Pop-ups—temporary concepts that pop into diners’ lives and then disappear just as quickly—have been trending in the restaurant industry for years. In the noncommercial scene, operators are finding that pop-up concepts can help battle menu fatigue, provide freedom to experiment with new flavors and keep diners in the building rather than heading out to try that new eatery down the street.
1. Think unique
Pop-ups are a great way to offer diners something that’s not currently available, or try your hand at new flavors. “Keeping up with trends [is] the key thing,” says Anthony Addonisio, system director of food service for University of Miami Health System. The operation’s main dining facility has stations for coffee, pizza, sandwiches, salads and a Latin bar. In addition, a flexible dining space hosts pop-up concepts designed by foodservice provider Morrison Healthcare. Called microconcepts, they include Liberty Street Barbecue (smoked meats), Tackle Box (seafood tacos and po’boys) and Greek Street (gyros).
2. Make a plan
Colin Targett—dining services director for Unidine, who creates menus for corporate accounts and manages Cafe 1000 at the company’s Boston headquarters—has created pop-ups called Fresh Flex stations for FSDs across Unidine. The development process for each is about three months, including brainstorming, recipe development, station design and operation trials. “We’re getting all the kinks out of it here [at the headquarters] with the recipes and the whole station layout, and it all gets put in an implementation guide,” he says. “In that comes recipes, suggested retail costs; you’ll see station diagrams, a shopping list, basically everything you need to run the station.”
3. Start small
Morrison’s microconcepts require a full stand-alone kitchen that can switch identities, but Addonisio suggests thinking small to start if that’s not realistic. “There are cafes out there that are much smaller than ours, and what those businesses can do is mini microconcepts, like action stations,” he says. “They can have a station set up anywhere in their retail area with a small sneeze guard.”
4. Create the brand
Pick a name that distinguishes the pop-up from the rest of the operation—for example, some of Unidine’s stations include Chatpati, an Indian station; Createry, which has custom flatbreads; and Aji, a Mexican concept. In addition to a distinctive logo, marketing materials and digital signage, Morrison’s microconcepts go as far as having their own uniforms. Compelling branding catches diners’ attention and might even inspire social media shares. “You would be surprised how much our microconcepts show up on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook,” Addonisio said. “When you have people coming in from the street saying, ‘You know what, my friend works at the hospital and they showed me pictures of the food and I just have to come in,’ that’s what you want.”
5. Monitor timing
“[With the pop-ups,] we’re noticing a 6% to 20% increase in our overall retail sales,” Addonisio says. That said, to preserve the novelty, a pop-up shouldn’t overstay its welcome. “If we see that [a concept has taken a dip] after the third time running, then we pull that one back and we wait until everybody starts asking for it again,” he says. “It throws a curveball and gives customers something different to look for.”