In a nation where eating-out is a common practice, restaurant business is bound to make a solid impact on its economy. This is so true for the US. Restaurant industry is a phenomenal growth factor for the US economy, and according to the National Restaurant Association, the anticipated industry sales should top $604 billion dollars in 2011, which is 3.6 per cent up from 2010. As far as an impact on the overall economy, US restaurants employ nearly 13 million full-table and quick-service workers or one out of ten US workers. Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO, National Restaurant Association states , “With a total economic impact of more than $1.5 trillion, the restaurant industry is a strong player in the economic recovery and will continue to provide consumers with the choice and convenience they want.” Technology has evened the playing field. When you consider the huge share of teenage market lying bare, surely the prospect is mouth-watering for the sector.
Even when the whole economy seems to be slogging its way year-on-year, the restaurant industry seems to have hardly been affected by the crisis. The future seems uncertain, yet the restaurant sector should come through this unscathed. This is only possible as the sector is always churning out new formats to retain excitement of enjoying good foods. The latest craze is mobile restaurant or mobile kitchen that is doing a good business for its economy model, when people are really not so enthusiastic about splurging money.
Kogi BBQ, a Los Angeles based restaurant, is one of the early entrants in mobile kitchen category to earn fame nationwide. Kogi BBQ sells Korean or Mexican cuisine in LA and has already become a rage in South California for its twist in the recipe of taco.
What are the key factors they are cashing in on to drive the growth?
Low investment: With mobile kitchens, the cost of entry can be as low as $100,000 and the sales to investment ratio as high as 5:1. “I would say between $50-100k for a truck or kitchen trailer, and probably another 50k in startup inventory, cash on hand, marketing and labour costs in the beginning,” says Joshua Henderson, Skilleatfood of the US.
Self-contained: Mobile kitchens are self-contained and can be moved or repossessed in full. This makes them easier to finance. Financing of up to 100 per cent for mobile kitchens is a possibility.
Variable location strategy: With a mobile kitchen, you don’t need a location strategy in the traditional sense; you’re not limited to any one location or dependent on foot traffic. If your location doesn’t work, you pick up and move on to the next one. “Even though there are tons of trucks in Los Angeles, it’s always easy to find creative parking. In Austin, the majority of parking is confined to private lots. In New York, parking is a huge drama but worth it because the New York market is incredible,” cites the enthusiastic Natasha Case, CEO, Coolhaus Truck.
Franchises: There is a tremendous opportunity to start franchising mobile kitchens. A mobile kitchen with a short menu, limited ingredients, and a fully self-contained kitchen, which doesn’t require many staff or much complexity in the operations, could be the ideal franchise of the future.
Now that the factors have been touched upon, it’s the process that we have to consider:
Being inventive: Mobile kitchens should offer contemporary yet cool taste for customer experience, in terms of design. With a cool-looking truck or bus and sophisticated marketing, especially on digital media, the business can grow.
Specialise: Mobile kitchens need to be highly specialised in what they serve, compared to other categories. These trucks or buses should have five items on the menu to keep it simple in operations and execution.
Offer a signature flavour: Kogi BBQ has a unique flavour profile, and in order to survive in this model one has to bring about such strategy into their set-up.
In India there have always been Chinese carts but the mobile kitchen has clearly not found its footing in the country till now. Lately, we are seeing something new, a more refined type of mobile kitchen, delivering a new concept of mobile food service, with specialised ingredients, fresh flavours, and tightly focused menus. Although there are definite players in the segment, the acceptance has not been met with full support.
Now that mobile restaurant have started getting recognised as a feasible food chain model, brands like Hijackk and Pink Pepper are becoming sort of cult with this concept. Talking about brands in specific, currently the sole player that is catering to large portions of the country is Hijackk serving its on-the-move cuisines at Rajkot, Ahmadabad, Chennai, Surat, and some other places. “We started with this concept because we wanted people to enjoy good food with nice ambience while travelling the whole city. We are present in selected cities like Ahmedabad and Chennai because they are growing cities and also because of the development in the infrastructure,” says Hardik Raval, Director of Hijackk mobile restaurant. The only other player in the organised mobile restaurant is Pink Pepper of Jaipur. Launched by the Siyaram Group, the restaurant is said to be the first of its kind in the country. This restaurant is well equipped with all modern facilities. Both domestic as well as foreign tourists can enjoy tasty delicacies of different cuisines aboard Pink Pepper. This restaurant has a total of 36 dining chairs, 18 on lower and upper deck. The lower deck is air conditioned, while upper deck is open air.
There is a definite shortage of space and location in the country for mobile restaurants concept. With the restaurant industry still being considered a sector and not an industry, it does not help the matter either. Still we’re coming across some innovative yet feasible restaurant models on wheels.