Dining out is an evolving experience, with restaurants testing new ways such as food trucks to get their specialties to diners.

This year seems to be the best for the food industry since 2007, according to Hudson Riehle, senior vice president for research for the National Restaurant Association, Washington, D.C., and innovation is why. Restaurant sales in 2011 are expected to reach $604 billion, up 3.6% from 2010, with 26% of operators saying food costs are their greatest concern now, not the economy.

And one of the hottest trends in the food biz is the food truck-not a typical food wagon that usually hovers near airports, bus and train stations and office sites, loaded with prepackaged sandwiches and bad coffee-but mobile kitchens offering a variety of cuisines and using social media to tell potential customers where and when they'll be set up and what they'll be serving.

Can anyone create a flash mob for a food truck? "Yes," Riehle says. "There was a lobster roll truck on the street at lunchtime. There must have been 150 people lined up. You can look at it as a way of driving additional growth. The off-premises market … has been important to the industry and will continue to be important. The development of food trucks is driven by existing brands and also driven by independent chef-owners looking for the opportunity to express their culinary talents."

The most buzz on food trucks is coming out of New York, Los Angeles and Washington, as well as Miami and elsewhere, Riehle says. Efforts are under way to change regulations in Chicago and other cities to permit wider operation.

Source: www.upi.com