Co-Opting Food Trucks

Adweek looks at the latest food truck trend of chain restaurants like Sizzler elbowing their way to the curb.

Don’t tell that to Sizzler. Or to Applebee’s, Taco Bell, Red Robin, Jack in the Box or any of the other national restaurant chains aiming to crack the code of food truck culture. Even companies that aren’t in the business of slinging hash have begun including food trucks in their marketing plans. Last year, for example, the Gap deployed food trucks in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco as part of a two-month promotion for its 1969 apparel collection. And this past spring, NBC’s Today show commissioned a pair of food trucks to make its presence known at the annual SXSW festival.

But is there really room for Big Macs and Jumbo Jacks alongside all those organic s’mores and sustainable grilled cheese sandwiches?

This was always inevitable, but it doesn’t make it any less depressing. More interesting is the clash of cultures that results.

When Sizzler rolled out its truck last year, executives at the 54-year-old steakhouse chain felt that one way they could stand out from all the culinary upstarts hustling kimchi quesadillas on the streets of Los Angeles was to emphasize service. While well-meaning, it also served as evidence that the suits did not necessarily appreciate what had spawned the food truck rage to begin with.

“We’d see all these long lines at food trucks and talk about how we could capitalize on that by getting our food out in a few minutes without compromising quality,” says Chris Rahder, who focuses on nontraditional business development for the chain.

But while reducing average waiting times is the holy grail in the world of fast-casual and quick-service restaurants, in the trendy world of food trucks, Rahder would come to realize, slow service is a feature, not a flaw. Indeed, a long line suggests that whatever menu items are for sale are not only in great demand, but also worth waiting for.

I would welcome an In-N-Out food truck in Boston, but I can’t imagine ever going to a corporate food truck.

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