A Policy Scare Story: Don’t Be Afraid of Food Trucks (or Competition)
Halloween and horror movies have given us reason to fear everything from chainsaws to dolls to empty houses. But with some of these things, like the space under your bed, that fear isn’t warranted. I think market competition generally falls into this unwarranted fear category—people are mistakenly afraid of businesses competing. The limits that many cities place on food trucks are good examples of this.
Most who fight to limit opportunities for food trucks are afraid that food trucks will compete with, and potentially harm, existing brick-and-mortar businesses. My family owns restaurants, so I’m supportive of brick-and-mortar restaurants and I’m sympathetic to this line of thinking. The reality is that food trucks will definitely increase competition, but that is not something that should be feared. Competition among businesses should be expected and encouraged. In the same way that brick-and-mortar businesses compete with one another, food trucks should compete with existing businesses—and may the best food and dining experience win!
Market competition encourages entrepreneurship and leads to the best options for consumers. Food trucks will only do “harm” if consumers overwhelmingly decide that they prefer the food trucks over the existing businesses. And harm is in quotation marks because creative destruction is how we make progress. If food trucks were to overtake brick-and-mortar restaurants in the market (which I think is unlikely), it would mean we are moving forward in a direction chosen by consumers.
Misplaced fear of this process often leads to unnecessary and burdensome regulations. For example, many cities have extremely strict regulations that hinder their operations—and some cities simply don’t allow them at all. (These are, of course, different from regulations that reasonably deal with traffic and public safety concerns.) In cases of overregulation, lawmakers are picking the winners (brick-and-mortar restaurants) and losers (food trucks) instead of allowing consumers to decide. We need to stop being afraid of food trucks (and competition) and give them the freedom to operate.