foodtruckWhen food trucks began bursting onto the scene in more U.S. cities a few years ago, the big worry for restaurants was the competition. A report this week from NPD Group lent some credence to the concerns, at least for fast-food restaurants — about half the respondents in a recent survey who frequent food trucks say they would otherwise be eating a quickservice meal.

But another 20% say they wouldn’t be spending the money anywhere if the food truck wasn’t an option, pointing to the possibility that mobile eateries may be adding to overall restaurant revenue in some markets.

In some cities, restaurants’ concerns about competition have flavored municipal rules governing the operation of food trucks, a trend that’s certainly at play in Chicago. Food trucks there only recently earned the right to cook in their mobile kitchens, but only some are licensed to do so. Additionally, trucks can only operate in one of 30 zones, all of which have two-hour parking limits and require food trucks to stay at least 200 feet from brick-and-mortar restaurants, as ABC’s local Chicago station reported recently.

While food trucks offer variety that appeals as an alternative to a fast-food meal, the portable nature of the venue makes it less likely that patrons will become loyal regulars. In Chicago and other markets where municipal rules have food trucks vying for parking spaces and moving around every few hours, social media has become the best way for fans to follow their favorites.

Unless, of course, they’re one of the culinary teams chosen to take their skills cross country.

The survey results come as season 4 of The Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race gets underway. Hosted by celebrity chef Tyler Florence, the show features eight teams that race mobile eateries to different cities each week, serving their specialties in each place.

The season started Sunday under the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles and will end up in Annapolis, Md. and Washington, D.C., according to Eater Philadelphia, which tracked that city’s team from start to finish by following local media coverage at each stop. At its inception, the show featured contestants who had already launched their own food trucks, but last year the contest changed to feature cooks who hadn’t yet earned their wheels. The teams now vie to win an already built food truck and $50,000 to launch the business, according to the blog Zap2It.

Have food trucks become more acceptable in the restaurant world, or do they still represent low-overhead competition? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image credit: iStockphoto

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