The popular NPR radio program and podcast Planet Money recently re-published their episode titled “How to Make it in the Food Truck Business” last week. This episode spotlights how a reported thousands of food trucks and cart owners compete for the stomach share of workers and tourists that walk the side-walks of New York City.
Now the New York City mobile food market, or Manhattan more specifically, is probably unlike any other in the United States. There’s less space and more people compacted in the area than even other metropolitan areas like a Chicago or Los Angeles. “This is so tight and cozy,” explains the owner of the Rickshaw Dumpling Shop who is inside of an old postal truck converted into a food service vehicle.
If you’ve ever been to New York City before, you understand the diversity of food that is available to consume on any given side walk. There are slushy trucks, mystery meat on a stick carts, and of course hot dog and snack vendors abound and they are all competing for the best bits of real estate to park their vehicles for the day. Again, space is hyper limited in these areas and where you end up parking can literally be the difference between feast or famine. But don’t take our word for it, you can give Episode 366 of Planet Money a listen for yourself by clicking the play button below.
Parking Tips From The Professionals
To the untrained eye, the food carts of downtown Manhattan may appear to be delicious eating option in the city and nothing more. But food vendors on the front lines know differently. They understand that this is a daily game to secure the best and most lucrative vending locations possible for the day. As you learn in the audio episode, there are are number of factors that go into selecting a profitable parking spot.
Foot Traffic – Sure… You want to be on a busy street where a lot of people will be able to see you. That part is pretty obvious. But a food vendor will also take into account the “flow” of foot traffic. Do people generally glide towards the street (where your cart is located) or do they walk closer to the buildings. This subtlety can be the difference between hundreds of dollars in revenue on that particular day.
To take it a step further, you also need to consider the quality of food traffic (i.e. how much money these folks have). Some buildings will employ professionals that make significantly more money than other businesses. Also, there’s considerations that need to be made about the preference of different job types. Creative types like website designers or marketers will often be more adventurous with their lunchtime dining decisions, while buttoned down corporate managers may opt for a traditional power lunch at a sit-down restaurant.
Local Competition – What is located around the surrounding couple blocks can also have an impact. Are their lots of restaurants or eating options available nearby? Well… That might not be the best place to set up shop for the day. Is there another hot dog vendor not the same street as you that day? Again, the vendor may want to consider relocating for the day in an effort to avoid getting revenue split between two similar stands.
At the end of the day this podcast demonstrates the seemingly endless number of considerations that a vendor needs to take into account when determining where to operate for the day. Every day is a new challenge and competition to find the best location.