In recent years, the proliferation of food trucks on city streets has invigorated and altered the restaurant streetscape. From small independents to chain restaurants, operators are looking for a place to park their trucks and sell their food.
The trend has been pervasive south of the border for several years, fuelled in part by social media, but it took a little longer to arrive in Canada. As food-truck owners know only too well, the business is a challenging endeavour given countless roadblocks, including the logistical challenges of preparing food in the confines of a restricted space with reduced manpower. Still, food trucks create interest and vibrancy by taking upscale fast-food to the masses in a unique and entertaining way. What better way to experience the diversity of a city than through its food offerings served al fresco?
Last month, the city of Montreal lifted its 65-year-old ban on street food, with plans to create unique street cuisine ‘à la montréalaise.’ “We will look into locations and determine the type of food, and the objective is not to have direct competition with the actual restaurants from the commercial streets,” said Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum at a news conference in April.
But the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA) believes customers should be the arbiters of what food is served and where. “It’s not for the city to decide. It’s the customers who should call the shots,” said Jean Lefebvre, the CRFA’s VP, Quebec, as quoted by globalnews.ca. So, it’s good news that there’s an estimated 10 downtown Montreal sites planned for the summer, promising great choices for consumers. Similarly, in March, Tourism P.E.I. announced it would sponsor gourmet trucks in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax to attract more tourists to the tiny gem.
As divisive as this issue is quickly becoming, it could create challenges for entrepreneurs planning to jump on the bandwagon. To be fair, there must be a level playing field between restaurants and food trucks. More specifically, should trucks be allowed to set up shop next to restaurants, which are being suffocated by a host of regulations and taxes? And, how will food-truck operators handle the issue of nutritional labelling, if it becomes a reality?
Last month, McDonald’s announced plans to roll out the Informed Dining program across Canada in September. The QSR behemoth will be posting nutritional and caloric information on its menu boards so consumers can make educated dining choices. Certainly, this bodes well for the industry as it takes a leadership role rather than waiting for legislation to be foisted on it. Already, Subway has announced it too will follow suit, with more chains expected to do the same.
Then again, food trucks may just have an unfair advantage when it comes to nutritional labelling. After all, what better way to promote your menu’s nutritional content than by plastering it on a big truck?
May 2013 Foodservice and Hospitality magazine’s Features: