Maybe someone has already written about this, but I'm not gonna check.
I hear lots of stories from friends about their experiences with GFTs (gourmet food trucks, so I don't have to keep typing it out), with varying degrees of sadness and elation. The experience cannot be the same for everyone, but we can always strive to have control over a situation where one or more GFTs are gathered. While San Francisco's Off the Grid (OtG) is no stranger to me, I did attend my first Fort Mason Friday event with gusto. Despite freezing my digits and toes, I managed to compare and contrast our experience with everything I've come to expect down in Southern California. Here's the best advice I can give for those looking to explore their next GFT event.
- RESEARCH - Find a list of trucks or tents (SF has lots) attending, and study up on them. Ask your foodie friends for advice. Go on Yelp. Read their website menus. Decide on a plan of attack. Have you already tried some? Then try something new! My good friend Amber went to her first OtG already familiar with a number of GFTs. Her quote of the night was, "I need to find something I can't get at WalMart." (Note: The GFTs frequent an area by Brisbane's WalMart.com offices.)
- DIVIDE & CONQUER - Hands down the best piece of advice I can possibly offer. When I attended an 80 GFT event at Santa Anita Park last month, I brought a friend. There was NO WAY we would be able to hit a tenth of the places in the amount of time we had. We had a printed list of who was scheduled to show, and we discussed on the drive up. Our #1 priority was lining up for The Grilled Cheese Truck, notorious for their endless lines. Despite our determination, there were at least 30 people in front of us when we arrived at start time, and the truck didn't even begin taking orders for another 30 minutes! In the meantime, we tag-teamed and managed to grab eats from Lardon, Tornado Potato, and Border Grill while still in line for grilled cheese. It was a productive alternative to just standing there.
- HIT UP THE ATM - Maybe it wasn't well-marked, but OtG had no visible ATM at the venue. Many trucks, whether LA, OC, or SF, only accept cash (although most Orange County ones take cards). Even those that take plastic sometimes have technical difficulties and are forced to revert back to paper and coin. My eyes typically aren't bigger than my stomach, so $20-40 usually works well. Another idea that ties into "divide & conquer" is sharing your food with a friend. It cuts food cost in half, but you also need to know someone with similar taste. There's the possibility that you'll have to pay for parking, so pad your pre-determined amount by another five bucks, just in case.
- USEFUL TOOLS - My preferred accessory is a messenger-style handbag. It frees up my hands, giving me easy access to my iPhone (for snapshots) and cash. I can also focus on my food knowing my belongings are securely stashed. Also, something I don't do, but am always envious when others remember, is bring a portable chair or table. Dining space is pretty limited at most events, unless sitting on the sidewalk/ground isn't an issue for you. If you have enough dining companions, designating someone to handle this detail while you "divide & conquer" on their behalf is beneficial to everyone.
- ARTICLES YOU SHOULD TRY TO BRING - Kudos to OC GFTs for remembering cleanliness is next to godliness for some of us. The hand sanitizer they provide is a decent alternative, but handiwipes are a lifesaver. Complain all you want about OCD behavior, but I'll be the one without greasy hands after devouring my Icon chicken drumstick from Iz It. A bottled water is a neutral palate cleanser, plus saves you a buck that can be used elsewhere. Oh, and a reusable bag is great if you plan on bringing home leftovers. Throw in one or two plastic containers, and you're good to go.
- DRESS APPROPRIATELY - Dressing to impress is not a good idea. Ladies: pull your hair back, unless you want it to whip your face when trying to eat. If the sun is still out, use sunscreen. The best GFT outfit involves jeans; they've got pockets for money, and double as a lazy napkin. Lastly, wear comfortable footwear. You're spending most, if not all, of your time standing around. Something cushioned (Flip flops don't count.) will protect your toes from the elements and passers-by not paying attention.
- TIMING IS EVERYTHING - If an event starts at 5, don't show up at 7. Try to park by 6 at the latest. The first time any OtG or other GFT festival happens at a new location, they always run out of food. While they learn from the experience, that doesn't guarantee you can cruise on in an hour before it's over and expect to get what you want. All lines get worse as the event progresses. Arrive early and leave while it's still tolerable.
If you manage to utilize even two things on this list, I can safely say you'll be better off at your next GFT event. It's been about a year and-a-half since I've started getting into them, and this is all from trial and error. I still make mistakes (Open toe wedges in SF on a Friday night. Really?), but still come out with a more positive experience than if I didn't bring cash or arrive early.