More food trucks on the menu

Leesha McKenny
Growing business: David Toohey serves veggie burgers and sweet potato crisps from a food truck in Newtown. A report ...
Growing business: David Toohey serves veggie burgers and sweet potato crisps from a food truck in Newtown. A report argues food trucks have opened up a new market. Photo: Janie Barrett

Sydney's mobile dining fleet is set to expand from nine food trucks to 50 under a plan to make them a permanent feature.

Councils from across NSW and interstate were keen to get on board, the City of Sydney council said. The council's staff have briefed more than 20 other areas about its two-year food truck trial and how they can start programs of their own.

The enthusiasm was also shared by would-be operators, according to the council's evaluation of the trial. More than 600 have contacted the council since the first truck, Cantina Mobil, started serving up Mexican food in May 2012.

''The more the merrier,'' said co-owner Stephanie Raco.

Ms Raco said this would help build the public's knowledge and appreciation of the trucks, whose gourmet offerings range from yum cha to organic tapas.

''I remember when we first started,'' she said. ''We'd hear people walking past the truck [saying] 'oh I wouldn't eat anything that came out of a van'.''

The report, to go before councillors on Monday, recommends capping the number of trucks operating at any one time to 50 for a further two years. More locations across the city would be made available for the trucks, which were found to attract about 1700 customers each, per month, during the trial.

''It has been estimated that the current off-street sites can accommodate up to 61 food trucks in any 24-hour period,'' the report said.

Restaurant and Catering Australia chief executive John Hart said he was ''sceptical'' about the estimate.

''The pilot certainly was controlled in terms of the quality of the trucks, the fact that they had to meet all of the same requirements that a fixed business would have to meet and also that the placement of the trucks wasn't such that they were competing with existing rate-paying businesses,'' he said. ''Whether that then is continuing to be achieved by adding another 50 trucks into the system is questionable.''

The report argues the trucks, which prompted only eight complaints during the trial, have opened a new market rather than cannibalised an existing one. More than a third of the 400 customers evaluated (34 per cent) indicated they would eat at home if not at a truck, while 44 per cent said they were in an area specifically to eat at one.

''The Sydney Food Trucks program is a great example of how innovative ideas can create a brand new industry and transform the experience of dining after dark,'' lord mayor Clover Moore said.

But the change is unlikely to cause a sudden flood of new mobile dining options on Sydney's streets.

The report estimated ''there may be only 20 trucks'' by the end of the year, due to the length of time it took operators to set up their businesses. It also highlighted the hefty costs involved for any would-be operators, whose vehicle designs and menus would be assessed by a food truck design panel.

The initial set-up costs for the nine businesses involved in the trial ranged from $78,000 to $150,000. The annual average continuing running cost, excluding staff and food, was more than $71,000.