In what is becoming a reoccurring theme, food trucks have been coming under fire. Restaurants are crying foul and local governments are clamping down. From onerous regulations to more intense scrutiny to raising taxes, it makes you wonder if this food truck renaissance has any staying power. I have to feel for the owners of these food trucks because this fight is definitely getting nasty.
Under pressure to protect bricks-and-mortar restaurants from increased competition, several big cities are starting to apply the brakes on a rising tide of food-truck vendors with fully loaded kitchens.
I love food trucks. I love the entrepreneurial spirit. It is great that it is bringing people into the food industry from all walks of life. I love the creativity and innovation they are bringing to the dining world. They have been more enthusiast adopters of technology in order to help build a following. This is the ultimate hustle business and it is a daily hunt to find and satisfy hungry customers. The fact that food trucks are proliferating though shows that the customers are seeking new experiences that food trucks are fulfilling.
I cannot help but think however that brick and mortar restaurants are getting a raw deal. Competition is a good thing and I am all for it, but let’s not think that it is an even playing field. Restaurants pay additional property taxes, hire more staff, and the startup and reoccurring costs are greater, sometimes significantly greater. When food trucks then park right outside the front of a restaurant, that is pretty obnoxious. When a food truck is done sucking up customers in one location, they can up and move in front of another store to set up shop.
Does this necessitate government step in to make it a fair fight though? That simply would be the very worst thing that could happen. Competition, and not regulation, creates a fair market. If anything, food trucks are expanding the dining market rather than eating into some mythical limited share. Those people that are looking for a cheap, casual, on-the-go dining experience will buy from a food truck or a fast food restaurant. Sit down restaurants are simply not a substitute. As for take-out venues, they may experience some initial pain and stress, but competition will make them become smarter entrepreneurs, turning their fixed location and larger staffs from a liability to an advantage. Competition fosters innovation and progress in the market, not protectionism.
This is not just a battle between food trucks and restaurants. It is a broader debate about the responsibility and limits of government in determining economic winners and losers. Government will side with incumbents by default when new market entrants start to disrupt a market. It is in the interest for elected officials to protect their constituents and known entities that contribute to their political standing. We see this play out all too often across all industries for technology startups whether it is Uber vs. San Francisco, the hotel industry vs. Roomorama, or SEC vs. crowdfunding. Even my dumpling tours hosted on Gidsy operate in a legal gray area when it comes to guided tours.
Government has its place when it comes to preventing fraud and shutting down criminal activities. When something that is new to the market comes along unexpectedly however, governments seem too quick to react to slowdown or shutdown the progress of these new ventures. Instead of reactionary, anti-market measures however, government would be better served to let the markets and customers make the decision as to who should succeed.
When the dust settles, much of this angst about food trucks will die down. It is pretty clear that food trucks are filling a huge need that is somewhere between sit down restaurants, fast food joints, and hot dog vendors. And for the that, my stomach is glad.