I wrote about it last year.

[Oops. I just Googled “Weddings & Food Trucks” got 23 million hits.]

[Oops again. The Knot just published its 11 top weddings trends for 2011, and guess what?]

We all know that, really, food trucks are a fad, and anyway health departments will be shutting them all down soon and we can get back to the way things were. For example the city council of Richmond CA just put the kibosh on new licenses for 45 days while they figure out which regulations should apply, and how. Closer to home, Atlanta has very strict enforcement policies.

[On the other hand cities such as L.A. – 10,000 food trucks – and Santa Monica and Chicago are passing strict but reasonable laws to govern the trucks. In fact, food truck owners welcome this, they understand that ultimately it will bring them more and new customers who are now reassured about the safety aspect. The New York Times said this “may be the ultimate sign that this faddiest of food fads is going mainstream”.]

Why is this happening, and why is it a trend – not a fad? Some will cite technology and others the recession and they would not be wrong, but there is more. There is a permanent shift in what we value, and this shift began before the recession. The best explanation I’ve seen for this is found in Spend Shift by John Gerzema & Michael. The subtitle says it all: “How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution Is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell, and Live”. Call it “new normal” or whatever you wish: consumers are rejecting “overconsumption”. The authors of Spend Shift cited 5 emerging values – emerging prior to the recession by the way. Among them are these two:

  • We are “adopting a more nimble, adaptable and thrifty approach to life”
  • Old status symbols appeal less, and “purpose, character, authenticity and creativity” are pathways to the “new good life”

Let’s apply this to food truck catering. What do they have that a top notch hotel doesn’t? Affordability. Variety in venue (pick a venue, any venue the trucks can access). Specialization – oftenFood Trucks are great at just one thing, that’s all they do. And Authenticity. For examples check out the Top 20 Food Trucks in the USA. Fun, Buzz, Creativity – and it’s all wrapped in social media marketing.

And now it’s time to get back to hotel catering. Is this really a “threat” to your business? If you asked me to do a SWOT analysis for your business, and if you are located in a major market, I would have to answer “yes”.

OK so now what?

I’ll suggest a response in Part II next week.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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  1. Truck Catering has it place and feel it will not impact the hotel catering business. — Will hotel caterers service construction sites?

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