Why Should the Early Bird Get the Worm?
A version of this commentary appeared in the Columbia Missourian.
Although it’s a little trite, “the early bird gets the worm” is harmless enough as far as old sayings go. Still, living by those words is one thing, and governing by them—as Lake Ozark seems to be doing—is quite another.
Food truck operators want to set up business along The Strip in the city of Lake Ozark, but the Planning and Zoning Commission is prohibiting them from doing so. While identifying consumer desire for food truck options in this area, the Commission says that its intent is to protect brick-and-mortar businesses that are already there. As the daughter of a restaurant owner, I fully support brick-and-mortar businesses, but why is the Planning and Zoning Commission choosing to protect these businesses at the expense of others, namely food trucks? Why are we only allowing the early bird a chance at getting the worm?
The commission fears that food trucks would compete with existing businesses. That is not something that should be feared; it should be expected and encouraged. In the same way that existing businesses compete with one another, food trucks should compete with other restaurants—and may the best food and dining experience win! It’s through this competition that we end up with a collection of businesses that consumers really want. That’s how competition in the market should work; consumers, not commissioners, pick winners and losers. It shouldn’t be the early bird that gets the worm, but the best bird.
After the Great Recession, many were looking for cheaper, on-the-go food options, and a lot of culinary experts were unemployed, laying the groundwork for a surge of food trucks. (And it’s not a stretch to think that our current economic situation could increase the demand for food trucks even more.) From 2013 to 2018, the number of food truck establishments in the U.S. doubled, employing over 16,000 workers in 2018 and reporting sales of $1.2 billion in 2017 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More options increase the chance that consumers find exactly what they are looking for at a price they are willing to pay. Additionally, more businesses mean more entrepreneurship and opportunities for workers.
Other cities have found ways for food trucks to operate that would be better options than an outright prohibition. For example, Clayton allows for food trucks to operate for city or private events provided that they follow specific guidelines. Branson prohibits food trucks from operating within 100 feet of a restaurant and also allows for food truck courts. While these examples still place regulatory burdens on the food trucks, they show that there are ways for brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks to coexist.
Existing businesses should not receive special treatment just because they already exist. We allow brick-and-mortar restaurants to compete with one another—is it really that dangerous to allow them to compete with food trucks? Lake Ozark says it’s working on an ordinance to lay the groundwork for food trucks operating in the area. I say, let all the birds go and see which one gets the worm.