Drive-ins and drive-throughs have proliferated throughout the U.S., becoming icons of suburban life and making on-the-road meals a part of Americana. More restaurateurs have gotten behind the wheel in recent years as the food truck model has taken hold. Some businesses use food trucks to supplement their primary locations while others rely on the model to avoid the expense of building and maintaining brick-and-mortar locations.
The food truck trend is taking off in the U.S., with the industry being valued at $856.7 million in 2015 and projected to grow by $140 million by 2020. Fostering this growth means enabling food truck operators to quickly accept customers’ payments as they dish out food and friendly service. When it comes to completing in-store payments, 36 percent of customers prefer to use credit cards and 33 percent opt for debit cards. Just 18 percent say hard cash is their go-to option, so cash-only businesses can’t keep up.
Food trucks are turning to mPOS devices to smooth customers’ payments and simplify the process for workers. These vendors must carefully choose their solutions, however, or they risk facing new problems.
Merchants must ensure their mPOS offerings seamlessly operate alongside existing fixed solutions. Conflicting POS systems could prove costly to integrate or present complications when reconciling payments. Complicated setups or devices can create difficulties and prolong training for new hires. Vendors must also consider battery life when choosing a solution, lest they be forced to stop and recharge their devices during high-traffic sales periods.
In this month’s feature story, PYMNTS examines the mPOS solutions powering Zinneken’s, a Belgian waffle bakery with several fixed locations and one Boston-based food truck, and Frosty Ice Cream, which claims to be Massachusetts’ oldest “mobile food and dessert catering company.”
Zinneken’s Serves Sweets With Speed
Zinneken’s launched its food truck in 2014, three years after opening its first brick-and-mortar location in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Co-Founder and Co-Owner Nhon Ma said the business turned to the same iPad-based POS system it used in-store to serve its food truck operation.
The company implemented a ShopKeep-based POS solution because, according to Ma, it was affordable and easy to use. Integrating it into the Zinneken’s mobile operation, however, first required bringing Wi-Fi capabilities to the food truck. Once that was up and running, however, Ma said that the mPOS proved easy to use.
The tablet-based system’s simplicity has been helpful not only for daily operations but also to ease onboarding for new employees, Ma said, adding that their familiarity with the technology means they usually learn the system in about 10 minutes.
For Zinneken’s, finding a solution that rapidly processed payments was even more crucial than finding a simple one.
“Processing speed is very important,” he said. “When we go to festivals … we need to be able to process $800 to $1,000 worth of sales in an hour.”
Card acceptance has also been key. Approximately 85 percent of customers pay by card at Zinneken’s brick-and-mortar locations, and while customers are more likely to expect to have to use cash at a food truck, an increasing share of them want to pay by card. About 50 percent of the food truck’s customers currently do so.
Zinneken’s travels to various locations, including universities and well-trafficked city squares, and mPOS sales and revenue data can help determine the profitability of each spot. Boston’s regulations stipulate that Zinneken’s can’t just lay claim to its favorite locations, however. Food truck operators that want to occupy a public site must apply and enter a lottery for the most-competitive spots. The collected data does give Zinneken’s insight into which locations are less profitable and thereby not worth visiting.
How Frosty Keeps Things Cool And Convenient
Frosty Ice Cream has deployed soft-serve trucks in the Boston area since 1958. The company currently has a fleet of six trucks that operate on residential streets as well as at events such as concerts, parties and festivals. Each truck might handle anywhere from 10 to hundreds of sales a day, depending on weather and other factors, according to CEO Frank Sacchetti, and ticket sizes typically range from $3 to $8.
In 2015, the company introduced a Square-based mPOS solution that runs on employees’ smartphones to cater to the rising demand for card acceptance.
“Every year, we’re getting less cash and more credit cards,” Sacchetti said. “Credit cards started out at maybe 7 percent or 8 percent of sales and, over the past three years, credit cards have probably become 35 percent. For people who don’t have cash and only have cards, [mPOS] is a huge advantage because we don’t have to turn [them] away.”
Frosty also accepts mobile wallets, but Sacchetti estimated that these sales account for only about 2 percent or 3 percent of transactions.
Sacchetti claimed its mPOS solution keeps pace as operators quickly prepare treats. The solution can process card or chip transactions in about three seconds, and it has proven fairly simple to use. It takes about five minutes to set new employees up on the system, he said, adding that it’s also able to easily add trial items to the menu.
So far, Frosty’s focus has been on payment acceptance features. As the company seeks to modernize and expand its customer base, it is looking to bring additional functionalities to its trucks. It is exploring how to better track different items’ sales performances and offer and process digital coupons.
With the food truck industry growing, and fewer customers using cash, the demand for convenient mPOS solutions is likely to expand, too. Ensuring speedy processing, easy onboarding and simple experiences could be just the ticket for mPOS providers looking for a place in the industry.