Food trucks as a concept date all the way back to ancient Rome, but most cite 2008 as the start of the current mobile-gourmet craze when Korean-American chef Roy Choi opened Kogi BBQ in Los Angeles. Now, these mobile restaurants exist all over the U.S., have their own Zagat category, and are set to generate an expected $2.7 billion in the U.S. in 2017.
So it’s an ideal time for entrepreneurs to climb onboard and fire up the grill for their next venture, right?
Sort of. But dropping $85,000 on a truck and equipment won’t guarantee you a successful business, just like parking said truck a prime location won’t automatically win you a following of devout foodies.
Yes, it’s a great way of starting a restaurant with minimal overhead. Even so, food truck operators often find themselves in a kind of hell on wheels where parking-lot space is a daily battle (PDF), the weather can ruin an entire day’s profits, and there’s no consistent set of followers because when and where your business operates is also inconsistent. Health-code mistakes and violations are rampant. Add on the various permits, licenses, and insurance policies needed—which vary from county to county across the U.S.—and it’s little wonder that around half of all food truck businesses fold within the first year.
Enter Bistro Planet, the brainchild of tech entrepreneurs Roie Edery and Aleksey Klempner. Edery previously helped launch the medical-marijuana-delivery app Eaze, and alongside Klempner, he believes Bistro Planet, and technology in general, can eliminate many of the frustrations food truck vendors face on the job.
How do they plan to accomplish that? Through a couple of apps, of course.
The consumer-facing Bistro Planet app is what you might expect: it saves customers time and guesswork by letting them locate trucks in real time, then places, pay for, and track an order all in one place.
The Bistro Connect app, however, is the real game changer, promising to unite a historically fractured industry riddled with inefficiencies. Through Bistro Connect, food truck operators can view all available lot space in their city, book a location, and pay for it then and there. That location then gets broadcast to customers via social media, eliminating, for example, any questions about where to find the chicken and waffles truck that day.
From there, vendors use the app to notify users on their orders, manage and update menus, and process payments through a POS system designed specifically for food trucks.
Bistro Planet launched in June of 2017 in Los Angeles—the birthplace of food trucks. It’s since served over 10,000 users and seen the number of participating trucks rise to around 250. A recent expansion into all of Orange County, California suggests both those numbers will rise very soon.
Part of the company’s success can be attributed to the holistic approach Edery and Klempner took when they decided to tackle this particular market. Rather than focus on improving individual trucks, they designed Bistro Planet to change the entire market.
And they’re not alone. A growing food truck industry has attracted entrepreneurs looking to make trucks more tech-savvy and solve problem areas of the business. Square is the obvious competitor of Bistro Planet when it comes to POS systems. Tursus Software’s Food on a Truck (FOAT), in addition to offering schedule management and analytics, helps protect businesses from being held liable for fraudulent credit card charges.
Meanwhile, mobile reporting platform FreshCheq tracks temperature consistency and other food-safety tasks, then automates a report operators can share on the inevitable health department visit.
How all these different technologies will work together in the future remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that technology’s role in the food truck business is only going to grow more important as demand for food truck cuisine increases. Maybe the biggest challenge business like Bistro Planet face is getting owners and operators to understand why they should shift their approach towards a more tech-savvy business model, be that automated health department reports or more secure POS systems. Owning a food truck is always going to have its challenges and roadblocks. But for those who join the efforts in using tech to unite the industry, that $85,000 spent on a truck looks to be a solid investment for the future.