When Stephen Adelson joined the food truck scene in Washington, D.C., the dearth of parking turned out to be his biggest business challenge. As a possible solution, the owner of two Carnivore BBQ trucks has proposed a moratorium on the number of competitors allowed in the district. However, currently there’s no such regulation — and the number of vendors vying for spots keeps growing.
Limited access to parking can cause problems for any restaurateur, but for food truck operators it can make or break the business. Here are five negotiating tips for securing a prime parking spot.
1. File a lawsuit. Sometimes the best way to get a parking space is to hire a lawyer. Food truck operators recently pushed the city of El Segundo, Calif., to repeal a 10-minute parking limit. The SoCal Mobile Food Vendors Association successfully challenged the rule in November, arguing that no food-truck operator could run a viable business under such a restriction. This isn’t an isolated case, either: The Institute for Justice in Washington, D.C., says it plans to eliminate onerous street-vending regulation by seeking “potential litigation targets” nationwide.
2. Lobby city officials. Under pressure from voters, the city of Chicago crafted and passed an ordinance that established 21 parking spots for food trucks. The loading-zone spaces accommodate two trucks at a time for up to two hours in five different neighborhoods.
3. Target libraries and parks. Five New York City food truck owners circumvented a public bidding process last year by securing (and sharing) prime parking near West 40th Street and Fifth Avenue. The deal, brokered by the New York City Food Truck Association, allows one food truck to park at a time on a lot near Bryant Park. It’s all part of helping promote the library’s Lunch Hour NYC exhibit.
4. Forge relationships with real estate agents. In October, a New York City landlord invited food trucks to park at his loading dock in Midtown so that his building’s tenants had more lunchtime options. Jonathan Iger, vice president of Sage Realty, even set up a camera aimed at the lines, letting potential patrons check out the wait times and plan their meals accordingly.
5. Work with a university. Students sick of dorm food last fall asked officials at the University of California Riverside to invite food trucks onto campus. A few hurdles must first be overcome, like ensuring food trucks meet university standards for distributing food, and the likely need to curtail campus dining services. Yet the plan is expected to be a go, says Cheryl Garner, executive director of Dining, Conference & Catering Services for the school. Meanwhile, Stanford University also drafted a policy [PDF] that allows mobile operators to serve food on campus as long as they adhere to the university’s zero-waste guidelines. The policy took effect Jan. 1.