Have you ever looked at your menu and thought, I love you, but I’m just not in love with you anymore? Or maybe it’s your restaurant’s concept that’s got you daydreaming about a new direction.
You feel like it’s time for a change. A big change.
You think about starting from scratch. New concept, new interior, new experience, new ingredients, new dishes, new recipes and new presentation. As you get more and more excited about this new creative direction, reality sets in. You’ve got a steady customer base and a solid business that you don’t want to disrupt.
You wonder if closing your restaurant to redesign everything is a wise decision. Making a big change comes with risks like confusing your customers and the marketplace, backlash from loyal customers who like the restaurant as-is or not getting the positive response you’d hoped for. Maybe a complete overhaul is not the answer.
But, you’re still longing for some kind of change.
A pop-up restaurant may be your answer.
It’s a great way to keep your current business going and experiment with a new concept and fresh ideas in remote, movable or temporary location.
The pop-up concept has become a popular way for people to create mini-restaurants that operate for a limited amount of time. You can operate a pop-up in a retail space, in a warehouse, a park, at another event (like an art show or farmer’s market) or at other restaurants–as a guest chef.
Here’s a food rental resource that has helped restaurants do some cool things.
Benefits to running a pop-up.
Better than a focus group.
There’s lots of upside to trying a pop-up. You’ll learn which of your dishes, concepts and flavors people like and which ones need some adjustment. Once you are operating and cooking you can refine them before putting them on your restaurant’s menu–it’s research that pays you.
New buzz and PR.
You may create a new following of people who hadn’t been to your restaurant before and get them on an email list so you can stay in touch about future events. Pop-ups are fresh angles for local press and can earn you some nice publicity and social media buzz.
Your pop-up could also add to your current revenue.
Many popular pop-ups have relied on intrigue and edgy cuisine and millennial appeal. They’ve operated with an underground vibe that attracts a following of people who are the first to know about events. They learn about events through the organizers blogs, Twitter feeds and email invitations. You can use this approach, but there are other ways and you can reach an older audience if that’s your target, see the 5 ideas below.
5 ways to utilize the pop-up concept
1. An event at your restaurant. You can create a special menu that showcases new items you’d like to add to the menu. Invite your current customers and others via social media. Allow them to be food critics for the night to tell you what they liked, and what they didn’t.
If you’re showcasing a new concept, create a space within the restaurant and decorate the space to visually reflect it through a specially printed menu, art, colors, textures, furniture, plates, silverware or items on the table.
To keep these events “special” limit the number of guests and the frequency with which you run them.
For pop-up venues on premise consider unused space at your location like a dead room, storage space or even a tented space in the parking lot.
2. Find a local event. Is there an arts festival, farmers market or other event that has food vendors in your area? Look for events that are happening that will have people that you’d like to share your food with (find places that have the audience you’d like to be in front of). You can create a special menu and concept presented by your current brand. Allow people to sign up to your list to find out about other events.
For pop-up venues at an off site consider kiosks, tented areas, or food truck rentals.
3. Partner with another food truck company. There could be a local food truck that would let you provide a special menu item for a day or a week or even rent a truck longer term.
One of LA’s top chefs and pop-up king
Chef Ludo Lefebvre
4. A cooking class theme. If your kitchen allows, invite people to see how you create a new dish to show them your creative process.
If you don’t have the space, consider setting up the event at a local hotel that does not do food or very limited food.
Fondue Tram, Zurich, Switzerland
Lockhart catering in London rented a trailer for its pop-up.
5. At another restaurant. If there’s another restaurant that’s not a direct competitor, you can have pop-up events at one another’s places to showcase new dishes and find new audiences. Are there restaurateurs already have a following that you’d like to get in front of or co-branding with and vice versa?
These are just a few ideas. Use your creativity to come up with a pop-up concept that works for you. Here are some guidelines to get started designing a successful pop-ups. If you’re not already involved in your community, find ways to get involved and be helpful. Tell people what you are doing–they might have a space, they might know someone who does, or they might be interested in swapping locations with you. Ask employees for help brainstorming on ideas for the who, what, where, when and how of the pop-up.
Running a pop-up event at your restaurant or another location might seem like a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, but it’s much less effort than redesigning your menu or concept and introducing it to the market. Plus, you get to test, learn and refine and roll-out something that people have pre-approved.
Here are some great examples to inspire you.
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