Coffee trucks: a brilliant idea that someone should do?

post by KatjaGrace · 2021-02-20T07:50:12.401Z · LW · GW · 4 comments

I sometimes wonder if the world should have coffee trucks, like ice cream trucks, roaming the street. Especially when half the population is working from home.

Coffee seems ideal for this because:

  1. you can probably prepare it fresh in a briefly stopping vehicle,
  2. you don’t need much variety,
  3. people are often flexible about when they get it,
  4. they often like to get it as a short break from work in which they bump into other people,
  5. more than half of the US population consumes it at least once every day, so potential demand is radically higher than for most foodstuffs!
  6. most people don’t have the means to make cafe-quality coffee in their home,
  7. it doesn’t go bad easily

There are clearly stationary coffee trucks, like food trucks. I think moving trucks may also exist or have existed ever, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, and it’s hard to find mention of them. Here are some people who had the same idea, but since nobody was expecting a moving coffee bus, they got more traffic sitting still like a cafe. But surely people expecting your product to exist is an obstacle not unique to circulating coffee trucks. Here is someone with the same idea, and someone who says there was one in a holiday park once, and some others who think they exist in Australia and Buffalo, but it sounds like they might be thinking of stationary coffee trucks.

I’m not sure that it’s good for any kind of truck to exist if it makes noise all the time as it travels through neighborhoods, delighting some, but surely disrupting others. But I think that can be entirely resolved digitally: instead of the truck playing music, the service could have an app that plays music when truck is approaching, if you signed up for that. Then you touch the notification to turn off the music and at the same time report whether you want a coffee.

Am I missing something?

4 comments

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comment by Stuart Anderson (stuart-anderson) · 2021-02-20T09:13:46.169Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Water is heavy, and if you are making coffee you need a lot of it. I haven't seen a a coffee machine that is propane, so that means you're going to need lots of power too.

An ice cream truck is a truck with significantly lower energy requirements that can be fed by the engine which will probably remain running during standard operation.

The music is a feature, not a bug. It's there to make children that are addicted to ice cream but too young to own phones go mental. You will buy that ice cream or you will get to spend an hour with a screaming child. 

I am Australian, I've seen mobile coffee rarely, but the economics and logistics curtail the use cases severely. What you do is bring the product of the infrastructure to the customer, not the actual infrastructure. You can make coffee anywhere, you just need to get it to the customer in merchantable condition. We have multiple food delivery services that do exactly that. I live in the suburbs and it's 8pm on a weekend, I just checked and I can get coffee from several places in under 30 minutes (because this is peak delivery time).

comment by Timothy Johnson (timothy-johnson) · 2021-02-22T05:43:59.225Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When my little sister was very young, we told her that the ice cream truck was a "music truck" - it just went around playing music for people.

I don't necessarily recommend lying, but it may have prevented some tantrums...

comment by gbear605 · 2021-02-20T16:31:39.285Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The app concept would be difficult for a startup since you need to both introduce the truck and the app at the same time - it's a two-sided market. An existing coffee company would have an easier time, since their customers already have the app; they just need to add the feature to the app and start sending out the trucks. 

comment by windshear · 2021-02-20T22:33:56.946Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For what it's worth: 

I have seen plenty of mobile lunch trucks. These often drive around industrial streets, visiting the parking lots of companies too small to justify their own cafeteria and too spread out in the suburbs to walk anywhere for a bite to eat. These trucks would have wrapped sandwiches, some Popeye's chicken combos they resell, coffee and cigarettes. They would usually honk several times on approach and would sit in the parking lot for 20 minutes before moving on. I wouldn't say they made anyone rich doing it but it was consistent. So that leads to the question, what neighbourhoods would this truck visit? Office parks? College campuses?

That brings me to the consistency part of it - If there was a mobile coffee truck, it would have to be consistently available. Since coffee is not the same as lunch with regards to an obvious time to sell it (okay aside from your morning commute but then you're also driving?), your customers need to know that it's available when they want it or they just won't bother. There's also profit margins - How much do you have to price a truck coffee to make it worth it? And how much do you need to sell?  

That also makes me think of demographics - I've worked with two types of people, those who want their coffee as cheap as possible but lots of it, and those who wanted the good stuff (Literally quantity vs quality). Can you satisfy both or do you pick one?