American chef and molecular gastronomer Homaro Cantu once said, “From food trucks to hot dog stands to county fair favorites, ‘street food’ has enjoyed a rich and storied history in American cuisine. However, street food has been around for thousands of years. In fact, street food is believed to have originated as far back as Ancient Rome.” Remember when Genevieve Bell, director of user experience research at Intel Labs, discussed the origins of wearable technology in Henry VIII’s suit of armor? Today, we’re continuing to witness the amazing evolution of mobility in the food carts that give us an exciting alternative to traditional fast food.
Five years ago, most food carts were low-tech, cash-only operations. The debate continues to rage as to where the boom originated, but regardless, the popularity of carts took off and the growth has shown no signs of stopping anytime soon. What was once a market limited to physical currency has now been transformed by the mobile revolution, moving into the digital age in more ways than one.
Today, 2.5 billion people eat street food every day—with 3 million food trucks in the U.S. alone—and 28% of food carts accept payment via credit cards. Cart owners are replacing traditional points of sale with apps like LevelUp and Square, which allow customers to order online and pay quickly and conveniently. The ease in the process equates to shorter lines, satisfied customers, and simpler transactions.
Social media has also played a significant role in the burgeoning food truck business. The variety of platforms available gives ample opportunities to target and leverage a customer base for minimal overhead. Today, “food trucks” are mentioned online once every minute. People are talking, so it’s simply a matter of listening and engaging in fun, creative ways. Whether it’s creating an app for the truck that keeps customers informed on current menu items and truck location or crowdsourcing the menu on a weekly basis, technology is allowing owners to worry less about their business and focus more on their customer.
The food cart epitomizes the agile business; it is one defined by its mobile existence, so driving business with technology will be the only way to thrive moving forward. But perhaps most important of all is embracing the innovative technology that will embrace the customer base—we exist in an increasingly mobile world. If the customer can’t engage with the business while on the go, they’ll find a business that can.