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How food trucks still influence the dining industry

New dishes and new practices help food trucks remain relevant.

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Nobody could've predicted how popular food trucks would become when they began trending on the culinary scene a decade ago.

Today, they're still a hot commodity, offering a unique dining experience for foodies as well as a way for budding chefs to gain a following. Once considered a fleeting trend, the food truck craze shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, recent reports claim the food truck industry is worth an estimated $2.7 billion.

"People sometimes don't want to commit to an entire meal, so [there's the] idea of convenience and keeping it casual, and you still get a taste of whoever that chef is," says Kristen Kish, a chef and Top Chef winner who partnered with Chase Sapphire on a food truck during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. "I think it's a fantastic, fun culture."

But in order to stay relevant, food trucks are required to embrace the latest food and dining trends. Here are four ways food trucks are staying at the top of their game.

You're often looking for something different, but not so different that you don't necessarily know what it is. Eating at a food truck is like a small adventure. - Elyssa Goodman

1. Reinventing the wheel

Innovative spins on foods we already know and love—like Asian-inspired tacos or gourmet grilled cheese—first put food trucks on the map, but it also keeps them relevant.

Or as Brett Lindenberg, founder of entrepreneurial website Food Truck Empire, says, it's a low-risk way to try something new.

"You're often looking for something different, but not so different that you don't necessarily know what it is," he adds. "Eating at a food truck is like a small adventure."

Editing your menu down to a small list of signature dishes is also a low barrier of entry for aspiring food truckers. After all, there's only so much you can cook and store in an 80-square-foot space.

You're often looking for something different, but not so different that you don't necessarily know what it is. Eating at a food truck is like a small adventure. - Elyssa Goodman

2. Going digital

Standalone restaurants and mass chains have been welcoming fuss-free, digital payments—and food trucks are following suit.

"Technology has made it possible for food trucks to invest in a system where they can actually accept credit card transactions," Lindenberg explains.

Many point-of-sale systems are able to run off a tablet, making the decision to go digital a no-brainer for both established and emerging trucks.

You're often looking for something different, but not so different that you don't necessarily know what it is. Eating at a food truck is like a small adventure. - Elyssa Goodman

3. Catering to the masses

Food trucks usually start on a street corner, but the goal for many is to become an on-the-go, in-demand catering service.

"Street vending is a great way to get your name out there, but it's almost more like an advertisement for their catering services, which is going to be their bread and butter," Lindenberg says.

Thanks to a surge of online catering resources, this dream is certainly on the upswing. Plus, who doesn't love the novelty of having a food truck cater their event? It's a win-win for all parties.

4. Making moves

No, it's not your imagination: Many successful food trucks move into brick-and-mortar spaces. Turns out, there's some economical reasoning behind the switch.

Lindenberg says it gets expensive to regularly pay for a commissary or reserve a spot on the block when you could invest in your own space. Alternatively, many established spots have been adding food trucks to their roster as a way to be present at large-scale events or position themselves as caterers.

"After someone puts a lot of money into a restaurant, investing up to $150,000 in a food truck is a low barrier to entry compared to their previous spending," Lindenberg says.

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