Quality Control

Written by Brett Lindenberg of Food Truck Empire

Having good food and good service keeps customers coming back; it’s the age-old logic of the food service world. Popularity is only awarded to those that have gained the quality to deserve it (usually… there ARE exceptions, but we won’t get into them here… Japan), but just as important is continuing that customer support. As many can tell you I’m sure, one bad review can at times cause a snowball; and if it’s one that’s founded, even more to pop up over time, thus creating an avalanche of negative association many old and potential new customers thus have to weigh in their decision to stop by.

So as important it is to present a high-quality product and service to every new customer, one can say it’s just as important to KEEP that same level throughout business. Quality Consistency. Even if the sandwich you serve a person on their second visit is great, any noticeable deviation from the original experience, even making it BETTER (as then they can garner the opinion that it’s been worse in the past and could do it again), can thus leave a stain in their mind, a slight depression of not being able to get the item that they originally were enamored by (something I myself have sadly experienced with a favorite burger place). Some may even consider it a trick, a lure spurred on by opening efforts; or more simply just pass general blame.

However it comes by, the fact remains that this is nonetheless yet another downfall that business owners must avoid at all costs. Which may be easier said than done… or maybe easier done than said; level of difficulty in accomplishing this may very well likely depend on your operation. What one’s serving (thus the recipes used), equipment available, number and competence of employees, allowed preparation time, if you’ve priced food correctlyto ensure profits, and how well you yourself lead and direct… just a few of the factors that end up affecting the final quality of every meal served out.

The strategies for doing this, however, are often simple, yet intensive. Often revolving purely around recipe, it usually falls upon the executive chef/manager to train their employees in the correct preparation of each, but to almost constantly monitor the food to make sure it’s done the exact same way every time (or ensure someone else is able to do it, with the same focus on specifications). For as we know, a recipe can be followed to the T by three different people and end up with three different results.  Thus, a close system of checks-and-balances is the general means to keep this all important task up, as developed through restaurants the past few centuries.

But how is it taking this from the restaurant and to a food truck? One has to ask, does the sudden limitations in kitchen size and staff number make it easier, with fewer people and factors to wayleigh the food? Or does the more difficult quarters, and often more tasks put on fewer people, create a more pressured/frantic environment for one to stray from consistency? It could do either, certainly; the main factor may simply be determine by the people who own and work on the truck. That said, one doesn’t always have to leave the chances of this purely to the wind; there are things one can do to better ensure that this demand is met.

Simply determining your menu is the first step. What food one serves, and how varied in products, will greatly affect how many and what kind of recipes need to be done over and over. If one feels high concern, there’s always the option to focus on a restricted menu; hey, you run a Food Truck, you can actually get away with it! One can’t count the number of straight ice cream, waffle, crepe, pastie, hot dog, and other vendors out there that basically rely on a single, simple recipe with some variances in topping/filling/flavor, the important part often made en masse way ahead of time. And going a route like this is always a great option when one only has themselves or one other person actually working the cook top. But this only works if one’s ideas fit in line, or is willing to change towards something like it, instead of taking the greater risk and putting more effort in preparation to create a more varied and complex menu offering.

Of course one could provide certain parts of their offerings, either sides or garnishes or specialized drinks (or who knows what), by buying them elsewhere from another producer. It’s not seen favorable, unless it’s a really special and desired product (local ice cream company anyone?), and will of course have a higher food cost vs making it yourself. But it’s something to always be aware of.

And then there’s the idea that one solves the quality consistency issue… by not being consistent. Instead of offering the same menu year-round (or each season, depending), there have been many businesses, mobile and not, who focus on highly-seasonal fair, serving different items every month, if not every week or day. With this, one has a simple and trendy way of avoiding the whole issue altogether, but with a lot more effort that needs to be put into other parts to compensate. And of course one still needs to ensure that the quality level of the menu stays around the same, won’t help if your spring menu is notably crappier than summer, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue.

Weigh the pros and cons as you will, at the end of the day your food truck is determined by your own vision. It’s up to you to figure out where one puts risk, effort, and quality, along with the tasks of keeping it consistent. Every decision has its pros and cons, the only same is that it requires checks and balances, and that you’ll be in charge of it all. So choose wisely.

We were of course a little more curious about the subject, so we talked with a fellow truck owner of the Food Dude of Miami to get his take on the whole situation. With luck, he may be able to shed some more light on the situation for all of us. Read on and good luck!

Question: So, tell us who you are. What’s your truck do and how did you start up?

Alex: My name is Alex. My truck is Caribbean Fusion food truck, basically what we do is we try to blend flavors from all over the Caribbean, Jamaican, Puerto Rican, as well as Spanish flavors. I started in 2011, serving lunches to local people, went on Instagram and started a following, serving lunches to people’s jobs, to personal homes. We made the transition into a food truck, bought the food truck it in August and by October the truck was licensed and ready to go.

Q: Put simply, how important is quality consistency in the Food Truck game?

Alex: quality consistency is two of the most important things. As far as quality wise you always want to make sure you give it the best possible product to the customer, and consistency is really everything. The first time they come should be the same as the last time they come, that’s what they’re paying for.

Q: What strategies do you put in place to ensure this for your recipes and crew?

Alex: I just have my own ways of doing things, kinda just been that way; I have recipes also, kind of just go by how food smells, taste constantly and I just develop my product like that.

Q: Generally speaking, truck menus often have very scaled down selections vs their restaurant counterparts; do you think this has any affect on keeping consistency and/or the importance of it for customers?

Alex: General reason they’re scaled down is because trucks aren’t as equipped as restaurants, you have to kinda create the menu based off the tools you have. I don’t think it’s a problem, people when they come to food trucks they don’t want a sit-down meal, want to kind of have the freedom to walk with it and see other trucks. As far as quality consistency, there is no easier or hard I think it’s all the same, no matter what you’re doing or the place you’re doing it you still have to maintain those standards. There’s no easy way to maintain because you have a scaled down menu, whether you’re working with hot dogs or filet mignon there’s still ways to do it and still processes to come out with the best product. As far as people coming back and appreciating it, I believe they do appreciate what we do as far as that goes, because we bring comfort food and make it interesting, and that’s probably why we’re seeing food trucks more.

Q: Is there any differences in trying to keep quality consistency on a truck as opposed to the restaurant?

Alex: I don’t think there’s any difference whatsoever, cuz basically we’re restaurant on wheels, quality consistency across the board is the same.

Q: What would you say is your opinion in consideration of highly seasonal menu styles based on switching offerings frequently; do the issues involved in this still come into play, are they important, and why or why not?

Alex: Basically, all that goes back to how knowledgeable you are about food; again, as I’ve said before ‘food is food,’ and once you have knowledge you can switch and go and change everything and it wouldn’t affect your quality because you’re that knowledgeable. So I think when you see difference in people’s quality consistency, I think it goes back to that knowledge, how much experience people have working with food.

No matter what you’re doing, no matter what you’re doing you should have a level you should be doing it at. So whether you’re serving lobster or filet mignon, you serve a lobster and it’s the best lobster you’ve ever made, and people are going to come back to the truck and say you serve Filet Mignon that week, it should be the best filet mignon you ever had. That’s what I envision, they come back because everything you make is always the best. That’s why I always set standards of consistency, because no matter what you do, if you’re always at a high level you should stay at a high level, whether you’re doing French fries or hot dogs, cuz that’s what you’re selling.

Q: Despite all of our constant impressing on how important keeping quality consistency is, the fact of the matter is it’s not an easy thing to do. What would you say are the main difficulties and challenges truck owners and employees have to contend with?

Alex: The number one is rationing of food costs, that’s number one. Sometimes, you might go to certain events where you’re not making that much money on and you have to cut costs; and that can definitely affect your consistency. Number two is getting down to staffing employees, you have to have good people to replace, at the end of the day it’s your business and not theirs. Sometimes you have people just working for a paycheck wherever they can go, putting their heart and soul in it; so you have to be able to identify that with your own business and just know what you’re working with. Be yourself with your food and delegate that down.

Q: Finally, is there any last thing you’d like to say about the subject?

Alex: As far as quality consistency goes, in the business that we’re in, I feel like there’s a lot of lack of professionalism, and in order to have a successful business like anything else you need due diligence. Learn your craft, hone your skills before you jump out there like that, because what’s going on is a lot of trucks are producing a lot of bad things, some of the food is just garbage because they’re just doing this to make money. When you have professionals doing this job, you have quality consistency, and when you go to events they have this aura, you know?