Most everyone who’s driven an interstate and glanced up at a trucker behind the wheel has wondered what the job is like. Actually, they might not want to know.
Behind the impressive statistics that the trucking industry sets forth—there are 3.6 million truck drivers in this country, hauling around 73% of what people buy—are some sobering truths. Truck driving is a high-stress job dominated by tight schedules. Many truckers drive 3,000 miles a week—for paychecks that are modest at best—and 66% of them report fatigue behind the wheel, according to Robson Forensic, since so many truckers skip sleep.
Another thing they skip is meals.
This fact recently drew the attention of Red Kap, the workwear brand that counts truckers among its core customers. Red Kap could have easily joined the #ThankATrucker movement that had already built up momentum on Twitter—but tweets don’t pick up the lunch bill. So the clothing brand got together with Cracker Barrel, the southern-themed casual-dining chain with a significant presence along America’s interstates, and debuted the Trucker Tab.
It’s basically an open tab that lets ordinary Americans pick up a meal for a long-haul truck driver. Launched earlier this month, the program is now in full swing, with $51,970 in the till at press time.
Tony Zimney, executive creative director at Farmuse, the agency behind the effort, summed it up this way: “Why just thank a trucker when you can hashbrown a trucker? Or coffee a trucker? Or buttermilk-pancake a trucker?”
Taking fewer liberties with verbs, Red Kap senior brand manager Leslie Guido added that while truckers deserved respect and appreciation long before now, the pandemic is the right time for this initiative because the demand for essential goods has only increased the pressure on truckers to deliver them quickly.
“Without truck drivers, most grocery stores run out of supplies within three days,” Guido told Adweek. “Truckers were doing their best to keep shelves stocked, but behind the scenes, life on road was pretty scary. Rest stops weren’t being cleaned properly. PPE equipment was in short supply. And restaurants were shutting their doors. Fast forward six months, and not much has changed. Rest stops are reopening, but restaurants remain understaffed and operating on limited hours. A lot of restaurants have closed altogether.”
Guido explained that, contrary to what people might assume, time isn’t the reason a lot of truckers skip meals (or opt for a coffee and microwaved biscuit at a gas station)—money is.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2019 median pay for truck drivers was $45,260—far below the median household income of $68,703 as recorded by the U.S. Census. Add the high costs that owner-operators face in maintaining their rigs, and their purchasing power falls even further. Skimping on food is an easy way to save a few dollars—just ask a trucker.
“There’s no such thing as a $2 breakfast anymore—it’s a $12 breakfast now,” trucker Catherine MacMillan wrote earlier this summer on Smart Trucking, the web site she edits. “Two dollars only gets you the coffee and nothing else. It’s especially tough to get rich these days if you’re an owner-operator. The cost[s] of maintaining and repairing a truck have gone through the roof.”
Drivers who want to pull up to a free meal can sign up for with their email and commercial driver’s license at TruckerTab.com, the same website where donors can add to the virtual tab. The company will then email the drivers a $15 gift card that 660 Cracker Barrel locations across the country will honor.