Despite its own poll showing support, the City of White Rock has wavered on introducing food trucks on Marine Drive, making it unlikely such mobile food dispensers will be a feature of the summertime scene at the waterfront, this year, at least.
At the same time, further north, the City of Surrey has said yes to both food trucks and carts as an option and an acceptable business plan.
Opening up such competition has been resisted by existing restaurants – particularly in White Rock, where the feeling of owners is that the pie they have to divide is already a meager one, and a solid summer is the best guarantee of solvency year-round.
Given the experience in other communities – such as Portland, Ore. – it’s hard to imagine that having more variety of food options won’t soon become the norm in our cities. Business analysts agree that, in the long run, competition is a healthy stimulant for trade, and having a multiplicity of choice will be a draw rather than a deterrent in the marketplace. Artificial protectionism may afford short-term security – but it’s scarcely an incentive in promoting an area as a desirable destination.
We venture to say the consumer looking for a relaxed, full-service dining experience is not necessarily the same consumer lining up on the corner for a quick bite, no matter how gourmet. And businesses should recognize that these same potential diners who opt for mobile-vendor food might just like enough of what they see to plan a return visit.
All of which, it must be recognized, offers scant comfort to restaurants struggling to survive in an economic climate that has brought out a fickle side in the most loyal customers.
Sadly, it does not fall within the purview of a city to insist that its restaurants have viable business plans. In one area, however, the city can help.
The biggest enemy of the Marine Drive restaurant is not competition from promenade vendors, but an inflexible parking policy – and a reliance on the cash cow of parking revenues – that does nothing to encourage tourism.
Stories of draconian parking enforcement are legion – and they have created an atmosphere that, far from being welcoming, seems barely tolerant of the visitor with sufficient temerity to visit our picturesque shoreline.
It will take significant policy changes to reverse that impression, but – like the restaurants – the City of White Rock needs to take a long view, particularly when it comes to forsaking short-term revenues for long-term benefit.