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Going Mobile

When and how to take your show on the road

By: Stephanie Ganz of the
Apple Cart 

Taking your brick-and-mortar restaurant operation on the road can be a good way to connect with a new audience and create additional revenue opportunities, such as selling at events and providing unique catering offerings. A mobile version of your restaurant can be as simple as a tent with tables and necessary equipment or as elaborate as a fully-loaded food truck. There are many options, from mobile pizza ovens to road pit smokers, to help restaurants create memorable mobile presences for their brands.
going mobile
Deciding when to go mobile and how to do it requires a thoughtful look at what you hope to accomplish. One way to look at a mobile presence is as a kind of second location for your  restaurant. If you’ve always wanted to tap into a busy lunch crowd downtown but aren’t located in the right area, a food truck can make this opportunity a reality.

If your restaurant is seeing an increase in catering requests or has sustained a brisk catering business, it may be a good time to explore creating a dedicated mobile presence for your operation. Likewise, if you are often solicited by event organizers to participate in off-site events, it’s probably time to find a way to meet that demand. Consider it an investment in future opportunities, as a mobile outfit can open up access to different public events as well as private events, such as weddings, both of which are good revenue generators, especially during the slower summer months.

Once you make the decision to go mobile, it’s important to familiarize yourself with regulations regarding catering and mobile vending. In some localities, it may be necessary to obtain catering or peddling licenses or to submit to a separate inspection of your mobile rig. You’ll be required to make a plan for disposal of grey water and may need to have specific equipment inspected as well. Ask your contact at your local department of health to explain what’s needed for a tent-and-tables set up, a cart, or a food truck before making any purchases.

It may also be necessary to increase insurance coverage, and often you will need to provide riders to the event organizers’ insurance as well. If your employees will be driving company vehicles, you will need to make sure they are covered to do so.

This mobile presence should compliment what you already offer in your restaurant. Don’t reinvent the food on wheels! Choose menu items that reflect your brand that can be executed outdoors or in limited spaces. You’ll also need signage and materials (such as menus) that are specific to your mobile operation. These should reflect the branding of the restaurant and point back to your website and social media. You also want signage and materials that are durable, easy to clean, and fun to look at! Create a dedicated storage area for the equipment you’ll need. This may include off-site storage so as not to encroach on existing space at your restaurant.

Next, identify employees who can be your go-to team for off-site engagements. You need a specific mix of cooks with organizational skills and the ability to plan ahead, plus front of house staff who can serve in different environments. It’s not for everyone, so consider asking staff if they’re interested in off-site work; and remember, these roles require their own specific training -- how to set up and break down, how to handle guest interaction on-site, plus responsibilities regarding driving company vehicles to and from engagements. This team has to be trustworthy and self-reliant. As your mobile presence grows, you may want to hire dedicated team members for this purpose.

Any expansion of your business should be about the food first and foremost. The food you serve off-site has to be the same quality you would serve in your restaurant. Deciding what type of mobile outfit will work best for you goes back to looking at what type of menu items you plan to offer. It pays to start simply and to add as you go, but consider where you want to end up when making the investment in a vehicle or equipment.


Contributed By:
Stephanie Ganz. Stephanie is the co-owner of The Apple Cart, a Richmond, VA-based company that helps food businesses start and grow.