Survey Says Why You Love Food Trucks

Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo credit: Sonny Abesamis, Flickr

That swarm of food trucks descending upon your fair city during the daily lunch rush? There’s a method to that madness, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan and Northwestern University.

Researchers analyzed data harvested from Twitter—the means by which most food trucks broadcast their location and menus—and discovered several factors influencing the robustness of a city’s mobile dining scene.

For one, cities with higher commercial rents have more food trucks. This makes sense: Chefs often use these portable kitchens as cheaper alternatives to traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants.

A less obvious finding? Extreme weather doesn’t really affect where a truck chooses to drop anchor.

"We were surprised to find that weather isn’t really a factor in the concentration of food trucks," reported study co-author Todd Schifeling. "Extreme temperatures have no effect, and precipitation is actually positively associated with the new food trucks." (Apparently people don’t mind queuing up the rain when grilled triple-cream brie and prosciutto sandwiches are involved.)

Other factors associated with greater truck density include cities with a high percentage of college graduates and creative-class workers, a diversity of ethnic populations, more craft breweries, more farmer’s markets, and less fast food and chain restaurants.

It’s unclear if the results, which were presented over the weekend at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, are any indication of grub trucks’ staying power. Researchers pinpointed the launch of the food truck boom to Los Angeles in 2008 (Kogi et al), and estimated that the ranks have swelled to more than 4,000 mobile munchies units nationwide. 

"[But] the real question is: How long is this going to last?" co-author Daphne Demetry wondered aloud to The Boston Globe. “It’s becoming more than a way to simply get lunch. It’s a phenomenon.”

Here’s hoping that food trucks are in it for the long haul. How else are we going to get our lobster roll fix on the fly?