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Pop Up Concepts in Hospitality


7th November 2009


Pop Up Power

Pop-Up restaurants are quite literally springing up all over the place at the moment and as Christmas approaches this phenomena is no doubt going to become more intense. These temporary restaurants are usually found in unusual or vacant public spaces and recent examples have included the open top floor of a Westfield shopping centre building site in Stratford and the London Eye Pop-Up Restaurant, part of the recent London Restaurant Festival that turned each Eye capsule into a dining room with the best views in town.

An extension of pop-ups in public spaces is pop-ups in private spaces, often foodie’s living rooms and kitchens. This month alone I’m attending two friend’s restaurants where they will be transforming their homes into temporary restaurants for the evening. The creativity surrounding pop-ups is impressive with elaborate interior design, lighting, entertainment, themes and, of course, wonderful food. Complete with menus, waiters and veggie options on request, these amateur concepts give many professionals a serious run for their money.

One of the most impressive attributes is the marketing effort behind these events. It is no coincident that the explosion of temporary or pop-up restaurants is directly correlated to the growth of the internet and social media. Websites, Facebook pages, Twitter, Email and Blogs are the key tools in the pop-up restaurateurs marketing repertoire. I don’t believe they would be anywhere near as successful and popular if internet marketing wasn’t so accessible to the non-professional. Young media-savvy urbanites understand how to harness internet marketing technology to communicate efficiently, immediately and cheaply with their markets and the media.

Each of the events I’m attending has their own websites that they have designed and produced themselves. Not only are they better designed than many regular restaurants’ websites, they feature impressive functionality to ensure they meet two key online objectives: conversions and data building. Using Paypal, they can accept credit card transactions for fully paid-up reservations, no-doubt considerably aiding cashflow, whilst prompts encourage email sign-up with forms directly on the home page. Other features of these websites include up-to-date menus, media reviews and good photography incorporated into attractive design with clear functionality and usability.

Their marketing communications also utilise sophisticated digital techniques. Email shots contain ‘book now’ calls to action encouraging an immediate conversion response. Blogs are regularly posted online and promoted with RSS feeds featuring recipes, ingredients information and menu discussions. Facebook and Twitter are both fully harnessed driving Friends and Followers with email and through the website. It is this ability to take advantage of viral marketing that allows the cheap distribution of information that leads to sold-out events.

I have also heard of offline traditional marketing tools being used. Naturally, as budgets are a primary consideration, these are highly targeted. The best example I’ve come across was a pop-up restaurateur distributing flyers for his brunch concept at a local Farmer’s Market, clearly targeting local foodies who would likely be most receptive to his gourmet concept.

Chatting to the people involved in these pop-up restaurants I realised, however, that the power of internet marketing could quickly get out of control. Gone are the days when the events were simply attended by a network of friends or friends-of-friends. News spreads quickly through a media-savvy urban community and now the majority of guests are strangers invited into the homes of the host; security is of course a consideration, but so far there haven’t been any mishaps. Perhaps that says something about digital communities – they are often formed by like-minded people so conflicts don’t easily arise?

Professional restaurateurs should all take note of these examples and look at their own marketing efforts in this context. As pop-ups don’t have shop fronts they cannot rely on a walk-up audience. Restaurants with shop-fronts could perhaps imagine that they are invisible on their street and consider how they would communicate otherwise. Many would no doubt make better use of digital marketing technology to fill those tables.

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