As many Food Network fans know, the Great Food Truck Race is a reality TV show where food trucks compete in cities across the country. During each episode, the food trucks must comply with crazy rules while trying to make the most sales. Ironically, several cities who hosted the show this season have not given the same welcome to their own native food trucks. Instead they have enacted barriers to these businesses that make the show’s obstacles look easy. These cities reflect a disturbing national trend of municipalities trying to stop food trucks from competing with brick and mortar restaurants.
One increasingly popular method of protecting restaurants is for cities to bar food trucks from operating anywhere near them. In Nashville, where episode 5 took place, food trucks cannot sell within 150 feet of restaurants. And in Portland, Maine, which was featured in the season finale, the city recently barred trucks within 200 feet of restaurants. Also featured in that episode was Boston, where the politically powerful Restaurant and Business Alliance is pressuring the City to ban food trucks within 1,000 feet from any restaurant.
These restrictions threaten the long-term viability of the food truck industry because it keeps trucks away from many popular commercial areas where the largest number of customers are. And unfortunately, these proximity restrictions are popping up in dozens of other cities, including Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle.
These cities’ naked attempts at protectionism are wrong on principle. Competing is a part of running any business in a free society. Without competition, no business would have incentive to improve their product and keep costs down. No one has the right to ask the government to protect them from such honest competition. And the government certainly does not have the power to prevent new businesses from entering the market or condition their continued existence on whether they lower their competitors’ sales.
This is not just an opinion, but a constitutional guarantee: the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects Americans’ right to earn an honest living, free from protectionism or arbitrary regulation. Indeed, courts have already struck down similar anti-competitive laws around the country.
Some attempt to justify this protectionism by claiming government must “level the playing field” between brick and mortar businesses and food trucks. But one cannot credibly argue that food trucks somehow have an unfair advantage in the food industry. Unlike restaurants, food trucks’ daily success is highly dependent on uncontrollable variables such as weather and available parking spots. Vendors cannot offer their customers’ climate controlled seating safe from the elements. And without a permanent location, they often must rely on a loyal customer base to find them through the social media. Vendors’ menus are also limited by their trucks’ small storage space, and they are ineligible to get a liquor license—a restaurant cash cow.
Food trucks also contribute to their community. Like restaurants, they pay sales tax, and often pay rent to a commissary. They also give consumers more affordable and convenient food options, especially during lunch time when many restaurants tend to offer the same boring sandwich options. Indeed, the small size of their businesses allows them the freedom and flexibility to experiment with new recipes and cater to the tastes of their customer base. Food trucks also encourage people to walk along the streets, leading to an increase of foot traffic for all businesses. This is certainly the case in Los Angeles, where the city allows food trucks to operate freely.
The last thing we need in this economy is the government punishing those trying to open businesses and create jobs in order to protect a favored few. Free competition for food businesses should not just take place for contestants during the filming of a reality show. Cities should ensure that all food trucks have the right to earn an honest living and eliminate their proximity restrictions.
Erica Smith is an attorney with the Institute for Justice. For more information, visit www.ij.org.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire