A cheeky cease-and-desist letter from Netflix has forced one Chicago pop-up to close its doors —and could lead others to review their pop-up best practices. While pop-ups can be an effective (and profitable) way to build word-of-mouth for a permanent concept, increase visibility for a chef, or simply take advantage of a pop-culture phenomenon, there are some things to keep in mind when running one of these temporary restaurants. Here are a handful.
1. Do the legal due diligence
Intellectual property rights are nothing to mess with. Using jargon specific to “Stranger Things”—the TV show that inspired the now-closed Chicago pop-up The Upside Down—drew a message from a Netflix lawyer reminding the owners that they didn’t have an agreement with the streaming service. “We love our fans more than anything, but you should know that the demogorgon is not always as forgiving,” the lawyer wrote.
Zack Eastman, part of the team that recently operated a profitable year-long “Saved by the Bell”-themed bar-restaurant in Chicago, worked directly with NBC on the project. Eastman won’t say what cut of the pop-up’s profits the network received, but he says the network helped with the creation of realistic design elements for Saved by the Max, which is now moving to Los Angeles. “Budget for licensing and contracts,” he says.
2. Keep the menu simple
A pop-up doesn’t need to cater to the full range of consumers with vegan, gluten-free or other specialty offerings. Wes Rowe ran hamburger pop-ups in San Francisco before launching WesBurger, 'N' More, a quick-service restaurant about 18 months ago. At the pop-ups, Rowe focused on “one item, one way, every week” to keep labor costs low and prep simple. Now that he runs a traditional restaurant, he has expanded the menu, which specializes in burgers and fried chicken.
3. Know the goal
Andrew Miller recently opened Good Fortune, a pop-up seafood spot in a once-shuttered restaurant space in Chicago. He hopes to build awareness of his brand before opening a full-scale restaurant. “It’s brutal to open in winter,” Miller says. “We want to build a culture and a following so that if we were to open in February, we have a customer base that’s loyal to us … Our goal is to break even and establish ourselves.”
4. Plan for demand
Depending on the concept, consider accepting reservations. It can help reduce food waste and lead to better crowd management. The “Saved by the Bell” pop-up, for example, admitted some walk-in customers but largely focused on those who’d purchased advance tickets. The move virtually eliminated no-shows, saved on food costs and gave the operators up-front money to operate, Eastman says.