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The emergence of the pop-up bar
Pop-up winter and summer bars are everywhere now, appearing suddenly in our cities and disappearing just as quickly when the season is over.
Their temporary nature makes them particularly attractive to customers, who are always looking for novelty.
An interesting test environment
Pop-ups can also provide an ideal test environment for catering businesses: you can try out a new idea in a separate location, choose a theme to suit the temporary site or experiment with a more radical image to appeal to a specific target group.
Pop-ups can be a more economical proposition than the standard catering outlet as no long-term investment is called for. Because local authorities see pop-ups as a useful way to avoid vacant lots, they can often benefit from better terms and conditions than those applied to the surrounding businesses.
These advantages mean that many existing bars and restaurants, restricted as they are by demanding legislative requirements, are looking at the pop-ups springing up like toadstools around them with concern.
One thing is certain: pop-ups will continue to be a source of competition for years to come. They aren’t going away, but as an existing business, you can play to your own strengths in order to bring customers to your door.
Play the pop-up game
Pop-up summer and winter bars are a short-term phenomenon, generally operating for two to a maximum of six months, so every penny they invest needs to be carefully considered. While pop-up bars often achieve attractive returns, most of them follow a very similar pattern: a wooden fence, a simple decking terrace, lots of paper lanterns and plenty of sand, as an economical means of summoning up a holiday feel.
So you can use the same inexpensive materials to dress up your existing terrace for a season. Bring in some of that sand, even if it’s just a sandpit for the kids that will provide a summery atmosphere. String coloured lamps around the terrace, or lay on a separate cocktail bar with Haitian décor.
As an established business, you have the advantage that you can plan for the longer term. You can invest in better quality materials that you can store away at the end of the season, ready for use next year. Your marketing and communication activities can pay off in the longer term.
Pop-up bars are often found in out-of-the-way locations. While this does provide an attractive “hidden away” feel, they do need to somehow persuade people to visit. If you have premises in a busier area, your efforts will be repaid twofold!
Chill & Relax
Another effective approach is a “chill & relax” zone, somewhere for customers to unwind after a busy day or to put the stress of work behind them. You can go a long way towards achieving this with a designer parasol, some chique beach chairs, picnic tables, cosy cushions or inflatable sofas. Put that together to create a lounge corner where your guests can enjoy cocktails and share snacks. You’ll want to provide some suitable background music, something laid back and not too loud: people will be coming to your summer bar with the kids or to chat with friends.
It’s well worth seeking out some striking tableware for your summer terrace: special oversized cocktail glasses, retro crockery, novelty drinking straws or long spoons. Put on plenty of ice and fresh extras for the cocktails (mint, lemon, cucumber, juniper berries, strawberries…).
And don’t forget to include something special for the youngsters too: a fun sweet presented with their drink can work wonders. Providing something to keep the children occupied, maybe colouring-in pictures with the necessary pens or coloured pencils, board games or puzzles, means the parents can relax and chat.
Parasols to the rescue
Sadly, we can never rely on dry days and warm evenings, so protection against the weather has to come high on your list. If it also protects against fierce sunshine, then that’s a bonus. A couple of giant parasols with guttering to drain away the rainwater are ideal, as they provide plenty of shade and keep the whole terrace dry. And when your guests want to enjoy a spot of sunbathing, the parasols can be folded away in next to no time, which can’t be said about marquees or fixed installations. The idea is to make your terrace flexible enough to adapt to customer’s needs and wishes.
Create a wow moment
Add a personal touch to the drinks you serve, make it a special experience for each customer. A mini-parasol, the house’s secret ingredient, a fresh piece of fruit, a splash of colour…something to set you apart from other businesses in your area, or those pop-up bars. Customers who are impressed by what you offer will provide you with free advertising courtesy of Facebook or Instagram.
Making a big impression doesn’t have to be a lot of extra work. On a busy terrace you might consider selling beer by the bucket: fill it with ice and stick 18 bottles in there. Customers will love it, you get a large order in one go, and the serving staff doesn’t have to go back and forth delivering individual drinks.
Once they’ve had a few cocktails or summery drinks, your guests will be looking for a bite to eat. Even if you don’t have an elaborate kitchen set-up you can always provide snacks. It doesn’t need to be complicated, guests will be happy with some simple tapas, a selection of cheeses or delicatessen specialities or a toastie.
Draw in passers-by
You can easily attach some lighting to a professional parasol for when the light fades, and many are set up ready for the installation of terrace heating, to keep customers comfortable on the terrace well into the evening. Even better, if you can manage it, is a real fire on the terrace, whether it’s a fire pit, an open hearth or an outdoor kitchen set-up. These don’t just provide welcoming warmth, they will also draw in passers-by. What about offering hot chocolate and pancakes, with atmospheric candles on the tables?
Creating customer loyalty
Make sure to give the customer that pampered feel on your terrace. Try to put a little kit together to give the customer a positive surprise: a power bank to charge their phone, sun cream, cleaning cloths for sunglasses, colouring-in books and coloured pencils for the kids, a cycle pump, a bib for the baby, parking discs…simple gestures like these can mean a lot, giving the customer the feeling that you really care. And who wants to go to that noisy pop-up bar anyway?
Do your own pop-up
The other option is to launch a pop-up bar of your own. Could you start up on a new site, backed up with your years of acquired experience and sound relationships with your suppliers? Or maybe you could offer a unique new experience at an existing location?
In 2019, the Ritz in London opened their “Secret Garden Bar”. The bar is hidden away and only accessible from the hotel. Guests can enjoy refined food and drinks in a green oasis in the centre of the metropolis, with giant parasols, shrubbery, little hedges, window boxes, olive trees and gorgeously scented lavender.
A bit of creative thinking and you’ll surely come up with some options to bring the benefits of the pop-up bar to your own business. As we’ve been saying, it doesn’t have to be too expensive or complicated.