Launch - Roll With It - July 2018

HERSHEY PARK
The food and beverage team at Hersheypark used social media to find food trucks to invite to the park, researching reviews, trends, and appearances. (Credit: Hershey Park)

Food Trucks Accelerate Service and Attract Visitors

by Jim Futrell

“Dine and dash” takes on a new meaning as food trucks have not only put the brakes on hunger, but also become an attraction in their own right.

Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania, kicked off its 2018 season by offering Food Truck Fridays, a new promotion featuring eight different food trucks on select Fridays early in the season. With the growing popularity of food trucks across America, Hersheypark wanted to capitalize on one of the hottest trends in dining. 

“Food trucks have become quite the phenomenon,” says Rob Gordon, director of food and beverage at Hershey Entertainment Complex, mentioning that they provide extra incentive for the park’s season-pass holders to visit.

According to IBISWorld, there are currently more than 4,000 food truck businesses in the United States—some with more than one vehicle—and the number of businesses has grown more than 7 percent annually since 2012. Revenue is approaching $1 billion.

Gordon calls food trucks “temporary pops of flavor” and attributes their success at previous festivals as inspiration for the early season promotion. 

Using social media to find the trucks, Gordon researched what created buzz, studied reviews, and paid attention to the appearance of each truck before asking select vendors to roll into Hersheypark. Those who agreed, paid a flat fee to participate. 

The park is so upbeat about the potential of food trucks that it is building two of its own.

The Denver Zoo is hitching onto the food truck fad to draw nontraditional guests. In 2017, the zoo held its first Food Truck Safari. Communications Manager Jake Kubie says the event—described as the “wildest happy hour in the Mile High City”—is intended as a way to attract adults, in particular young adults without kids, as 70 percent of the zoo’s guests are families with children. “We are always trying to reach new audiences,” says Kubie. The first event featured about a dozen trucks and attracted 1,200 people.

The addition of food trucks also comes out of necessity for many facilities as a way to alleviate early season staffing shortages. 

Nick Paradise, director of public relations at Kennywood in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, says that starting in 2016, the park started bringing in five to seven food trucks to complement its food offerings on weekends prior to Memorial Day, when many of its seasonal team members are still in school. 

Paradise says the park is a draw for food truck operators given its built-in audience, but the demands of the volume generated by an eight- to 10-hour operating day with 6,000 to 12,000 people in the park can be too much for many operators. 

“It was a little more than some could handle,” Paradise admits. 

The food trucks also provide an advantage over other options as they already have the needed permits and licenses. 

“There is convenience for both sides,” Paradise says. 

Using the start of college football season, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, created a special event centered around food trucks catering to those across state lines.

CEDAR POINT

Cedar Point hosts the Ohio vs. Michigan Food Truck Challenge, inviting food trucks representing both states to compete for votes from park guests. (Credit: Cedar Point)

“Cedar Point is lucky enough to be smack-dab in the middle of the regions for both Ohio State and Michigan,” explains Kristy Bacni, Cedar Point events and ticketing manager. The famed rivalry between the two universities heats up during the Ohio vs. Michigan Food Truck Challenge staged along Cedar Point’s Lake Erie boardwalk.

Invited food trucks from both states offer their signature dishes leading up to Labor Day, with park guests voting on the best. A ballot box is placed in a central location, with the winner claiming bragging rights.

“We always offer great, unique prizes for the winners. Last year, we had a custom magnet created so the truck could brag all year long at all venues,” Bacni says, adding that in 2018, the park has asked participating food trucks to offer a sampling size at a reduced cost.

“With a sampling option, guests can try more great dishes and then vote on their favorite,” Bacni concludes.