Food Truck Etiquette: Rules of the Road
We spent this Mother’s Day at one of my favorite places to wander and explore: the New York Botanical Gardens. The azaleas were almost in full bloom. There was a dazzling exhibit of Dale Chihuly glass sculpture in the Conservatory and spread out around the grounds. And best of all, we happened upon another of my favorite things in all the world to savor: food trucks!
In celebration of Mother’s Day, the Gardens staged a music and food celebration, complete with food trucks purveying many of the foods that are finally getting their day in the sun, both literally and figuratively. It was the first day of sunshine after a week of cold temperatures and gloomy skies, so people’s spirits were soaring.
As a family, we agree on the wonderfulness of food trucks, but that’s where the agreement ends. And that’s part of the beauty of the food truck phenomenon. Jim, Yao Yao, and I could not agree on one type of food to eat, so we each stood in a different food truck line – Jim, the omnivore, at the ever-popular Kimchi Taco truck for beef, chicken, and fish tacos with a Korean flair; Yao Yao (as you might expect) at the Gorilla Cheese truck for gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches; and me at Souvlaki GR for shrimp souvlaki.
With each of us standing in line at a different food truck on this lovely Sunday afternoon, we all three found ourselves pondering the same question: What the heck has happened to common courtesy? And that begs another question: Doesn’t anybody follow the basic rules of Food Truck Etiquette any longer?
Here’s the issue: I get it – there’s a lot to choose from and it’s a huge commitment to decide what’s for freaking lunch. But we’re all standing in line under the blazing hot sun or the freezing cold or the drizzling rain and want to order our food and get on with eating it. So when you dillydally over the contents of your banh mi sandwich or your Korean taco (with or without kimchi), you’re holding us all up! So here are some basic rules of proper behavior at food trucks:
- Know what you want!
Please, and I am begging you, know what you’re ordering when your turn comes. Hey, there’s a menu on the truck and you can go and read it. That way, we don’t have to hear you ask, “Is that your entire menu? Do you have specials?” I don’t want to sound cantankerous, but at the Greek food truck, a customer asked if they had rice, because “it wasn’t listed.” The owner summed it up thusly: “Rice is filler food, and it’s not Greek.” If he wanted to serve rice, it’d be on the darn menu!
- Bring cash!
Not all food trucks accept credit cards. In my husband’s line, he had to listen to the tirade of a man who wanted to pay for a bottle of water with a credit card, despite a $10 limit. Please, for the love of God, have cash!
- Have your method of payment ready!
Some trucks do accept credit cards, though. But whatever your method of payment, have legal tender at the ready! Don’t begin to dig into your purse, backpack, or pocket after you’ve been asked for payment. It’s hardly a surprise you have to pay for the food you’re ordering, right?
- No travel stories!
Food trucks rely on volume and speed – and come to think of it, so do I, especially when I’m ravenous and standing in line behind you! This is not the time for you to regale us with stories of your gap year vacation to the Greek Islands. Order your food, pay your bill, and step aside, please! Or no souvlaki for you!
- Don’t have your kid order for you!
Nobody thinks it’s cute when your kid orders your meal for you – with the exception of my kid, of course. And I’ve been guilty of having my daughter press the elevator button or read the ice cream menu. But seriously, look behind you! Don’t be that person, okay? Everybody’s kid learns to read eventually. Get over it.
- Be cognizant of the fact that this is a 200 square-foot kitchen!
It’d be like me going to your house for dinner and asking you to substitute a spiral ham for the roast chicken you’re serving: This is an extremely cramped space with room for just a few items in the fridge. Do not ask for multiple substitutions – if you’re a decent person, you wouldn’t even do that in a full-service restaurant.
- Don’t hold places!
Can’t you hear the grumbling when the jerk in front of you gets to the window and motions to his six friends to come over, read the menu, ask about substitutions, have their kids order for them, ask whether they take credit cards, and fumble for exact change? I know, right? Don’t hold places for people. It’s a bad idea.
- Wait your turn!
Continually asking if your order is ready makes it impossible for the food truck guy to attend to his number one priority: me and my order. They call you when the order is ready, not before or after. If this doesn’t work for you, do not go to a food truck.
Of course, if the person in front of you is elderly, or infirm, or doesn’t speak the language well, or is an actual young person, all bets are off – cut these people slack. All others are on their own. After all, I’m hungry