Food Trucks Strategy for University Campus Food trucks at Curtin University. Image Source: news.curtin.edu.au

Excuse the pun, but Food Trucks are the runaway success story of campus food over the last 3 years. Innovative, fun, loud and delicious, Food Trucks bring vibrancy and excitement to every campus they park on, draw big crowds and put smiles on customers faces.

However, they also draw criticism from fixed outlet operators including Student Unions & Guilds as well as rent paying independent operators.

So, is a food truck right for every University campus in the Pan Pacific region? In this post, we will discuss 5 critical elements to bringing food trucks onto campus in a way that stimulates high engagement from the campus community while complimenting (not competing) with the everyday campus food offer.

1. The Numbers: How Many Food Trucks Can You Handle?

In bringing food trucks onto campus you want to create a win/win/win situation;

A WIN for the truck operators that they make a decent daily sales level (100 – 200 customers);

A WIN for the campus community by way of improved variety, quality and price points;

A WIN for fixed operators in drawing more campus community to the main food precincts more frequently and for longer.

To do this Food Trucks need to be brought on as part of considering the overall number of tenancies on campus and the mix of foods.

From an economics point of view Food Trucks can look deceptively like money spinners because of the long queues that form. But the truth is, the average food truck only turns over about $250,000 per annum ($500-$1,000 per day). They look busier because they only have one cash point and one service point (allowing 40-60 transactions per hour) whereas, for example, a fixed Mexican operator can have 3 – 4 cash points and a production line to be able to handle 200-300 orders per hour. Campus sales from food trucks are capped to about half those of a fixed store average.So in terms of numbers, if your campus already has sufficient numbers of food tenancies, you could be robbing half a day’s sales from a fixed outlet for each food truck you bring on board.

Food Truck at Curtin Uni With limited cash and service points, food trucks often average less orders than fixed operators. Something to keep in mind when considering the number and location of trucks on your campus.

2. Location, Location, Location

Where food trucks are located on campus can have a significant impact on both the food truck and fixed outlet sales. Depending on your strategy, B&P recommends your food trucks are positioned either:

a) Adjacent to the main food precinct – if your campus has a “heart” where the majority of the campus community can access, then the best results are created by hubbing the food trucks together with the fixed retail. This gives an opportunity for the food trucks to benefit from common seating areas, weather protected seating and amenities (rubbish bins, toilets etc) and for cross selling – food from the truck and a beer from the tavern for example, or a coffee from the fixed outlet after the pulled pork slider from the truck.

b) In under-fooded sections of the campus: In order to promote ‘equality’ of F&B offers across campus, food trucks can be used to increase the variety of F&B available in more remote sectors of a campus where it is a long walk to get to the main food precinct. A good example of this strategy is Curtin University where food trucks are used to add variety to more remote campus precincts.

c) To replace fixed locations under renovation: With many Universities developing significant new informal learning hubs containing F&B, a food truck laneway can be established to provide temporary F&B offerings when fixed outlets are in short supply. One of the best examples of this strategy working effectively was at Flinders University during the Hub & Plaza development.

Flinders University Laneway Positioning food trucks adjacent to the main food precinct can be win:win for all operators. Flinders University. Image by Sweet Lime Photo

3. Key Standards For Food Trucks

Not many food truck operators have a high degree of business management experience. The low cost entry to setting up a food truck compared to a fixed outlet ($50-$150K v’s $350-$500K) means many “closet kitchen cooks” jump on the bandwagon (or foodwagon!). Their recipes may be sound but they can lack the retail skills to drive sales or operate in a safe and efficient manner. Here’s a few things you should insist every food truck operator has to have in order to supply food on campus;

  • A documented food safety program
  • Food Handlers training certificate for each staff member
  • Refrigeration in the truck
  • A social media profile
  • Loyalty program
  • A signboard of menu lines with prices
  • An order and service system tested to process at least 60 customers per hour

4. Provide Amenities

Just like a fixed food outlet, food trucks need amenities to support their sales. The more amenities, the greater the sales. In particular, weather protected seating areas can secure food truck sales in poorer weather conditions (where they can fall by half). Even if weather protected seating is not an option – seating of any form significantly supports food truck sales. Aim for at least 20 seats per truck.

Add in some rubbish bins and toilets nearby and you have an alfresco food court!

Seating amenities Some basic amenities nearby your food truck location(s) can go a long way to ensuring success.

5. Charge some rent

It’s OK to ask food truck operators to pay some rent. Getting them put some skin in the game can be a motivator to drives sales and bring enough produce to service the entire lunch period without running out. You can make it either a fixed fee or charge a % of sales. 10% is the norm.

The charging of rent also off-sets disparity of opportunity between fixed outlets operators and the food trucks creating a more level playing field. It also covers administration costs for the university in managing mobile platforms, additional ground maintenance and cleaning associated with the trucks.

There needs to be a strategy

Just like vending, it’s not just a matter of plonking any old food truck that calls up somewhere on campus. The impacts to student amenities, staff satisfaction and revenues for truck operators, fixed operators and campus management are all influenced by the number, type and location of trucks. If you need help to work up your food truck strategy, Brain&Poulter has a tested process for calculating sustainable truck numbers, highest demand cuisine uses and location identification so contact us here to have one of our dedicated University Retail team contact you to talk you through the program.


Originally from Brain and Poulter