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Foodies are everywhere these days—including on the street. Food trucks, which once were known for easy-to-prepare fare such as hotdogs or doughnuts, have emerged as strong rivals for savvy customers’ food dollars. In several cities, this rivalry has gotten traditional restaurants up in arms, and governments have responded.

In Chicago for example, a food truck owner, serving Asian short ribs and mango lychee, was ticketed for parking too close (within 150 feet) of a retail food establishment. In New Orleans, food vendors have to move their trucks every 45 minutes or face a ticket—even though for some gourmet vendors, setting up takes nearly that much time.

The truck operators consider these ordinances patently unfair. If they want to locate in a desirable spot, they are likely to be near other restaurants. The legislation barring them from staying in hot locations seems like economic protectionism to them.

But restaurant owners point out that food trucks do not have the same overhead costs. Thus, the trucks can undercut the traditional restaurants on price, even while they are blocking parking spots for restaurant customers. As one Washington, DC, restaurant owner complained: “Businesses pick locations and business models around certain peak times. Food trucks can poach that business and then pick up and leave.”

Businesspeople, with their busy schedules, often hop outside their office buildings just to grab a quick bite to eat before heading back to work. For them, the convenience, price, and excellent quality of food trucks suggests little reason to sit down at a traditional restaurant. The question remains whether city governments will allow them to continue this lunch routine.

Discussion Questions

  1. What macroenvironmental factors have let to the surge of food trucks?
  2. What kind of decision making do consumers, such as businesspeople on their lunch breaks, engage in when they choose a spot to have lunch?

Source: Sarah E. Needleman, “Street Fight: Food Trucks vs. Restaurants,” The Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2012