Food trucks: the quirky, less traditional alternative for
grabbing a meal, often promising a specialized cuisine or unique location.
Perhaps you use them simply for the convenience, or maybe you’re one of those
food truck superfans who tries out any new food truck to see how it compares. Food
trucks are popular for many reasons, but one thing they certainly aren’t known
for is their comfortable working environment for the employees inside.
In fact, perhaps since one’s interaction with a food truck
is generally quick, most people don’t consider how the restaurant-style work
environment has been forcedly adapted to the interior of a truck. Because of
this apparent neglect, we decided to look at the physical design of food trucks
and see how they might be improved to better serve the needs of the workers in
them. We split our redesign into two parts – an interior and an exterior,
although, as one will see, they often intertwine – and then looked at the
existing food trucks in the Science Center Plaza, as well as interviewed people
working inside them, to gain some of our insights.
The result from our research and design led us to create a potentially better — or “bettah”, in a Boston accent — food truck for those working within it. (As such, our example food truck is named “Bettah Burgers”, but our designs are for those who buy or work in food trucks, rather than designs for a food truck made for specific customers or with a specific menu.)
Based on our user feedback obtained through interviews of
food truck employees, there was a need to improve the exterior design of the
truck in order to facilitate a more intuitive customer experience and flow.
Windows vs Double Windows
One of the major issues employees face with current truck
designs is that customers often order and receive their food from the same
window. This creates a mob of waiting people cluttered in front of the truck as
people are also trying to order. There is no flow to the experience, making for
a hectic mess. Our design works to establish a flow to the ordering process
that mimics what you might see at a drive-through.
The customers move from right to left, starting at reading
the menu, then ordering at the first window (not counting the passenger window
in the front of the truck), and finally picking up their food at the second
window towards the back of the truck. This keeps the line moving and eliminates
a crowd in front of the ordering window. We’ve added a retractable divider that
protrudes from the truck to create a boundary between the windows so that the
ordering and pickup are clearly divided.
Another feature that current food trucks use is an exterior
table where workers can place napkins, condiments, and utensils for the
customers. Food trucks like BonMe use a foldable table that they store inside
their truck when not open. This takes up possible storage space for other items
inside the truck. Our design rethinks this feature by attaching a small table directly
to the exterior of the truck. When not in use, the table can fold up along the
side of the truck, storing it externally yet securely.
The table also is towards the back of the truck, imitating
where food trucks place their current standalone tables, since employees can
have easier access to this table through the back doors in order to clean and
restock it with supplies. (One major complaint was that employees often have to
take a lot of time to climb down and clean the table, so keeping it as close as
possible, and giving one the ability to sweep directly from the back of the
truck if necessary, is vital.) Because of this convenient placement for the
employees, our truck’s overall exterior flow moves from right to left (as
opposed to a possibly more intuitive left to right).
The things the inside of the food truck should be optimized
come down to space, flow, and access to ingredients/restocked ingredients. With
that in mind, we created a prospective design with a number of unique features.
When a storage chamber runs out, the employees must restock
it, usually from a delivery van that arrives (this is why you’ll often see,
say, the Whole Foods food truck parked next to a smaller Whole Foods van). This
involves leaving the truck, halting the workflow of everyone in it so one can
easily move new ingredients in and out, and then restocking.
Our design makes use of the concept of “modular” storage,
with access points on the exterior of the truck, so that the restock-van driver
can restock from outside the truck by opening certain hatches and replacing
properly-fitted containers filled with ingredients after removing the
same-sized containers, now empty, from the truck. We planned the floorplan such
that much of the dry and cold storage under the counters can be modularly
refilled from the exterior.
Similarly, the chilled trays are also modularized, and can
be easily replaced with full ones from the cold or dry storage areas below.
Counter space is extremely valuable, since it’s so limited,
but we found that counter space was often lost to clusters of sauce-filled
squeeze bottles that were only used briefly at the end of food prep. So, we
replace these bottles with upside-down versions hanging above the counter, with
tubes for directing the sauce placement. This way, the sauces are in the same
place and are still easily accessed, but they don’t take up counter space.
The double-window design allows us to close off what might
otherwise be one long open window, giving us a chance to put in an extra
counter and storage cupboard on the right side of the truck. Above the counter,
we also can add extra shelves, since they don’t block the view of the window
that, in this portion, no longer exists.
Notes on the Process
From our research, we learned a couple of things do work
really well in food trucks, which we left intentionally unchanged in our
designs. Anyone who looks at redesigning, or refining our designs, of the food
truck might want to keep these elements in mind. The first is the straight and
central path. This allows prep workers to use a line-based food prep system,
even if counters jutting out further might provide more space or storage. Similarly,
the second point to keep in mind is that, due to this line-based prep system,
it is most efficient to order storage/counter space in the direction of food
construction. In our case, that means that the hot elements are prepared, then
combined or tossed with the cold/dry elements, before being dressed at the end.
A third aspect to note and preserve is the gap between storage and the ground,
which is actually regulated to be at least 6” to comply with food safety
Overall, while today’s general food truck designs certainly
function, a lot of room for improving the experience for the employees – rather
than the usual focus of improving the customer experience – is still a major