Brian Peffer, owner of Creative Chef on Wheels, is one of the food truck owners who was shut out by Fort Pierce, Florida’s protectionist rules.
The results of this study make clear that, far from harming the restaurant industry, food trucks can complement it. Growth in the number of food trucks goes hand in hand with growth in the number of restaurants. This is not to say that restaurants are never put out of business by food trucks. Some may be—just as restaurants are sometimes outcompeted by other restaurants. However, this is normal, healthy competition, and it is good for food trucks, restaurants and consumers alike. Food trucks, it would seem, have thus been unfairly maligned by restaurants, their associations and municipalities.
These results bear important policy implications. Cities can and should ensure the health and safety of their residents while also facilitating broad economic growth in their jurisdictions. The anticompetitive restrictions many cities have enacted to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from food trucks serve neither of those ends. In the name of economic growth, fair competition and consumer choice, cities should repeal these counterproductive restrictions. And states should consider preventing cities from enacting such restrictions.
More specifically, cities should repeal rules that ban food trucks—whether on public or private land—from operating in certain areas or within a certain distance from restaurants, as well as time limits that force trucks to pack up and move frequently.
By increasing food truck freedom, not only can cities allow entrepreneurs to pursue the American Dream, they can also promote business growth and allow their communities to flourish.
Repealing such restrictions is the right thing to do at any time, but it is especially important for cities to do before the next economic downturn, when many people will be looking for entrepreneurial opportunities and established restaurants are likely to put up resistance to food trucks. This was the case during the economic recovery from the Great Recession as well as during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw restaurants from coast to coast oppose food truck freedom in a bid to protect their own businesses.
To the extent that cities do need to regulate food trucks—whether on public or private land—they should do so only to protect public health and safety, and the rules should be no more restrictive than those applied to brick-and-mortar restaurants. Anything more restrictive is both unnecessary and anticompetitive. For example, sanitation standards and inspection regimes for food trucks should be substantially similar to those for restaurants. And cities can enforce reasonable food truck regulations to keep streets and side walks open to normal vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
Cities can also support local entrepreneurs by making it easier to start new businesses. First, they can streamline the permitting process for food trucks to start and operate, including the requirements necessary for food truck businesses to open brick-and-mortar locations. Second, they can provide clear and simple statements of existing vending law while also eliminating arbitrary and inconsistent enforcement. Doing this would help food truck owners understand and comply with the law and protect them from unfair treatment.
Much good can come when cities welcome food trucks. While food truck operators and customers benefit most immediately, the restaurant industry can also gain, as we have shown. So, too, can local economies. Thus, by increasing food truck freedom, not only can cities allow entrepreneurs to pursue the American Dream, they can also promote business growth and allow their communities to flourish.