On October 7, OpenTable partnered with The Infatuation, the next gen restaurant discovery brand, to pop up The Riddler, San Francisco’s hottest Champagne bar at their food festival, EEEEEATSCON, in NYC. The concept? “From San Francisco with ♥️”—where New Yorkers could experience this uniquely SF experience for the first time through caviar, popcorn, and chambongs in an exclusive speakeasy during the event.
“The OpenTable team came to us because they were doing a sponsorship with The Infatuation,” says Pelka. “It was an audience they wanted to get in front of and OpenTable wanted to show folks the ticketing platform. I had provided feedback on the product as a pilot partner, so I was was excited about working with them to show that off.”
We sat down with Pelka to get her tips on how to successfully transport your restaurant from one city to another, midst the chaos and constraints of a festival environment.
1. KNOW YOUR CONCEPT
“We knew we wanted to do a speakeasy since the space already had this interesting lounge and speakeasy area where you enter through—no joke—a port-a-potty,” explains Pelka. “That’s where we started from: first, get an understanding of the physical layout of the space and the footprint.”
Bottom line: The best brand partnerships are the ones with a strong concept at their heart, so spend some time with your team and the event contact to develop an idea that is memorable and engaging.
2. HACK YOUR MENU
Food and drink are essential aspects of your restaurant’s experience, so finding ways to dial in a branded version of the menu you regularly offer is key to providing an authentic pop up experience elsewhere.
“We wanted to showcase a menu that was very representative of the brand,” Pelka says of The Riddler’s iconic french café-chic jewel-box of a bar. “We knew had to have a chambong bar.” (And yes, that is exactly what it sounds like—a beer bong of Champagne.”
Begin by asking: what cooking and refrigeration equipment will be provided in the space? If there are limitations, prepare to build your menu around them. “We found out pretty quickly that there was no kitchen,” recounts Pelka, “but they could rent a refrigerator and we knew we didn’t want to do any real cooking because we didn’t want to a mobile kitchen.”
“Particularly for this audience and The Infatuation relationship, we really wanted to do foods that are inherently good for social media,” Pelka descripes. “So, Frito pie and chocolate pot-de-crèmes are perfect for that.”
She also recommends to take each dish as far as you can take so the last thing you have to do is actually be plating things. For example, Pelka and team pre-prepped the chocolate cream filling in San Francisco, and then piped it into little caviar tins once they got to the venue in New York. Same went for the Lays potato chips and crème fraiche used for for the caviar Frito pies. With the addition of a rented popcorn machine, the team was able to give the illusion that the food was hot.
Bottom line: If there’s absolutely no kitchen, don’t be completely intimidated and walk away from the opportunity… you can make something work.
3. PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE
A little extra prep goes a long way when hosting away from home. “We re-adjusted the number of guests a number of times,” says Pelka, “from 500 to 250 to 325—so that’s 325 bags of lays, 325 caviar tins, but we could not go up from there. Had we realized it in advance, we could have handled more people, but whenever possible, bring at least 25% more than what you think you might do, in case you have the ability to welcome a bigger audience into your experience.”
Another tip: once you get to the site, be flexible—walk the space with a fresh and open set of eyes. As happened at The Riddler’s pop up at EEEEEATSCON, “if you plan to have the bar in this particular zone, but actually it would be better in that particular zone, that’s fine—just move it!”
Bottom line: get there a full day in advance so you can re-lay out the room, adjust the decor, walk the space for flow, and get an overall feel for what the run of show should be.
4. SWAG IT OUT
Don’t forget: you want to leave a lasting brand impression with something that outlives the experience itself. Enter SWAG (literally, “stuff we all get.”). “We knew we also wanted to get brand impressions for both OpenTable and The Riddler, so we created a lot of printed / branded collateral to get the word about our brands out there,” describes Pelka.
Whether it’s tokens when you walk in the door, postcards, pens, business cards, or anything else tangible, these touchpoints create a web of visibility for your restaurant even after the pop up is done.
“The OpenTable Design team recreated our mural from the side of The Riddler in SF as a backdrop for people who wanted to Instagram themselves doing a chambong, and the Infatuation team rented tables like ours and topped them with vinyl that made them look like a co-branded version with OpenTable.”
Bottom line: brand it out. If you don’t have the support of a design team on the partner side, consider what you have available in your restaurant itself (napkins, matches, or anything with your logo or name on it) and share those at the pop up.
5. RESOURCE UP
Ensuring you have enough staff to support both the food prep and hospitality experience is key to the success of your pop up. “We brought in three people plus me,” says Pelka.
The Riddler’s beverage director managed all of the logistics around the beverage partnership with G.H. Mumm for Champagne, defining quantities, ordering glassware, securing Yeti coolers and ice. Then, their event manager supported the prep by joining lead up calls and liaising with the team in SF.
“We have a calendar of the offsite events we’re doing including date, time, location, people, menu, quantities, staffing, load-in, out, shipping, tracking, etc.—everything.”
Bottom line: make yourself an offsite kit and checklist, aka a ready-to-use kit with everything your restaurant needs to pop up.
6. CULTIVATE SPONSORSHIP
Ask as early as possible about the costs associated with putting on your pop up, including associated marketing exposure. “For us, getting caviar and Champagne (G.H. Mumm) donated were the biggest cost savings—you need to make [sponsors] very comfortable and excited about what they’re getting, send you a thank you email and all the photos, so they can go back to their boss and see the benefit to the brand.”
Bottom line: having a clear sense for spend on your pop up will help you make the most of both the items you provide and what you can get donated.
7. REMAIN CALM
Finally, words to live by from Jen Pelka: “You are the captain of your ship even outside the walls of your restaurant. People are looking to you to lead a very solid pre-shift. You often have volunteers who don’t know much about your brand and your restaurant, so having a pre-shift is very important. It almost feels like you’re opening a restaurant for the first time but with all these different constraints around it.”
Bottom line: keep calm, carry on, and have fun.