Food trucks, ever popular, carry an air of delight a stationary restaurant will never attain. A fascinating kitchen on wheels, the food-truck customer experience is a unique trope of the urban dining experience. Little thought, however, do most customers give to what the inside of the truck is like – not just that it must be cramped, or hot, but that it must be well-designed. Looking at the interior layouts of food trucks is thus something we set out to examine and improve.
In addition to online research, we spent a long time talking to a woman in charge of the Bon Me food truck. From our research, we learned:
Storage is massively important in the food truck. Restocking due to busy days is not uncommon, especially for fresh foods like vegetables, but it slows down the flow of customers, causes a hassle, and requires a restocking van/driver. Due to food regulations, you can’t store anything closer than 6” to the ground, but trucks often go right up to this limit, illustrating the intense demand for as much storage space as possible. As the woman in the Bon Me truck told us, “Like half our counter space on one side is just sauces.”
Process informs the design of the truck interiors heavily. Adapted from restaurant-style line-cooking prep processes, the layout of food and ingredients in trucks allows one to move the plate from one end to the other and end up with a finished item. This keeps flow organized and efficient.
Speed is also very important to food trucks, moreso perhaps than restaurants since people are forced to wait outside. Bon Me tries to get food back in 90 seconds, and most trucks try to have a return time of <5min.
Customer direction is also difficult for the trucks – the large window in the front doesn’t make it clear where to wait for food, and with long lines, telling customers to repeatedly move is annoying.
Given this research, it seems like the things we can capitalize on improving in our future design iterations are:
Customer Interaction – add space and clarity by tweaking the one-large-window design of most food trucks. This could be something like two windows – pickup and ordering – or even just the shape of windows/level implying motion.
Counter space usage – it seems that in trying to maximize storage, a lot of the ideal counter space is far from the foods that one actually needs to reach. Thinking about designing the interior as a whole rather than with one or two optimizing metrics in mind could provide an interesting perspective.
Restocking – it’s annoying and time-consuming to restock ingredients during the day. How might one make it so that the design of the interior leads to a smoother restocking process?
Cleaning – for trucks with tables of napkins/condiments outside (which are common), cleaning those tables requires someone to remove their apron (because of a food safety regulation), leave the truck, wipe it down, and then get re-set in their position. Providing a self-cleaning surface or a surface that needs cleaning less frequently might solve this issue.
Overall, it seems like food trucks are designed to “get the job done” but have left plenty of room for usability improvement for those working inside the truck. These are the areas we plan to expand upon in our design.