The Pop-Up Paradox

Pop-ups were created simply as businesses that would open briefly in a temporary location and operate for only a short period of time. Except they don’t anymore.

Now, they pop-up, they stay, scale and become part of the hospitality landscape, as credible operators and employer brands.


So why has something intended to be so temporary turned into something permanent? For over a decade chefs and entrepreneurs have been using street food stalls and pop-ups to occupy empty spaces, entering the market with low entry costs and an ability to flex, adapt and respond to consumer feedback.  Over 2.5 million people per day ate street-side in the last 12 months and we continue to see the growth of operators like Kerb, London Union and entrepreneurs like Kricket and Breddos Tacos creating more permanent locations, crowded with people looking for the latest culinary trend.

As the number of pop-ups grow, that market is becoming more discerning and the offer more premiumised and sophisticated. With higher service expectations, it’s no wonder they move into more permanent spaces. The burger-man in a van hasn’t got a chance.

And with the pop-up explosion comes the growth in curated, semi-permanent and even permanent venues that provide the bricks-and-mortar home for these new concepts and corral them into one central location. The growth of these ‘Pop-up Warehouses’  – the flexible landlords to the culinary innovators – has been rapid in recent years as they themselves have landed on sustainable business models, many taking in venue ‘wet’ sales and a healthy percentage of net sales from their pop-up tenants. 

The rise of the food hall concept around the country enables an operator to leverage empty spaces from derelict markets (Mackie Mayor in Manchester), transport stations (Fulham, Victoria and the West End) and empty shops (the former BHS on Oxford Street) offering vast communal dining spaces from multiple operators, giving consumers the choice, value and theatre they are seeking and creating a better value offer as everyone competes to be the best.  

Whilst food halls are a low-risk opportunity for aspiring hospitality entrepreneurs to test a concept in a high-footfall location the operators need to be aware that, beyond the food, they have no influence on the wider guest experience; the ambience, the vibe, the energy etc. This is often left to their landlord masters and all know how important the complete hospitality experience is to today’s discerning consumer! 

Does this mark the death of the big chain? High street restaurant brands are fighting back and now opening pop-ups in order to claw back young diners with a taste for food trends. But this reverse psychology rarely works and the notion of 50 site restaurant group trying to reclaim its cool by ‘popping-up’ feels a bit like dad-dancing! 

Today, consumers want to come home interesting, so pop-ups, food halls and brand collaborations work so well, when they’re passion projects from independent individuals, keen to innovate and this, fundamentally is the antidote to a chain mentality and why pop-ups, paradoxically are here to stay and won’t be gone tomorrow.

Fraser Bradshaw