For Back to Church Sunday 2017, First Baptist Church of Watonga, OK brought in a couple food trucks for their event, inviting the community to come to church and have lunch afterwards. Offering something unusual at your event is a great way to draw attention and see more visitors. So here is how you can make this idea your own this year!
Why Host a Food Truck?
Across the United States, the food truck industry is a $1 billion industry with over 4000 food trucks operating. Food Trucks are hot and can provide your event with extra buzz especially if you can bring in a popular food truck from your area – you will automatically draw more attention and hopefully more people to your event.
“We were trying to think outside the box and food trucks are really popular in Oklahoma City, near here. And we don’t have a lot of catering options in our area and we didn’t want to do the same old thing,” said Brandon Kalicki, the Youth Pastor and event organizer for First Baptist in Watonga.
Food trucks add an element of excitement and interest that can instantly make your event seem more fun. Plus they can be a great option for locations that are hard to reach or that don’t have a large kitchen or service area, and they are perfect for events that are outdoors.
8 Tips for Hosting a Food Truck at Your Event
1. Set a Budget
You will need to estimate the size of your crowd for the event and then contact several food truck vendors to get estimates. Some trucks may work with you on the menu and limit the selection to make service faster and to keep down costs.
The average food truck can feed about 75 guests so depending on the size of the crowd you may want more than one truck – plus that allows for different types of cuisine. At First Baptist, they had a lunch truck serve gourmet burgers and a specialty popsicle truck serve dessert. Kalicki was able to choose the popsicle flavors ahead of time and the dessert was prepackaged and easy to hand out.
2. Carefully select your food truck
These trucks come in a variety of styles, colors and sizes – some are crazy and wild and others more upscale. Choose a truck that compliments your theme or environment and the space you have to work with. Be careful to do your research so you know exactly what your truck looks like, if it plays music, and what it has to offer ahead of time. Your food truck can add to your desired ambiance and make it a party your guests will remember. If you don’t know where to start to find a food truck, ask your members or search on Facebook for local trucks. Another option is to check out sites like RoamingHunger.com which have a list for major metropolitan areas and can even help with some of the planning.
3. Work on your food menu
Talk to the food truck owners about your event, your budget, how big your crowd will be, and how fast you want the people served. Consider if people will be sitting at tables, standing at bistro tables, or walking around with plates — you want your food choices to be easy to eat and not too messy. Also consider special food for the kids and ask your food truck vendor if they have kid-friendly items.
If you want to limit the amount of food served to keep your costs down, consider giving each worship service attender a food ticket to redeem for their meal – this prevents people from going back for seconds and thirds.
At their event, First Baptist issued two tickets to each person. Kalicki pre-arranged with the burger truck to only accept the “keep this ticket” side of the ticket and the popsicle vendor took the side that said “ticket”. If you have the resources, you could make your own tickets to hand out.
4. Decide on the best spot for your food truck
There are a few things to take into consideration when figuring out where to set up your food truck. First, you want it where it’s easily accessible to your guests. Nobody wants to trudge a quarter mile in high heels to grab a bite. So keep it close to the main action, without making it the focal point. Setting your food truck off to the side but close enough that everyone can easily get to it is smart. Plus make sure the location of the food truck and those in the queue do not interfere with the entrance and exits of your building and parking lot.
Some municipalities have restrictions in place that determine where a food truck can be parked and at what times. You will want to check with your local city hall to find out your regulations and if any special permits or insurance are required.
5. Create an eating area
Part of your event atmosphere will be how you set up the area around the food trucks and where people will eat. A lot of this will be determined by where the food trucks are parked and your facility. If you have a grassy area you may want to put round tables and chairs there and let the kids run around. If the sun is too hot or if there is a chance of rain, consider putting up canopies or offering shady or covered areas. Or if you are in climate where the weather can be questionable, you may want both outdoor and indoor areas.
High top bistro style tables are also a great option – people can mill around and talk or move from table to table mingling.
6. Think about timing
Be sure to talk to your food truck vendors about the timing of your event. You will want them set up and ready to go when your service ends. So have someone on your team be ready to greet them, direct them to the parking area and make sure they are ready for the crowd.
Because food trucks often cook everything to order, they can be slower to serve the food, so it would be a good idea to have music, games, performers and other distractions for people to enjoy while they are standing in line or waiting for their order.
“One unforeseen benefit was the amount of social time there was while people were in line or waiting for their food,” Kalicki said, “Normally everyone has their seat or section they sit in and they don’t venture out of that area at church, this mixed people up and gave them a chance to talk with visitors and meet new people. It provided some different touchpoints socially.”
7. Spread the word
The goal of hosting a food truck or any other creative event is to draw more visitors to your church. So once you have your truck and event plans confirmed, you need to start spreading the word around your community. Most studies show that consumers need several “touches” before they will respond to an ad or marketing message, so that means you can’t rely on just one method of communication. Here are some great options to look at:
- Direct mail: The benefit of mailing out invitations to your community is that you can reach a large, but targeted area easily and quickly. Studies show that the vast majority of people look at every piece of mail they receive So for a broad reach that can have a real impact, a postcard invitation is an inexpensive way start your marketing efforts.
- Outdoor Banners: The reason you see so many billboards on the highway is because people really do read them. So when you post a large outdoor banner outside your church it acts like a mini-billboard – promoting your event to passing traffic and reinforcing the message of your other efforts.
- Personal Invitations: Nothing beats the power of an invitation from one person to another. But often Christians are reluctant or shy about asking their friends and neighbors to come to church. One way to help empower your members is by providing them with easy to use, un-intimidating invitation cards. These small cards fit in a wallet and can be handed out without being awkward.
- Website & Social Media: Today most of your church visitors will make a stop on your church website before they walk through your doors. You can’t afford to ignore online guests and social media in your event planning. It’s an inexpensive way to spread the word and an entirely new way to start conversations with people about faith. On your website, make sure your event and food trucks are promoted on your homepage with details on the service times and even information on the food that will be served. On social media, it’s important to be part of a conversation and not just someone promoting an event. One idea is to have a Poll asking people about their favorite foods or even about the trucks themselves. Also make sure the Food Truck is listing your location as one of their stops – ask them to include a link to your church’s website too. Also encourage your members to share about your event with their social media friends.
- Press Release/Publicity: Depending on the size of your community and what other things are going on, you may be able to get a local TV station to cover your event. After all it’s not everyday that a church has food trucks in their parking lot. Send a short informational press release to the local news outlets and you may just get a little free publicity.
8. Get Help with Cleanup
One of the biggest advantages of a food truck catering an event is that clean up is a breeze. Generally food trucks use disposable paper plates and plastic cutlery. Many food trucks will provide receptacles so guests can just toss out their trash. Adding a few volunteer roving waiters and waitresses can help collect anything that’s missed or left behind.
A Food Truck can be an exciting and memorable addition to your Back to Church Sunday event so give it a try and then share your story and pictures with us at https://www.facebook.com/backtochurch/