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Your Startup: Food Truck or Buffet?

Published: March 27, 2016

Is your startup a Food Truck or a Buffet?

Food Trucks

Food trucks live and die by trying to do one thing well, and they’re relatively cheap to bootstrap ($70,000 — $80,000). If your clientele dries up — the local venture funded startup goes caput, for example — you can drive somewhere else. It’s just you, your partner, your food, and your customers.

0 1mV9tajvoGXrqxH1 http://www.post-gazette.com/life/dining/2015/07/26/Food-trucks-have-nowhere-to-go-but-up/stories/201507260052Food trucks let restaurateurs be creative and nimble. Writes Josh Ozersky in Why Food Trucks Aren’t Going Away

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You see, it’s not just diners who have become more fickle, more demanding, more impatient with the conventions of traditional restaurant food. It’s the chefs too, who want to be flexible, to try out crazy mash-ups, stunts, and culinary in-jokesOf course food trucks have their fair share of challenges like licensing, undercapitalization, being myopic about your vision, the gold-rush mentality (sound familiar, startups), and lack of identity. And they can fail like any other business. This article cites failure rates around 30–35%.

Buffets

People go to buffets to absolutely stuff their face. It’s a sport. It’s commodity eating. It’s almost sacrilegious (this Saudi cleric went as far as to issue a fatwa against all you can eat buffets). The only thing “unique” about a particular buffet is its sheer enormity and the spectacle.

Good buffets aren’t cheap, with food costs in the 50–60% range and back of house costs much higher than traditional restaurants. You can’t start a buffet in a van. You need a cavernous kitchen, storage, ice for those massive bland Alaskan crab legs, big pots, and lots of labor. And that’s why most buffets feature mostly gut-filling, mediocre food.

Buffets are also a food safety nightmare … even with the sneeze guards. Your Golden Corral chili might have a rat head swimming around in there if you aren’t careful (test first). It’s hard to keep track of all that food, rotate it, heat and cool it, and throw it out when it festers.

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How About Your Startup?

Are you trying to be all things to all people, and suffer from quality issues? Do large swaths of your product go uneaten? Can you pivot and change direction easily? Is focus fleeting? Were you lured into the idea of offering a “platform”, but turned around to find that the broad offering was more of a collection of commodity-grade features?

If so, it might already be too late. Put on the brakes now. Figure out how you can stay food-truck-like for longer. Iterate on your product, and then take the step up to a “real” restaurant.