On top of being incredibly convenient, food trucks are one of the most fun and memorable ways to grab a meal. As this business model becomes ever more popular — even throughout the pandemic — proprietors are looking for new and interesting ways to stand out from the crowd.
More and more, a food truck’s success hinges as much on its eye-catching presentation as on its delicious menu. Food trucks are both able and expected to get more creative with their decor than brick-and-mortar restaurants, especially as they appeal to younger, hipper crowds. So whether you’re looking to get into running a food truck or hoping to draw more attention to your rolling restaurant, here are some tips to get the best out of your mobile canvas.
The first thing to remember when decorating a food truck is that you’re not just being creative for creativity’s sake — you’re establishing a unique and memorable brand. Every choice should be deliberate and considered and calculated to support that brand. Customers should understand immediately what kind of food you’re selling and the atmosphere you’re projecting around that experience.
This atmosphere is arguably even more important to a food truck than to a sit-down restaurant, as the latter has a whole interior space to decorate for ambiance. A food truck only has the space directly around it, and the time it takes to stand in line and wait for one’s order, to make an impression. So as you decorate your food truck, always keep your brand in mind.
The best food truck branding does more than just leave an impression on customers — it spreads awareness of the brand and attracts new customers. Because food trucks are mobile, they end up serving as their own moving billboards. If a food truck looks distinctive enough, it will soon gain a reputation within the community, spreading the word of mouth as it becomes a fixture.
If the food is as good as the presentation, the proprietors will soon have a beloved local attraction on their hands. So when it comes to establishing a food truck’s brand, being understated is less preferable than being instantly recognizable.
Paint It On
Perhaps the most common food truck decor takes the form of murals or unique paint jobs. Vehicles make for big, broad canvases with surfaces ideal for expressive images on literally every side (even the roof for people looking down on the street). And the good news is a creative and memorable mural will stand out in consumers’ minds.
The bad news is a lot of mural-bearing food trucks opt for a similar look: a colorful quilt of images and slogans associated with their offering. While this look can be attractive and expressive, it can also be difficult to parse from similar attempts. So if the plan is to turn your food truck into a canvas for murals, make sure the murals themselves are unique and stand out.
Sculpt It Up
Many food truck owners opt for practical effects or sculpted objects when decorating their business. The most iconic version is the giant rotating cone on a lot of old-time ice-cream trucks, but hot dogs, hamburgers, tacos, and more on a rooftop have all loudly and three-dimensionally announced the contents of the trucks within.
Of course, that’s not the only way to go: a cuisine associated with a country or city could mean a landmark or skyline atop a food truck. The animal or vegetable used most commonly in the food could make an appearance. Just keep in mind local ordnance and safety codes, and don’t build anything so tall it will make the vehicle dangerous to drive or impossible to fit in necessary spaces.
Beyond the Truck
It is also important to make a good impression when the food truck is parked and doing business. Some proprietors keep a few tables and chairs around to spread out after parking, but these can often take up precious space in a food truck, especially if the plan is to have enough for more than just one or two groups to sit down.
Much easier and less likely to cause trouble is some removable decor like a carpet or padded mat (especially great for the sore feet of folks waiting in line), lanterns, small statues, or other on-brand decorations that give the food truck a sense of taking up space beyond the vehicle itself.
The Fine Details
When building a brand, the little details are just as important as the broad strokes. The food truck’s awning can be decorated or customized to fit the cuisine, combining with the truck’s facade to create a mobile French bistro, New York pizzeria, or tropical juice bar.
Hand-written and illustrated menus are always a fun touch, especially if they can be printed and handed out to customers. Lots of food trucks make use of digital and neon decorations, as well as ambient lighting, giving their vehicles a modern flair and helping customers see at night.
One option that might go overlooked is the car magnet. A food truck can be festooned with magnetic signage to add a tactile pop. Custom printed magnets can be made in bulk to be handed out to diners or even plucked right off the truck’s side with printed menus underneath. And the nice thing about magnets is they can go on the customers’ cars as well, ensuring more vehicles than just the food truck itself advertise for the business. Magnets are fun, desirable for the home, and easy to manufacture, and especially nice ones can decorate the fridge while reminding customers where the eating is good, on the go.
Food trucks are popular for a reason: they’re convenient, stylish, and encourage people to explore their homes to follow their favorite cuisine. With some creativity and an artistic flourish, proprietors can combine a rolling kitchen with a rolling advertisement, and become a part of both local cuisine and local culture.
Andrew is the founder and CEO of StickerYou, a global, e-commerce leader in custom-printed, die-cut products that empowers consumers and businesses to create high-quality materials for personal expression, marketing, and packaging.