Food truck operators should be given more flexibility

Two-year pilot scheme has had a measure of success, but if it is to grow and thrive, the government has to be more flexible about how it operates

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 12:47am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 12:47am

Authorities put a lot of thought into food trucks before letting them onto Hong Kong’s streets. The types of vehicles, the menu items, the licensing arrangement and who could operate were ironed out over a two-year period. A reasonable measure of success should have been guaranteed when the first trucks took up position last month, yet the results have been mixed. In an environment where free-market capitalism has flourished and been honed for so long, allowing greater flexibility would have taken away some of the uncertainty for the operators.

As it is, one successful applicant whose signature dish impressed judges in a cook-off prior to the licenses being granted has decided to pull out. Capital Café’s decision not to apply for licences was not explained, but owner Swadiq Khan said last year that he was concerned about being able to turn a profit given what he considered to be too many rules and regulations.

That worry has been echoed by a few of the operators who have joined the two-year pilot scheme, with some of the trucks in the eight designated sites in tourist locations faring far better financially than others. The vehicles are required to change positions every two weeks and it would seem that menu items and reputation may play a part in success.

Setback for Hong Kong food truck scheme as operator pulls out

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung does not seem overly concerned. A waiting list will be used to fill the vacancy.

For officials, that is a solution, but for operators who have invested upwards of HK$1 million and are unsure whether they will be able to turn a profit, there is limited comfort from such words. What they most want is a loosening of rules so that they can have greater control over their businesses.

Hong Kong’s approach to food trucks has been the reverse to the United States, which is where the idea has been adapted from. There, they are often a first step to trying a hand at the food and catering industry; success often leads to a fully fledged bricks-and-mortar restaurant. Our city has reversed that process, with the operators already having made a mark in the food business. The high financial cost of being part of the scheme means it is important to quickly generate profits. It is understandable that the trucks should be located away from existing restaurants so as not to threaten businesses, but operators should also have the ability to give customers what they want and need. The scheme has had a measure of success, but if it is to grow and thrive, the government has to be more flexible about how it operates.