I like watching shows about food trucks on the Cooking Channel and watched the first season of the Great Food Truck Race on Food Network with much gusto (but missed most of this season). I watch these shows and feel a lot of ‘what if’ – what if I lived somewhere near these cool food truck meccas, that would be cool. (I think a big part of it is the way food trucks often showcase foreign/regional cuisine, something I’ve begun enjoying more and more over the past few years and something that is a little hard to come by, hereabouts.)
Anyway, when I stumbled across this story I was obviously drawn right in. Seems the ‘brick and mortar’ restaurant business is really pushing back against these mobile gastronomy laboratories – hard.
As many Food Network fans know, the Great Food Truck Race is a reality TV show where food trucks compete in cities across the country. During each episode, the food trucks must comply with crazy rules while trying to make the most sales. Ironically, several cities who hosted the show this season have not given the same welcome to their own native food trucks. Instead they have enacted barriers to these businesses that make the show’s obstacles look easy. These cities reflect a disturbing national trend of municipalities trying to stop food trucks from competing with brick and mortar restaurants.
One increasingly popular method of protecting restaurants is for cities to bar food trucks from operating anywhere near them. In Nashville, where episode 5 took place, food trucks cannot sell within 150 feet of restaurants. And in Portland, Maine, which was featured in the season finale, the city recently barred trucks within 200 feet of restaurants. Also featured in that episode was Boston, where the politically powerful Restaurant and Business Alliance is pressuring the City to ban food trucks within 1,000 feet from any restaurant.
These restrictions threaten the long-term viability of the food truck industry because it keeps trucks away from many popular commercial areas where the largest number of customers are. And unfortunately, these proximity restrictions are popping up in dozens of other cities, including Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle.
Some attempt to justify this protectionism by claiming government must “level the playing field” between brick and mortar businesses and food trucks. But one cannot credibly argue that food trucks somehow have an unfair advantage in the food industry. Unlike restaurants, food trucks’ daily success is highly dependent on uncontrollable variables such as weather and available parking spots. Vendors cannot offer their customers’ climate controlled seating safe from the elements. And without a permanent location, they often must rely on a loyal customer base to find them through the social media. Vendors’ menus are also limited by their trucks’ small storage space, and they are ineligible to get a liquor license—a restaurant cash cow.