This is a regular feature of my blog reviewing questions, tips and comments from around the internet and from my communication with my vending clients.
This question gets asked fairly often and I am usually surprised by the variety of answers. “What does everyone do with their used fryer oil?”
The first answers are (I hope) tongue in cheek suggesting pouring it over bushes or in the grass is the proper disposal method. Then again, I have seen unexplained oil pools left in the middle of event parking after the events have closed down.
There are two things to do with used fryer oil that will benefit the vendor or someone you know. First is recycling. Used oil is picked up periodically AND vendor is PAID for the amount of oil recycled. Understand the amount paid is very small but it is INCOME that helps off set the cost of new shortening. Search your area for “used fryer oil disposal” and you will get several companies that will provide a barrel or other holding unit for the used oil, as well as, pick it up and PAY YOU. Rates paid will fluctuate and are determined in part by https://thejacobsen.com/daily-bulletins/animal-fats-oils/ .
In the past rates have gotten so high that those storage barrels were actually emptied and the used oil stolen! Currently the rates are very low so no need to post security around your barrels. Still, a rebate is a rebate. Why not use it?
The second legal disposal method is using the oil as part of your diesel fuel for your truck. I know several vendors and diesel truck owners that use spent fryer oil (filtered, of course) to power their vehicles. I personally have not done this but here is a tutorial.
Speaking of used shortening, one person asked, “Does anyone use an oil filtration system? Is it worth the money?”
Everyone using a fryer should filter the oil at least daily. If you have multiple fryers and high enough sales you may need to filter them after each meal period. Skimming is a must throughout the day. Any particles you see floating on the oil should be removed as well as occasionally gently stirring the oil focusing on the bottom of the vat to bring up the sunken bits.
Every particle left in the oil will do two things: continue cooking and burning perhaps adhering to your next fried product. Burnt particles will look like pepper to your guests but leave a distinct bitter taste in their mouth. The second thing those particles do is break down your shortening faster leading to more frequent (and unnecessary) oil changes.
As for filtration systems, there are two basic types: build-in and portable. A built-in system is interconnected with your fryers and allows the oil to be filtered and refilled into the vats fairly painlessly. The major pitfall is clogging. The pipes connecting the fryers to the filter system will clog just often enough to be annoying. The filter unit tends to leave enough oil in the bottom under the filter pad that you will be making daily trips to your recycle barrel or risk clogging your sink system with grease.
A portable system uses the empty spout of the fryer dumping the oil in a container with filter power or papers at the bottom. Like the built-in units a pump recirculates the oil passing it through the filter straining the oil. After a manufacturer determined amount of time the operator takes a nozzles similar to a gasoline pump handle, flicks a switch reversing the pump and refills the fry vat. Since this is a more open system burns from splashing are quite prevalent. Just like the build-in systems about half an inch of oil is left in the bottom of the unit.
Portable units are on wheels and can be moved easily, but they take up a lot of floor space while in use. In the tight confines of a food truck they present a dangerous trip hazard.
My favorite system is a cone filter with a holder and a metal bucket. Slightly more exposure to hot oil but significantly faster than re-circulation filter machines. Of course, a skimmer is very helpful for all systems.
As far as is it worth the money? Not to me. Build-in systems are safer from burns but slower to use. After all time is money!
This one came up several times this week and will continue to be asked as we approach Square’s rate increase. “Credit card surcharges, minimums, convenience fees.” Invariably someone recommends these fees when asked what to do about the rate increase.
Taking credit cards is a COST of doing business just like buying a paper boat to present your food to the guest. I am sure you would much rather just hand your food straight to your guests rather than pay that 3.7 cents cost for the boat. How about the 7.8 cents each “green” appetizer plate? Save some money by not using them! Or maybe charging a “packing fee” or “recycling charge”?
Simply put for the 1000th time those fees are petty, against the T&C of card companies and illegal in 10 states. Just do a minute’s worth of research and stop asking Facebook groups. Start with this article.
When prices go up like Square you can either up your own prices or eat the cost. Simple. The problem here is most small-time vendors are stuck in the “even dollar” pricing model. They can’t raise the price of a soda a full dollar to make up for a 10-cent price increase. Ever hear of ‘quarters’?
If you are afraid of coins you may want to find another line of work. Coins do not slow down a great cashier and you should already be using some type of POS system to ring up sales anyway. Square increases 10 cents you increase 25 cents. Simple.
As for a minimum, charging one makes you look small and cheap. If I want to purchase a soda only and all I have is my debit card you will have lost a sale by enforcing a minimum amount. How many sales can you afford to chase away? What do you think my opinion is of your business? Typically, when I see a “$5.00 minimum” sign I also see a more run down, less clean, less guest-centric food establishment. I also shop elsewhere.
The solution is simple, assume every sale will be on a card and charge a price that covers the fees. Then when some pays cash you can smile to yourself at the extra profit.
Everyone gets very excited (and rightly so) when they pass their first health inspection. This comment got me to thinking. “I have had 5 inspections on my trailer .. first one was a 98.... This is my 4th 100... I accept nothing less from myself!”
A food truck, trailer or cart is a small operation that really should only get 100s on inspections. Several areas on the inspections don’t apply to mobile units and the points are either n/a or just granted to make the inspection sheets work.
A restaurant, on the other hand, has a larger footprint of floor & wall space, equipment and areas accessed by the public (bathrooms, trash cans, etc.) that have to consistently checked and cleaned. One messy guest in a bathroom just before the health inspector checks could be a “critical” loss of points. Pair that point loss with another guest dumping trash on the floor around a full trash can and the restaurant can only score 98 before the inspector even enters the kitchen. The sheer size and scope of even a small restaurant makes getting a perfect score a rarity.
Again, food trucks, trailers and carts should ONLY get 100s. Not because of “high standards” or “accepting nothing less” but because of the nature of the size and less complex operation. Be happy with and strive for a 100 but when you get one understand your mobile business is graded on a curve. A food truck 100 health inspection is little more than a participation award in the food service industry.
The sub 100 scores are the scary ones. How is it possible to miss points on a mobile unit? The best operators are the ones that do a self-inspection every day and multiple times a day if they operate long hours. They are the ones that can let a health inspector visit anytime and not be nervous. They also are the ones that brag about 5-star reviews rather than 100% inspections.
Finally, on Facebook a newbie asked “What are the average daily customers served? I’m working out my plan and want to be realistic is 100 orders a day to high? I live in a busy city.”
Big city or little city the answer is the same. A vendor gets two types of guests the impulse shopper that sees them open and stops to eat or the guest the vendor invites via marketing. Impulse shopper purchases are relative to the number of people that pass your operation. If they can’t see you, they can’t decide to eat your food. Position your self on a street with 1000 people walking by each hour and you may be too busy to handle alone. Put yourself in front of a store with 100 shoppers entering the store an hour and you may not be able to pay the bills.
The better questions are “how many sales are required to break even for the day?” And “how many guests can you handle an hour?” Both those questions work hand in hand to establish your daily sales goal.
For example, if it takes costs you $100.00 dollars in FIXED COSTS when you open and you have a VARIABLE COST goal of 45% that means you must generate $181.82 in sales just to BREAK-EVEN. If your average check is $9.00 you will need 20 guests BEFORE you should a profit on guest number 21. That has to be your first guest count goal.
Now compare that goal with your speed of service (SOS) ability. If your menu takes, on average, 5 minutes to produce you can only serve 12 guests an hour. Meaning you are not showing a profit until you have been open nearly two hours.
A three-hour lunch service using these numbers means you will serve 36 guests and generate $324.00 in sales. After expenses you will have $78.20 in profit. The question is – Is that enough profit for you?
If not, getting more guests is not the answer since you can only do 12 an hour. The real answer is improving your SOS to get more guests in and out in an hour THEN marketing to increase your guest count.
This is a regular feature of my blog reviewing questions, tips and comments from around the internet and from my communication with my vending clients.
“Hi everyone guys have u ever just quit your job and went full time for your business”
Going full time is never an easy decision. Likewise, there is no “one size fits all” answer. If going full-time means quitting your present job WHILE your spouse continues to work providing family income then full time may be an option your family can handle.
On the other hand, going full time as the SOLE source of income is a completely different situation. Either case requires serious questions to be answered BEFORE making the plunge.
Deciding to go full time can and should be a mathematical decision ONLY. Think of it this way if you are currently living paycheck to paycheck how hard will it be if you have to live DAY TO DAY without benefit of that security blanket job?
“What is the best brand of hot dogs to sell?”
This question gets asked every week on one or more forums. Without fail someone will wrongly answer – “Go to your most popular grocery store and see which brand has the most representation.” This answer is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. It echoes a passage from a book written by a failed business owner pretending to be a hot dog “guru”. One of the reasons a business fails is not understanding the relationship between inventory and profitability. Grocery stores of any size (ones big enough to where you could compare shelf space allotments by brand) are governed by two rules. One is contractually obligated shelf space the other is profits. Chain grocery stores sign contracts with manufacturers assigning space for products completely independent of what product sells the best. The key is PROFITS and/or REBATES. So, looking at a huge display of Oscar Mayer hot dogs does not mean they are the most popular it means the store gains more profits when that brand sells. It also means since the display is larger than the other brands, shoppers will probably only notice and subsequently purchase Oscar Mayer.
Think about it as a businessperson. Which product would you give the bigger display to the one where you make $0.50 a package or the one you make $1.50? The science of product placement and merchandising paired with profitability drives shelf space allotment and sadly popularity takes a back seat. Here are just a few of the many sites that explain merchandising:
“How did y'all go about hiring your first real employee? (For dummy’s lol)
Tbh, I feel like I can't trust anyone with money, how do you overcome that & what are some tips to cover yourself for loss.”
Recruiting, interviewing, hiring and training can be scary if you have never hired someone. Add in handing your business and profits over to someone else’s care and you may face sleepless nights, too. Without writing a book lets go over some basics.
Recruiting is fairly simple. However, be mindful of WHERE you recruit and the image you leave. You can post ads on your own Facebook, your business Facebook and website, Craigslist, Indeed and any local online job boards. Enlist your local job services, unemployment offices, high schools, Goodwill or economic development centers. Really limit ads on your business pages. Posting "help wanted" often gives the impression you are difficult to work for or short handed and service may be suffering.
Interviewing requires just a little training so you aren’t asking illegal questions for your state. Research “legal interview questions in (my state)” and you will find lists of forbidden questions. You should ask “why” or “what if” questions and avoid “yes or no” questions. Seek experience and test that experience with questions specific to the past food job and your needs. For example, I make it a point to know my competition and how they operate. If I get a Taco Bell employee, (one of the few fast foods I have not worked) I ask questions specific to my observations of their operations. Like the portion size of scoop for the taco meat or the cook time for the rice. The more details they know the more likely I have found a conscientious employee. If you plan on the employee handing cash give them a simple test for making change. Ask what they would do if they saw a co-worker stealing. You would be surprised the number of people that will answer “nothing”.
Not trusting other people with money is rather cynical, however, “trust but verify” is a sound business principle. If you are considering hiring even one person you should have some type of policies written out. Including tardiness, cash handling, food waste, calling off work and dozens of others. Each policy should have a threshold and a consequence if that threshold is broken.
If you can’t absorb a small cash loss (theft) you are not ready to hire people and turn your business over to them unsupervised. Grow a little more you have time.
“Cold temp is coming in fast; how do you guys prevent your food truck plumbing from freezing up ... all my pipes are PVCs, I’m afraid it might burst when winter hits. Thanks!”
A common question for this time of year. Likewise, a common ILLEGAL answer – “I find the best way to prevent things freezing is to not have things that can freeze on the truck. You don’t need water tanks in the winter, so your dishes at home or at your commissary”
Guess this guy doesn’t wash his hands! It is scary to think someone selling food to the public believes water is not needed and thinks washing dishes at home is acceptable. I cringe at the thought of animal fur, cigarette ash, children with colds and sticky hands “helping” wash the dishes. Cooking and ware washing is forbidden at home for good reason. These types of answers are why local governments side with B&M restaurants against street vendors, to be honest, I don’t blame them. Every guest these poor operators turn off to street food is a guest I will never be able to serve. They hurt my business.
As far as winterizing I will be posting a checklist and link it here.
This last section is more of a commentary on whining by vendors. There is a successful street vendor in the southeast that recently promoted themselves to a brick and mortar restaurant. After years running a very successful hot dog cart, they seized an opportunity to lease a restaurant. By all appearances they are doing quite well. I have referred to them a time or two as vendors to emulate with their attention to guest service, their marketing ability on social media and their quality standards.
Like most folks making that jump from a cart to a B&M they have experienced growing pains and stumbled a time or two. Nothing too business damaging and they recovered nicely.
However, this weekend for the second time since they opened, they have done something dumb, not by accident but on purpose. Repeated occurrences indicate patterns and patterns indicate predictability.
When they first opened, they had a guest with a child that had “allergies” to nuts. A nut allergy is not to be trifled with and unless you have taken the Serv-Safe allergen course you may not know exactly what to do. The owner not feeling comfortable refused to serve them. Mistake number one. Frankly if you don’t fully understand the food business DO NOT GET IN IT.
The owner compounded the error by airing his side on his Facebook Business page. Mistake number two. He took what should have been handled quietly & internally and broadcast it to all his followers. Understand his BUSINESS PAGE not a private, closed vendor group. He continued to compound errors by making a second post including his updated menu photograph including a disproportionately large allergen notification in the center of the board. Mistake three.
I believe there was one more post whining about what I am sure was an embarrassing situation. Each post was to justify how poorly this was handled, again these posts should never have been on the business page. Remember this rule for guests and employees: Vent or chastise privately, congratulate or reward publicly.
This weekend a new situation was aired on the business page. Apparently, they ran out of an item and a guest that came in for THAT specific item became rude. Again the owner refused service. Compounding the problem, the owner felt obliged to again post a summary of the situation to his Facebook Business page. While defending himself, “there is no way to know in advance how much to prep before you all come through our door unless you RSVP - which is what we have always recommended when possible.”, he invited people to go to McDonald's and Cracker Barrel. (BTW Cracker Barrel is not fast food and don’t require a RSVP.)
Determining how much food to order is actually not difficult any more so than monitoring inventory levels and running to the local grocery store BEFORE you run out. That is called "thinking ahead". It is not a difficult skill to learn. Rarely in 40 years have I run out of product and had to tell someone we were out. When I did run out I made certain the guest was happy rather than say "just order something else."
Running out of something is not fun. It certainly is no more fun than having a crucial piece of equipment breakdown at lunch. (like the broiler at Burger King putting them out of the burger and grilled chicken business at the same time) As restaurant or cart owner your single goal is to extract as much money as possible from your guests in a manner that makes them want to repeat the process tomorrow. Posting a whining rant about a rude person on your business page and inviting people to eat somewhere else is not the way to ensure you stay open tomorrow.
That’s why I no longer follow this restaurant nor recommend it as an example of how to operate and market. Quite frankly, that much vitriol impacts service, quality and taste. I expect them to be out of business this time next year unless they stop whining and learn how to put guest needs first.
This will be a regular feature of my blog reviewing questions, tips and comments from around the internet and from my communication with my vending clients.
I found this tip on a Facebook group: “Get yourself onto Google Maps!!!!!”
This is a tip I am ashamed to admit I have forgotten. My first exposure to Google maps was in 2013 when I started my Philly Cheese Steak restaurant. We took over an existing Quiznos that had closed and did a very minor remodel. Google maps, of course, still listed the Quiznos. I had to edit the information and Google had to verify it before the change was published. I believe it took a couple of weeks before the change was approved.
As a mobile vendor setting up in a certain area you will need all the free advertising you can get. Just make sure you list all your services like catering, deliver or online ordering with links. Go here to get started: https://support.google.com/business/answer/6174435?hl=en
“What do you recommend? Inc, LLC or sole proprietorship?” This is a FAQ on many Facebook groups and forums. The biggest problem with this type of question is general groups and forums are the WRONG place to ask this question. I have written an article here that explains one of the simple reasons why an LLC may not be the best choice. Bottom line with these types of legal, tax or accounting questions should be directed at professionals NOT public forums.
“Diamond Plated Flooring or a Rubber Flooring and why?” Diamond plate can be either aluminum or steel and each has good and bad points. Firstly, diamond plate is hard to clean and while often presented as slip resistant it can present a trip hazard for certain types of soles. (Think hard large tread soles) Another issue is the quality of the material. Low grade aluminum alloy is often used by smaller trailer manufacturers since it is lighter and cheaper. Aluminum will etch and pit when bleach is used as a cleaner and strong degreasers will actually eat away and discolor cheap aluminum.
Diamond plating is visually attractive especially when brand new and is a “wow” factor manufactures use to increase the perceived value of their products. However, suppliers of diamond plate recommend a different floor solution when wet conditions prevail (like in a food trailer). Since metal bar grating is not practical in a food truck rubber flooring is the way to go. Rubber flooring while not as attractive is a better choice for your feet and is easier to clean.
“Anyone use square pos. If so, what are thoughts of it? I use it just as credit card reader.” Another FAQ on every vending forum everywhere. This one comes up every couple of days. A POS (point of sale) is fancy terminology for cash registers, while “credit card reader” is the device that swipes, taps or dips a credit card to read the card information and process the transaction. As far as the POS part of Square, vendors will find it more than adequate for their needs. Square POS has middle of the road sales reporting capabilities and is fairly easy to program and operate. The best part is the price- FREE. Square does offer subscription based addons like inventory track, guest loyalty and additional reporting schemes. For me Square POS is good solid and reliable. There are other alternatives out there and this article reviews the major players.
“Here we are at a small event with our fully licensed, inspected and LEGAL food trailer and right next to us is a tent where the folks are cooking and selling FISH dinners with Cole slaw... NO REFRIGERATION just a cooler... NO 3 SINKS OR HAND WASHING container... it’s just not right they get away with it.. people cooking and serving are smoking like chimneys OVER the food and utensils!! ... stuff like this really burns me up! Local health department doesn’t ever come to these small events so they get away with it! It’s just not right...” I see these comments too often. Someone starts a food business will little care or concern for doing things safely and properly. They seem busier than the big flashy truck that is operating in a safe and sanitary manner. It is scary to me as a vendor to observe this behavior because we all share the same guest pool. One bad experience and the guest may never try eating at a street vendor again. That same bad experience, if made public, could lead to more stringent regulations for the “good” vendors. The bad vendors won’t care since they are not following the regulations anyway.
The way to handle a situation like this is to engage the event organizer and demand something be done regarding public safety. Point out the vendor and the unsanitary practices. Asking the organizer to do something forces them to either act responsibly putting the public’s safety first or ignore the problem. In which case the organizer becomes complicit in the unsanitary activity. At this point as for a full refund of event fees and state you are considering a lawsuit for damages and lost wages. Big events generally will act responsibly because they deal with these situations every year. Small or new events may need a little prodding in the right direction. Either way do what is right and get the organizer involved, don’t just complain on Facebook.
I'll be back next week with more questions and comments. If you have something you need answered send me an email.
I have had a passion for helping people since an early age back in rural Kentucky. That passion grew into teaching and training managers and owners how to grow sales, increase profits, and retain guests. You’ll find a ton of information here about improving restaurant and food cart/trailer operations and profits. Got questions? Email me at Bill_Moore@live.com