Operating a food truck during a lunch rush can be one of the most stressful things in the world. Just ask Max Crespo, whose Neapolitan Express trucks do an average of 300 covers in a two-hour timespan in Manhattan.
Is it scrambling to make the wheat flour-crusted pies quickly that drives him crazy? No, it’s swiping customer’s credit cards, waiting for the transaction to process and issuing receipts.
“I can’t tell you the number of times I wanted to turn my iPad into a Frisbee,” Crespo says. “Either it can’t read the card or it can’t connect …”
So Crespo did some shopping. He says he tried all of the popular tablet-based point-of-sale systems, but since those are traditionally built for brick and mortar stores, each had its own quirky issues. Square, he opines, is a decent credit card processor but doesn’t supply all the back-end support, such as the critical multiple inventory management that Neapolitan needs.
Crespo finally settled on Clover, a system built by First Data that operates in the cloud and can immediately accept cash and electronic payments through a built-in card reader that has an encrypted MSR, integrated printer and cash drawer. From the same POS system that executes the sale, his staff is able to run reports, manage inventory, implement marketing and consumer loyalty platforms and much more. With this one device, Neapolitan can perform functions that usually require separate technologies or expensive integrated systems. He says it provides all the tools necessary—employee time-keeping, inventory management, credit card processing, etc.
As the popularity of food trucks continues to grow, Crespo’s problems and subsequent research spree highlight a key issue: food truck operators rely on technology as much as, if not more than, brick and mortar stores. It needs to be reliable.
“It is harder to operate a POS system in a mobile platform because A) all the POS systems are not build by food operators, and B) they’re expecting a consistent broadband connectivity,” Crespo says. “Everyone builds them on these tablets but they always want you to connect to WiFi.”
For the mobile trucks—Neapolitan has nine of them in its current fleet and is looking to expand—Crespo needs to operate on a 4G mobile data platform. In addition, turning the truck on and off at stops often resets the wireless router, which presents additional problems, he says.
“Worrying about whether your POS system works shouldn’t be part of your day,” he says.
Similarly, the Taco Republic truck that roams Kansas City’s streets serves as a fully functioning catering and mobile restaurant, serving various kinds of street tacos, fresh salsas, guacamole and quesos, as well as a variety of Mexican drinks like Jarritos and Mexican Coke. Taco Republic uses Square to process customer credit cards and Alan Gaylin, owner, says it “works like a charm.”
The difference, however, is that Taco Republic also has a brick and mortar store, meaning team members don’t have to make all the product or do all the prep work on the truck. It also limits the amount of mobile inventory management that needs to be tracked.
Gaylin said the technology available today allows food trucks to operate in the same fashion as a stationary store.
“With the amount of technology and the Internet and wireless communication, it’s only different if you choose for it to be,” he says. “We use Square on our truck and we can do 2, 3, 4 registers—whatever the crowd dictates—and it works like a charm. We don’t have to handle as much cash that way.”
Gaylin said Taco Republic has remote printers just like in a restaurant that provide cooks with tickets.
Neapolitan is working on adding more tablets that will communicate with each other via low-energy Bluetooth.
“I’d like to have several tablets on the truck: one facing the customer that allows for digital marketing, like you see in taxi cabs; one facing the cashier; and then you need that order to be pushed to prep depending on how big your location is,” Crespo says. “The more there is the better the experience for the customer.”
Even outside of processing orders, technology is critical to food truck operations. Geo-location allows operators to see where the trucks are at all times, employees need to clock in and out, inventory and sales need tracked, etc.
“It’s not a one-guy operation, it’s a brand and the brand needs to be able to know how customers are reacting to places, product and time,” Crespo says. “Employees needs to learn the equipment quickly; I can’t spend three days teaching someone how to use a system.”