On the User Experience of Food Truck Rallies

By STAFF | Madera Labs

Lately, I’ve noticed more and more food truck rallies happening, which is awesome. Here in Tampa, there’s been an explosion of food trucks, and these rallies are a way for them to gain visibility and exposure in a single event.

For those not familiar, here’s how it works (at least, here’s how the ones in Tampa I’ve been to have worked…): a mass of food trucks descends on a location, usually a big parking lot or field. These food trucks line up and open for business, with hoards of people coming out to sample their wares.

The last one I attended in Tampa was great, except for one thing: the experience was terrible.

As I walked around the rally, I was trying to get my head around what made the experience bad. It was in a beautiful area of South Tampa, on a gorgeous day, but there was something that was making it less than ideal.

Then it hit me: food portion sizes. The food portions were too big!

Let me explain: At a food truck rally, the implied goal is to circle a bunch of food trucks to allow attendees to see and taste food from food trucks around the city. The problem is, when you’re serving entree-sized portions, no one samples. At that point, there are at least a couple main issues that make the experience bad:

  1. Entrees mean longer lines: because entrees are usually cooked-to-order, the experience doesn’t scale. Each person generates X minutes of prep time, which doesn’t enjoy much economy of scale to speed things up. At the rally gets crowded, lines get longer, and frustration increases on the part of attendees.
  2. Entrees don’t lend to sampling – the entire point of a rally like this: this is really my biggest beef, because I’ve seen this violated at food festivals as well. Vendors serve meals, not samples, meaning attendees end up going to a single place (or maybe two, in the case of a couple, but the waiting time is doubled, or you’re separated from your partner for some bulk of time, decreasing the quality of experience). If the point of a rally or festival is to allow attendees to sample food from various vendors, then serving entree-sized portions completely flies in the face of the reason the festival exists. For attendees, the benefit of a rally – a variety of vendors in one location – is completely removed. Put simply, I’d be better off finding a food truck the next day, and just driving to where it is to order.

This experience is broken, and it goes for food festivals as well (the recent John’s Pass Seafood Festival in St. Pete comes to mind). For a successful food festival/rally experience, the focus need to be on allowing attendees to sample, meaning vendors serve smaller portions that are potentially pre-prepared, thus shortening lines and widening the breadth of total allowable food samples.

There are a myriad of ways to solve this problem: serve preprepared samples, allow remote ordering via mobile with pickup notices pushed to a phone (someone want to build a food festival app for this?), put servers in the crowd delivering samples for cash on the spot, create multiple smaller tables around the trucks to increase order efficiency, etc. Whatever the solution is, it has to involve smaller sample sizes, period.

So, next time you’re at a festival or rally, take a look at the experience. Note whether they’re really gearing the experience toward allowing attendees to sample, and how line lengths are dealt with. These are the kind of service experiences that can be made remarkable, if we just give it a little more thought.