Why do people line up for food truck fare that's not cheaper or better than restaurant food?

I don’t get it. I often see 15-minute-plus lines outside food trucks, and the food is often just as pricey as fast-casual or fastfood restaurants around the neighborhood even though they offer no place to sit, and the food is at best same or worse as these restaurants.

I am more than happy to stand to munch on delicious, and convenient street food, and sometimes find the ‘ambiance’ charming. But I can’t figure out why I won’t just go sit down somewhere comfortably if the trucks offer no particular advantage.

I get the theoretical appeal of trucks- convenience, speed and price. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with many trucks these days. What am I missing? The novelty?


I think perception trumps reality. Food truck food should be cheaper, more “authentic,” a little daring, etc. So people convince themselves that it actually is.


I think part of it is novelty, but depending on the truck and the location, it could be convenience and/or the ability to eat something not available in the area too.

For example, we have a well-known Korean-Mexican food truck company. One of their trucks does a stop once a week not too far from my house. There’s often a line at the truck since they only come once a week. I don’t get it often, but when I do, I don’t mind a 10-15 minute wait because we don’t have any brick and mortar places that sell that style/kind of food. Same goes for a couple other trucks – we don’t have a B&M version to go to, so we have to do the truck thing if we want that kind of food.


I think you are discounting the novelty appeal: many in the queue will be there for the first/only time. Ethic food trucks are an easy way to try typical, representative dishes from cuisines with which one is unfamiliar. This is less intimidating than going to a restaurant and negotiating a larger menu.


In Paris, it has become something trendy in the past few years and always associate with gourmet, exoticism, as the city gives out very few truck licenses. A few new young ambitious chefs start with food truck with big success, they move on to open restaurants. A successful story is Californian chef Kristin Frederick making gourmet US burgers starting from 2011: Le Camion Qui Fume. She is the first to start this food truck trend, now she has now several restaurants, including a restaurant that sell US style Chinese food but she has still trucks running around. Price wise, they are not cheap, since they position themselves as chef fastfood compared to the lower end joint.

In the old days, the food trucks were mostly pizza, pancake and waffle or ice-cream. Now you can find fancy cake shop desserts, Vietnamese banh mi, Chinese dim sum, mozzarella themed food, Thai food, etc. Some they used French trucks in the 30’s - 60’s to add charm. I think the stars chef Marc Veyrat used to have trucks selling organic meals.

I think not many work out (including Marc Veyrat… food truck website is gone now). Once I was searching for announcements selling VM vans, I saw a lot of decorated food trucks on sale.


Trendiness appears to be a factor here in Greater Boston as well, though for different reasons. Office complexes will arrange for different food trucks to visit so that employees will have lunch options, either to offer more variety than an on-site cafeteria does or when there’s nowhere else to eat in the neighborhood. There seems to be perception that food trucks bring a cool factor that employees will appreciate.

I am old enough to remember when food trucks were strictly utilitarian and had the unappetizing nickname of “roach coaches.” How things have changed!


A burrito or tuna on Armenian bread in under five minutes from placing the order was the standard at our first food truck in LA way long before trendiness set in. And we’re still big fans of the Sabrett’s “Umbrella Room”.


Probably just the “coolness” to it – if the food trucks are not that great.

I do think there is a sense of “helping the little guys” too. (helping starting business)


Yes, that too.

I think they are most popular in nyc for a relatively quick and easy unique lunch option that isn’t available nearby. I also think there’s something to be said for having an abbreviated unique menu which is appealing. Certain areas of the city, especially in midtown, have hundreds if not thousands of office workers with minimal and often seriously boring lunch options. The lunch trucks offer a wider variety , although you are correct that the cost is usually the same or similar to a brick and mortar location.

One of my favorites is a cart, not a truck, and he has been there every day for more than a decade selling huge stuffed baked potatoes. They’re rather cheap and he has every topping you can imagine


Quicker, many times better quality (“I do one thing and I do it very well”) it should be cheaper and no tipping expected. The hipness factor and possible social interaction with your future life mate might factor in too.


I’m not familiar with this “no tipping expected” concept. Tip jars and tip lines on the credit card payment app are still the norm here at food trucks.


Here in Tampa they have a fleet of food trucks that rotate through a section of downtown that doesn’t have many options. Its also on a shaded plaza (with lots of low walls to sit on)that is a lovely place to eat lunch so it’s become a destination for the lunch crowd.

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Unless there are servers providing service and dependant on tips to make up their low salary there is no obligation to tip. Tip jars in my opinion are “wishful thinking” on the part of the operators/order takers.

Food trucks will appear at wineries in Virginia to provide a food option for people that want to spend time hanging out after a tasting.

Both of you are true. The tip jars are often out there (not always), and the tip line is often there. The last food truck I was at there is no tip jar. However, the expectation is indeed different. Many customers do not tip. When customers do not tip, the people don’t chase out from their food trucks and say “Mr/Ms, you forgot to tip”


As already mentioned, food trucks used to be popular in an area of the city with lots of office buildings and few restaurant options in walking distance. They used to be relatively cheap to eat at and the menus were pretty basic when I was a kid- hot dogs, fries, burgers etc.

Now they’re just trendy. My husband’s cousin had a food truck cater her wedding. Horrible idea, IMO. Everybody was standing outside the venue waiting for food, including the brides’ parents. I actually stood in line for the father of the bride because he hadn’t eaten and was tired of waiting in line. That is probably the only time I’ve stood in a significant line for a food truck. I can’t be bothered.

I think the only time I’ll go to a food truck now is if I’m at an outdoor event, in a park or something. I agree, the majority of them are over priced.


Apparently they have to pay the staff a living wage instead of expecting them to get by on tips.

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True enough- I hope this is the case.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold

Market stall in Lima
Credit: TXMX 2