Photo: David Miller
Let’s start by making one thing clear: If you’re not a millennial, chances are you won’t get the appeal. The 50-something head of RB’s art department literally said, “I don’t get it.” But Saved by the Max, the pop-up built as a replica of the diner from the ‘90s hit series “Saved by the Bell,” is drawing in hordes of 20- and 30-somethings who want to live the experience they religiously watched on TV.
Yes, it’s quirky. And it’s a one-off. But there are notes that operators of all sizes should take from Saved by the Max, which recently announced it’ll be open until the end of the year. Big indicators include how the vast majority of millennials in our office have tried to score tickets (yes, it’s on a ticketing system); and in that same elevator ride where the boomer seemed confused, the millennials were in awe—asking questions, wanting to see pictures and voicing their jealousy that I got in (because, yes, tickets are hard to score). Here are a few factors helping to bring in the crowds.
1. Ticketing at any price point
Until recently, the idea of ticketing was reserved mostly for high-end concepts with prix-fixe menus. The thinking: Diners plan ahead when they are going to spend $100-plus per person on a meal, often for a celebratory occasion. But that is a mentality that Nick Kokonas, co-founder of fine-dining spot Alinea, has tried to break with his proprietary restaurant-ticketing system. And Saved by the Max bought in. While walk-ins are welcome (though they have to wait in line outside the restaurant until a table opens up), the small pop-up sells tickets for dinner ahead of time. Diners can pay in advance for their seat, reserving a specific date and time for their group. At $35 a pop, this lower-cost ticket included an app, entree and dessert. Cocktails—complete with theme-appropriate names such as The Albert Clifford or the Leon Carosi’s Mimosa—also are on offer, for an extra cost, with the final tab for add-ons presented on a tablet at the end of the meal.
2. Hypertargeting a specific audience
Photo: David Miller
Saved by the Max is not a restaurant built to suit everyone—and that’s OK. It’s focused on winning over a specific sector of the millennial audience. That’s a strategy we’re seeing more of in the restaurant industry—operators catering to a more targeted demographic, even at the chain level, a la McDonald’s regionalization and Wienerschnitzel going for the young, Nascar-loving crowd. And for this crowd, fully embracing the theme worked to intrigue millennials enough to buy tickets.
3. Experience is more than menu
Photo: David Miller
It’s something we’re hearing a lot from researchers: Millennials want an experience. One thing for operators to realize, though, is that millennials don’t necessarily equate that with the food at restaurants. While the name of every dish at Saved by the Max was related to its theme, the menu itself was pretty simple. Instead, the focus was on the atmosphere and a full buy-in into the theme—that was the “experience” for diners. The pop-up delivers that from-the-show environment, complete with exact replicas of the booths from the show, payphones, signature red tees and even a throwback playlist. The sense of nostalgia not only resonated enough to build a captive audience, but has since gotten the pop-up a lot of attention through social media—it’s set up as a selfie haven, with several different spaces primed for photo ops.
Some of the more senior members of the team smile at the junior staff who are excited to uncover an interesting trend in “eatertainment” or the latest single-ingredient concept. We try not to be condescending when we suggest they do some research by looking at past issues of Restaurant Business or old Technomic top chain reports before calling it the next big thing.