Credit: DC Slices

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By now you know that small businesses are being hit hard by the restrictions on public life necessitated by efforts to contain the novel coronavirus. Food trucks are among the smallest of small businesses and they’re staring down impossible numbers.

On March 15 and 16, the DC, Maryland, and Virginia Food Truck Association surveyed member and nonmember food trucks about their sales and received 78 responses. The 73 percent of operators who said curbside sales are down from the same week-long period as last year report that sales have dropped by 60 percent—despite the fact that, unlike restaurants and bars, Mayor Muriel Bowser hasn’t issued any guidelines limiting their service. 

With most offices closed, popular lunch destinations for food truck fans like Franklin Square, Farragut Square, and L’Enfant Plaza are apocalyptically empty, according to DMVFTA chairman and DC Slices owner Zachary Graybill

“Without government help, I wouldn’t be surprised if a double digit percentage of the food truck industry doesn’t survive,” Graybill says. “It depends on how long this lasts, of course. But our lunch services are plummeting and every event through April has been cancelled.” 

Many food trucks also cater private events and pull up to food festivals to diversify their income, in case bad weather upends regular business. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended canceling any gathering larger than 10 people.

According to survey results, 72 percent of food truck operators took their trucks off the road for at least one day of curbside vending due to the novel coronavirus; 90 percent lost out on at least one special event where they were supposed to sell food; and 65 percent say at least one customer canceled a catering order. 

Like full-service restaurants, food truck operators have had to institute hiring freezes and lay off staff during a time of year they would normally be ramping up to serve spring crowds. Instead, 83 percent of food truck operators say they’ve had to cut staff hours; another 35 percent have laid off staff; and 73 percent say they can’t imagine hiring new staff within the next four to six weeks. 

Graybill is especially disappointed because D.C. actually experienced a mild winter—the season food trucks typically take their biggest losses. “It was one of the best winters we’ve ever had,” he says. “For the first time in several years I was very optimistic. We were finally paying off a lot of debt. That’s not going to happen anymore.” 

Food trucks were not affected by the city’s decision to close bars and restaurants to on-premise consumption because by nature they’re take-out businesses. Take-out and delivery remain permissible. Graybill says DMVFTA sent out best practices to their member trucks on sanitation measures and how to minimize touching during transactions. “For us and a lot of the food trucks, the interaction is very minimal now,” he says.

“We do a lot of evening business at residential places,” Graybill continues. “Many have closed their doors to us even though our nature is that we’re take-out, we’re in public space, we’re outdoors. We’re trying to figure out ways to survive through delivery or find other residential locations that are friendly to having food trucks still come.” 

Check delivery apps like Caviar, UberEats, DoorDash, and Postmates to see if your favorite food truck is on there. Food Truck Fiesta is still keeping track of where trucks park during the day. 

DMVFTA plans to survey its member trucks again this weekend.