Here's today's Social Media Insider, originally published in MediaPost. Photo credit: Me.
In the future, will all of our restaurants turn into roving
trucks? You may not ask yourself that question every day, but answering it will
reveal a few things about the evolution of social media.
This megatrend of trucks serving gourmet food is one of those
cataclysmic events that can only be brought on by a slew of events that were
never supposed to happen at the same time (think "The Day After
A recession that caused consumers to be thrifty when
eating out while also giving the jobless and underemployed more time than
they're used to.
GPS technology accurate enough to locate restaurants
The advent of Twitter, which allowed truck-food
proprietors to economically broadcast where they are, along with empowering
consumers narcissistic enough to tell people they are on line waiting for a
truck chef to serve them.
Finally, the emergence of Dr. Scholl's shoe inserts so
comfortable that truck chefs can be gellin' without having their feet resemble
snapshots from the podiatric-themed issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
New York City has a multiplying fleet of truck chefs. Battles for the
streets have become so intense that one truck food purveyor told
The New York Times a few weeks ago, "I should not have to carry
a baseball bat on my truck in order to sell cupcakes." I've visited two
trucks for food this month alone: Van
Leeuwen artisan ice cream by the High Line park (after trying the vanilla,
"artisan" must be a synonym for "bland"), and the
CupcakeStop.com truck that I
found via a colleague's tweet, which served the best red velvet I've had
east of the Mississippi (either side of it, you can't top Sprinkes).
The most famous, uber-hip food truck isn't driving near my office
anytime soon. It's Kogi, the Los Angeles-based Korean barbecue truck fleet with
35,000 followers on Twitter. Proprietor Mark Manguera seems to have an
Oprah-like command of his followers, with hundreds of them lining up for
Asian-Mexican food whenever his trucks tweet.
How much further will this trend go? Here are a few ideas:
The locations of these trucks will be crowdsourced.
It's the converse of the drive-thru: instead of the truck saying where it is
and people tweeting about it, people will tweet and the truck drives to where
the most buzz is.
Mobile applications will instantly show which food
trucks are in your area. Trucks will be sorted by cuisine type, location, and
the length of the line.
A market of line-savers will emerge. Someone spending
$10 on dinner from a truck may well pay another $20 not to wait on line for an
hour or two (I couldn't find anyone offering or requesting this on the Los
Angeles Craigslist boards). A secure arrangement between the parties using SMS
and PayPal could ensure timeliness and accuracy. A more sophisticated system
could have the person on line periodically checking in via GPS to confirm their
Trucks will eliminate all of their selection and will
tweet the day's option along with the location. One day, it might only be steak
fajitas, while another it's shrimp tamales. And the same people who waited two
hours to get what they wanted from the truck would wait four to have no options
to choose from.
Trucks will tweet the wrong locations intentionally.
This will weed out the fans from the superfans. Anyone can follow a truck on
Twitter and find it and wait on line for food while telling all their friends
about it. But imagine if people had no clue where the truck was, and even their
friends tweeted the wrong locations to throw them off? The same people who
waited four hours to eat food from a truck with only one menu item would spend
another four hours trying to find out where the truck really is before waiting
another four hours for food.
Thanks to social media and the mobile technologies facilitating it,
these trucks may in time lead to a super-race of Twitter users. Consumers
already too thrifty to gorge themselves will spend four hours running around
after a truck and four hours longer standing in line, all to consume undersized
portions designed to easily fit in their hand for on-street consumption. While
engaging in these tweets and spending ample time with their fellow
line-waiters, they're bound to comingle and eventually reproduce. These
offspring will in turn exhibit the genes for fitness and tech savvy that will
give them disproportionate advantages in the centuries ahead.
I'm not sure I'll be one of them. Sunday night, while walking
home, I discovered a Vietnamese restaurant in my neighborhood and ate my first
banh mi sandwich. I had read no reviews, whether by professionals or consumers.
I saw nary a tweet about it, and didn't tweet it either. Monday night, I went
back for another banh mi. It won't be my last. The whole time, the restaurant
stayed in the same location, there was no line, and I sat down while waiting.
I'm clearly not cut out for the future of truck-based food consumption, though
if it's carrying red velvets, I may make an occasional exception.