This is a blog I have wanted to write for a while now. It is a strange one for me because in my questioning of people about this topic, I was given a real insight to how some close friends operate. And I wasn't always in favour of their actions or behaviour.
So, what is it?… It is leadership. More specifically, the negative side of being a head chef which stems from a simple question I was once asked.
“You seem like a nice guy Brian, but why are a lot of senior chefs complete dicks?”
This in turn, led me to ask other chefs questions about their management style. Having a focus on keeping a team happy and having a family feel, working environment over being a dictator overlord and master of the kitchen, who strikes fear in to all those who make eye contact.
Does one need to become a dick and be more aggressive with co-workers, in order to get the best out of them?
I know I’m using the negatives here. I am just curious to know whether the modern chef needs to be more aggressive in leadership to get the best out of their team. Should a chef rule by fear or friendship. In my own kitchens, people who work with, and for me tend to stick around a long time. Years in fact. This is rare in this trade which has a notoriously high turnover of staff. I pride myself on being calm, friendly, approachable and professional. My style is to lead through nurture and encouragement. I am very patient. Naturally, I have my darker side, but this doesn’t usually activate until several factors have been triggered. This was not always the case.
When I finished college. I was fuelled by tabloid stories of rock star chefs. Marco was turfing people out of his restaurant. Burton-Race was being exposed on TV as having a bit of a temper (allegedly). These guys were alpha, macho and forthright. They were, at this time, being pricks in my opinion. And I loved it! Modelling myself on this type of leadership. Having nightly confrontations with front of house staff or junior chefs. Even though, at this time, I was still a chef-baby. I was still a little delusional. I was mimicking the big boys of the industry, but I had no substance to back myself up apart from my ego. As I got older and wiser, the realisation of my childishness became tiring. I became a father quite young and this mellowed me out too. I guess I started seeing the chef and waiters working around me as people not targets. Parenthood isn’t the cheapest form of therapy, but it worked for me.
I recently watched an episode of Chefs Table which focussed on Chef Tim Raue. The self-confessed eccentric is regarded as one of the best chefs in Germany, Europe and the world. But is also famed for his aggression and intense personality. Yet chefs want to work with/for him. I believe the same can be said for several of the world’s best chefs?
So, getting back to my question. Is the aggression needed in the kitchen? Do we need to rule with fear? Where does the fear stop and the respect begin? I like to believe that I have the respect of my team in my kitchen. We only have a small working area (3 people maximum, 2 chefs, 1 wash up). This does not allow for being a prick. There are more jokes and banter in our tiny box of a kitchen. I take my food very seriously, but it will never take precedence over the connection I make with my colleagues. Is this the wrong attitude? There are times when I have supressed my anger for fear of upsetting a co-worker. I know that an outburst would have an effect on the environment because of our small working area. I understand that the higher profile kitchens and chefs will have way more pressure on them than I will ever get in my pub kitchen. I get that. It’s just we are still seeing and reading a media portrayal of Â head chefs screaming at their commis. I guess that makes a more interesting story than people all being nice to each other. Is it time for the friendly chef to stand up and be heard. Or will they just get shouted down and verbally abused by the tsunami of testosterone (that sounded better in my head). All that being said, the scariest head chef I ever worked for was female.
In this modern era where a seven second video clip can end a career. Not to mention an ill thought out tweet or blog. We need to be careful and respectful. It isn’t the 1990's anymore….apparently 😊!
Here in the UK we are not habitually nocturnal creatures. We wake up early and have our breakfast. We go to work and then eat our sandwich at lunchtime. Then in the late afternoon we eat our supper. 6pm will do it, maybe 7pm. Unless of course we are going out for a meal with friends and/or family. This pushes things back by an hour or two. Table booked at 7.30 maybe 8pm? Well we need time to iron that fancy shirt or blouse, put your face on or just sponge off the food stain from your suit’s last outing.
As a chef who doesn’t get to eat out very often. Well not on a weekend night anyway. I can appreciate the ceremony which goes into an evening out. But this post is not aimed at chefs. Because what I am about to drop on you is something that NO other chef would ever do to a fellow brother/sister. Never! It’s just wrong and disrespectful.
Passing a busy restaurant and its late. It’s 9.15pm and the thought enters your mind….shall we get something to eat? You stand and look at the menu displayed outside and notice that they close doors at 9.30 “Oh that’s fine, they’re still open for 15 minutes”.
You see the menu has a 10oz rib-eye steak with hand cut chips and béarnaise sauce which you know will sort you right out! As you enter the restaurant, a slightly bedraggled host approaches you. “Table for two?” they ask hopefully (Hoping there is not a platoon of colleagues about to pile in with you)
“yes, please…we haven’t booked. Is that ok?” The host knows full well you haven’t booked. All their bookings are in and fed and watered. With a quick glance at the clock they know they cannot turn you away without facing the wrath of a TripAdvisor review or the owner (who’s away skiing).
You are then shown to a table which and the menus, water and bread rolls are all brought to you in record time. You see the host disappear to what you guess is the kitchen. It is now 9.26pm.
Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant will know how that conversation with the chefs went. For those that have not, then imagine working 16 hours in thirty degree heat, where everything is hot, sharp and angry. As the finish line approaches, the thought of that ice cold beer or crispy white Rioja has you salivating like Pavlov’s dog… to then be asked to do another hour.
As chefs we know this will happen. It happens all the time and we get angry. We deal with it. Front of house staff are the aggression filters of the kitchen. They take the foul language and the tantrums and return to the customer with a smile. Ready to take your order. I can only apologise to the wake of waiters and waitresses I have verbally abused in the past. It was never personal…well mostly never!
In all walks of life, whether you work in retail, an office or factory floor. We all get that moment when you see someone approaching you just minutes before close of play, and you know that they are going to add time to your working day. Even as a teacher I was once advised to not ask “is everything ok?” to a student on a Friday evening. The risk of adding hours to your day outweighed humanity it would seem. I was never put in that situation thankfully. I like to think that my humanity would have prevailed in that situation though.
So, back to the restaurant. You’ve ordered the steaks. The chef is grateful that you didn’t ask for them to be well done. Although the béarnaise sauce has just been eaten by the kitchen porter with the crusty baguette ends so now, whisk in hand the chef frantically get to work on two portions of buttery eggy herby goodness. Hoping the customer will not notice the dried tarragon as the fresh stuff all went in the original batch. The commis chefs are frantically re-cleaning the kitchen and re-wrapping/labelling all the stuff that they had originally cleared away earlier under the false pretence that they were almost done for the day.
Here’s the thing. When you order late like this. In adding to the chef’s day, you are also taking away the chefs’ prep time. Also, their break away from the kitchen become that much shorter. There is a massive difference between a 10pm finish and 11pm. Especially when the next day starts at 9am and you’ve got a 40 minute commute each way. You do the maths. The same can be said for the late lunch diner. If the establishment is more traditional and offers lunch and then dinner. As opposed to all day dining. Then once you order at 1.59pm That then takes away from the chef’s prep time for the evening service. It’s not your fault, I know. But if you choose to order three courses this late in the day, it may have an effect on the chef’s mood.
It is the lifestyle we as chefs have chosen. There are those who will say that if you don’t like it then just get out. Unfortunately, a lot of chefs have. Reasons like these are why we are finding more restaurants are struggling to keep and attract the younger chefs. It has never been a trade conducive to a social life and family welfare as I have stated many times before.
These blogs are usually triggered by my own kitchen moments. This one in particularly has been inspired by years of me being late to pick my kids up from school in the afternoon or missing dinners with friends and family after I’ve told them “I’ll come and join you after I finish up in the kitchen, I should be out by 9…..”
I am not bitter and I am fully aware that the majority of people are very respectful when arriving/eating late. So, if that’s you. Thanks. Chill. Move on. I just wanted to give a little insight to our world.
“…I know its late but is there any chance of a Cheese Board…”
“Chef!?” *Put apron back on*
I was in conversation with a friend recently. He’s not a chef, or even in the catering industry. But he is very knowledgeable when it comes to social media, online presence and creative content. All areas of business which did not exist ten years ago. During the chat we discussed my views on why a career in the modern catering industry, in particularly as a chef, is not as attractive as it used to be. I’ve recently said, in other blog posts, that I feel trainee chefs are regularly surprised by the real lifestyle of being a chef and the impact it can have on their life. An interesting perspective was raised. Is the draw of being a social media presence more attractive than having an actual career as a traditional chef?
Personally, I struggle to be a full time working chef and provide regular online content. I can snap a quick Instagram photo of a dish from the kitchen, mid service. But the lighting is never ideal and I’m trying to avoid the dish perishing. Also, the risk of dropping my Samsung into a vat of beef chilli is only a nudge away. I have been a chef for 25 plus years. As I approach my mid-forties, the hard shifts are getting harder. The appeal of the online career is ticking a lot of boxes. I know that I have served my time in the trenches so to speak. The hours I have spent at the pass surely gives me the right of passage to blow the dust of my laptop and write some shit down and try my hand at digital media?
So, this brings me to another point. Is there a real tangible difference between a chef and a cook? There are chefs and food enthusiasts out there who are choosing an online career. Choosing not to venture into a kitchen, but to stage cookery from behind an iPhone. There are now opportunities for people, young and old to make careers in this industry through YouTube, Instagram and blogging. This is not a bad thing. I, myself would love to be able to step back from the hustle of the kitchen, the weekend services and surprise midweek violations (Who booked everyone in at 7.30pm?!)
No longer are Head chefs and employers only up against other restaurants and hotels. But they are now trying to convince millennials/ Generation x that this habitually tough career is worth dedicating ALL your time to for minimum wage and status.
You scroll through Instagram under the hashtag #Chef and you’ll find thousands of images from foodies cooking in the low pressure environment of their domestic abode with perfect lighting, plant pots of soft focussed herbs and their clothes cleaner than their perceived diet. Under this logic, can I take a selfie of myself brushing my teeth and use the Hashtag #Dentist. Or snap a moody photo of my first aid cupboard with the Hashtag #MedicalProfessional. Does the scrollee really care about the story behind the image? For the 1.4 seconds which they see, pause, click “Like” and keep scrolling… I don’t think so. The impact is short, sweet and impersonal. Yes, it may encourage some people to cook. It may encourage people to visit a particular venue. But right now in 2017 I am concerned with whether future chefs are being correctly represented online. Are they seeing the real chefs?
There have been plenty of articles on false representations on social media with body image. Are we guilty of showing only the glossy side of our trade. The very sexy Sachertorte flicked with gold leaf will always make a better photo than the 20th portion of chilli cheese nachos of the day! Maybe it is time we have a few more #BatteredChef selfies. Show the world some of the realness.
So, what’s your point Brian? You know what, I think my point may have got lost in this post. But I’ve already committed to it, so I’ll try and bring it back: Being a chef in the 21st century has moved on. Once you are a head chef and you are using social media, it is up to you to inspire your customers and other chefs. You are representing a rich history and are part of the unwritten future. I suppose what’s putting a hair up my arse is the pretenders using the chef tag when they have not been a chef. I am proud to call myself a chef. Being a chef is not an action. It’s not something you do. It’s who you are. Whether you like it or not, when you wake up, you will be cooking, thinking about cooking or be talking about last nights service. AND ITS GREAT! I want the chefs to reclaim the hashtag from the instafamous instacooks. Show the world what it’s like to be a real chef. What would Antonin Careme say if he saw @BellaDelicious247 posting her scrambled egg, avocado and sourdough to her thousands of followers using the chef hashtag. Or even @JonBicksfitboy1 telling everyone that all their meals can be prepared in 15 minutes. (I really hope these are not real usernames) You get my point?
I want to the real chefs out there. Reclaim the #RealChef hashtag. Show the world that being a chef is not just about producing a single, beautiful dish. But doing it over and over again, several times a night to dozens of customers. Being a chef is knowing your timings and knowing exactly what is going on in every part of the kitchen at every moment. Whether you are a lone wolf in a pub kitchen, or heading up a brigade of a Knightsbridge hotel, any chef worth his or her salt-pot, will have a tale of the emergency order or that “You know about the wedding party…right?” We are all connected.
This post has been fuelled by my recent lower caffeine diet. So I can only apologise for the ranty ramblingness of its content. I hope it makes some sort of sense to someone.
Service please! One order of Katy Perry to table eleven please.
Well worth checkin' out this video. Chefs feature heavily on her new single...check it!
Fit for Purpose
In last month’s post, I wrote about chefs and food servers dealing with mental health issues. I’d like to thank all those who got in touch about that post. I was very overwhelmed by the responses I received. It seemed to ring home with a lot of people in this industry. If it encourages just one person to talk or open up, then my job here is done.
This time around I’m writing about something a little closer to home. Possibly a little less intense too. This time it’s physical health or rather, lack of it. I don’t know about you chef, but my body is giving out on me. My metabolism has slowed right down since I hit 40 years old. For a long while I could eat or drink whatever I wanted with no real change to my weight or health. This is all a bit obvious I guess. We get older, are bodies take more looking after. We need to be investing more time into getting in and staying in shape. There lies our problem eh chefs? Time….. free time. The chef’s nemesis.
Over the last few years I have been a member of a running club. I have completed a couple of marathons. Both times with no way near the required training. Crossing the finishing line battered and beaten…..then back to work the next day. I know there are plenty of other professions which can make it hard for the individual to focus on keeping fit and healthy. It’s just that this hospitality industry is notorious for grinding its employees to a pulp and discarding them without a second thought. And we just accept in as the way it is.
I have said before that we as chefs need to make sure we balance our lives with other activities. We are soldiers. We’ll muscle our way through a 14 hour shift. Grazing on bread ends, charred chicken fillets and a rogue cherry tomato. At the end of the shift we’ll patrol the kitchen for end-of-day scraps, like a cliché New York hobo behind the bins. Which is, ironically, where you’ll probably find us sitting with our feast that would make any “Clean Eating wellness” blogger implode. We won’t be instagramming this shit!
The days off will come and there are very few of us who can be motivated to go and run, hit the gym or do anything that will improve their physical health. Unless you include sleep. There are chefs out there who can fit in the healthcare, but they are in the minority. It’s not a healthy lifestyle. We work to cater to other people’s leisure and pleasure. Our own diet usually takes a back seat.
So what is the solution? For myself, I try to cycle to work and sometimes I run. The diet requires a massive amount of discipline, which I don’t have…. “You gonna eat that piece of bacon?” It is hard, especially when starting out on getting healthier. It is however, very possible. Employers should support the healthier pursuits of their staff. Encourage the 5-a-side team. Promote coverage of your chef in the marathon. Surely we’d rather have a fit kitchen, as opposed to the brigade of renegade, broken pirates.
So whatever you want to do chef, whether it’s swimming, cycling, running or even all three. Go do it. Try to make time for it. I have entered the Birmingham Marathon in October. I have no idea how I’ll get on, but I want to do it. I am fortunate enough to be supported by my employer and my customers, who gladly take the piss when I turn up to work in lycra!
Just go do it chefs. Your body needs it!
http://brix2tri.weebly.com/ My running blog. Click image to take a look.
I have a few accounts on twitter. One, as you would assume, for @knifeOfBrian and another which is used to share my running and cycling updates as well as my more general, no food ramblings.
What these both have in common is that they are both littered with facades of projected personas. Posts from chefs showing off their latest creations and runners announcing their latest PB's.
Certain tweeters I would look out for on a regular basis. What is chef @R*****2 up to this week? How did @Run*****73 do in his race? Without any abhorrent cynicism, I’d just scroll through my social media feed, stopping at recognised avatars or user names. Then it would dawn on me that someone was missing.
What happened? Were they on holiday? Maybe. Had they had enough of social media? Sometimes, yes! But this time in particular, their veneer had cracked to reveal a tortured soul. All that glistened was not golden. Had I missed a metaphorical cry for help? Something was not right. News would then filter out that this person was gone.
This is the point where I would realise that those tweets and Facebook posts were only 1% of the whole story. We are all guilty of doing it. We post the glory moments. We share the “ups”, but only a little of the “downs”. Are we afraid to show weakness?
“Oh my gosh! What if someone finds out that I don’t find this easy?”
I'm not sure this post is going where you thought it was? This is very difficult for me to write/talk about. I want to make sure I get my point across without scaring you off.
To get more specific, I will be talking about chefs. They do make up a larger percentage of my readers. I have seen too many fall by the wayside. There is an industry wide epidemic at the moment where chefs, young and old are crumbling and cracking under the pressure.
The bigger problem is that we are not talking about our issues or emotions. We are too "Manly" for that! I say manly because to get even more specific.... MEN are a problem. Please bear in mind that I am writing from personal experience. I am fully aware of the struggles women have in this male dominated industry/world (unfortunate but true). But that can be covered in another blog post.
Chefs are dying. Men are dying.... literally killing themselves. I would not have believed the statistics had I not seen them for myself. The biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK is suicide.
A few years ago, I lost two friends within weeks of each other to suicide. Both were guys, both in their early 40’s. Totally unrelated to each other. I cannot even begin to guess what was going on in their minds. But one thing was for sure, they may have been helped by talking about their problems. Around this time I was made aware of chefs I’d worked with were having personal problems and were dropping out of the industry. They were finding it tough and had got to breaking point. Turning to drugs, prescription or other. Finding solitude in the bottom of a beer glass. Depression was one of those things I’d hear a BBC radio 4 feature about. None of my mates had it! Oh, how wrong I’d been.
I have tried to make a point of making myself available to talk whenever I can. Through local forums, online and network meet-ups. The amount of chefs out there who are abusing themselves with drugs, alcohol and corrupt behaviour is astounding. A quick fix to mask a problem which can sometimes be solved by talking openly. I have found that sometimes a slight change in lifestyle can help. A step backwards in the career can be what’s needed to help move things forward. There is no single answer. No fix-all recipe. But talking does help. Meeting up with chefs is always difficult. The long unsociable hours and the fatigue can make it a challenge, but always well worth it.
I have been very surprised when speaking with chefs and front of house members who I have worked with in the past. To find out the breadth of this issue. My own ignorance and laid back attitude to life in general had made me oblivious to other’s struggles before now. I may have used the term “Man up chef!” in the past. Not realising that those words can be as damaging as they are stupid. We need to support each other. We need to take a moment to know when a colleague needs help. Not just with the Mis en place, but their state of mind too.
This career is not easy. Now, in 2017, we are under more scrutiny than ever before. The days where you’d wait to see a food critic from the local press, sitting at a table, are long gone. Now EVERY table hosts a critic. All just an App update away from ruining your long awaited days off. A generation of tech savvy, Egon Ronay wannabes, with the literacy skills of an amateur blogger (me!) They will dine and destroy a chef and think nothing of it. Leaving an anonymous critique, veiled behind a palm tree avatar photo on review websites. We all love the ten great reviews. But when the one customer leaves an unfavourable review because they couldn’t get a table, this can be the little push that sends a fragile chef over the edge.
It is a high pressure industry. I love being a chef, but it has taken me to some dark places. There have been times when even, mild mannered Brian, has needed to disappear to a walk-in fridge, for some scream therapy (it works for me). Mental health is headline news at the moment and for good reason. Chefs, work hard. My mum would say “ The candle that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.” A simple saying all too true with restaurant staff. Let’s not add to the statistics.
I am not a doctor. I am not a psychologist. I am just a chef from the east of England who does not like seeing friends on their knees, but will do all I can to bring them back to their feet.
There are plenty of people out there who can offer better advice than I can. People more qualified. I just put it to you, as industry professionals to keep an eye out. The devil is in the details. Listen to what’s being said. I have added some links to the bottom of this post to people and organisations who may be able to help.
Here are a couple of videos. Firstly from Kinsman. She talks openly and informatively about mental health specifically with chefs. It’s well worth viewing. Also check out her website for more information.
Secondly, a short advert from Calm zone which I feel, sums up everything quite accurately.
Chefs with Issues http://chefswithissues.com
Calm Zone https://www.thecalmzone.net/
Heads together https://www.headstogether.org.uk/
(I do not own or have anything to do with any of these other websites/links. They are just sources of information I thought were cool)
Inspired by #WifeOfBrian
1. It is a classic misconception that once you’ve bagged yourself a chef, the fine dining meals will be a nightly treat. “You must have some lovely meals at home?” is what you’ll hear regularly from your friends and family. You will get used to reminding them that he/she is at work EVERY evening.
2. This leads me to the second point. Weekends for a chef are Mondays. That’s the day the chef has as a day off (if any). Unless it’s a bank holiday, then they’ll be working. This doesn’t apply to all chefs, but just bear it in mind before you swipe left or right on that App.
3. Chefs smell like food. More accurately, they smell of cooking. Onions, garlic, sweat, and fish. They are fully aware of their scent. Just let them have that shower/ bath when they get in from work.
4. They rarely go straight to bed when they get in late. The chef will have their “post work” beer. Once home they will watch Sharknado 3 on the SyFy channel until 2am, then crawl into bed for 5 hours before starting the new day. It’s not personal. They just need to become human again. A twelve hour shift needs a shutdown procedure.
5. The Chef can be moody. They will do their best to not bring it home with them. But sometimes, when “Young Tommy” has accidentally turned off the freezer, destroying hundreds of pounds worth of dessert prep. It can take its toll. The other side of this, is the “Buzz”. The chef has just knocked out a three sitting, 600 cover Mother’s day service, with just two complaints all day. They will feel hyped. The adrenaline will keep them up for hours… even though they are knackered.
6. The chef appreciates you. Chefs know how lucky they are to find someone who puts up with all of this. The late nights, the missed birthday parties. The lonely barbecues. Bear with them. The good days are well worth it. They will know where to eat out. They’ll call in that favour and get the good table at that new restaurant and when they cook for you, it will be special (see 8)
7. They are so easy to cook for. It’s another massive misconception that you need to impress a chef with your own culinary skills. NO! (See point 6). The sheer fact that someone is cooking for them is enough to make them happy. Marco Pierre White says in White Heat “When I go out to eat, I’m the ideal customer. I eat the meal and go home and don’t complain. I’d never make a fuss. But the difference between me and other customers is that my expectations are realistic” This should be true for every chef worth his/her salt. This is not to say don’t put the effort in. Just know that they don’t expect a three star rosette bacon and egg sandwich…. Unless you are actually a 3 star chef!
8. When they do cook for you. Do not be intimidated. They make it look so easy. You’ll see a look on their face which you may have never seen before. The focus, the intent. They’ll want to impress you and hopefully will. Don’t worry about the pile of washing up building up in the corner. That’ll be gone in a heartbeat. Another chef skill, washing up master! Also, do not be upset when they bring their own knives. Yours are shit. That’s all.
9. Chefs traditionally don’t have loads of friends. Their network is formed by people they work with and one or two strong friends from “back in the day”. This means, although you’ll be wrestling with their employer for quality time. You’ll rarely have to then negotiate time with “the boys/girls”.
10. Chefs are scientifically proven to be better lovers and generally better human beings than anyone else that you may be considering. This is true, because you are reading it on the internet.
This is dedicated to my wife. She’s put up with my crap for 23 years now. I don’t really know how she does it really.
Becky Paskin 05-Apr-2011
Last updated on 27-Apr-2011 at 11:02 GMT
Running a pop-up restaurant or bar can be an overwhelming and challenging experience, but do it properly and you’ll find the benefits make up for the labour. In this feature series, we uncover how to run a pop-up restaurant successfully.
If you’re planning on running a pop-up restaurant or bar, don’t think you’re going to make a small fortune out of it – temporary operations tend not to be very lucrative, if at all. The costs and overheads associated with a temporary structure, be it for one night, one week or a month, can mount up to the point where you’re charging ridiculous sums of money for each cover.
“For us it’s more of a marketing exercise than a revenue generating exercise,” explains Lee Behan, founder of the Friday Food Club which is hosting a series of pop-up restaurants at Soho’s Meza. “The seats are selling for £68 and out of that we have to cover the costs of food, front of house and kitchen staffing, marketing, back of house and alcohol. After that we’re lucky if we come out breaking even. It’s all a PR exercise really.”
The notion of running a pop-up can also be a logistical nightmare, organising and training an often completely new team to cope with a new menu and space in a very short period of time. But if done properly, the temporary operation can return valuable exposure for your business.
Adam Fellows, owner of Goodfellows seafood restaurant in Wells, Somerset, and the operator of Glastonbury’s first pop-up fine dining restaurant in 2009, said the biggest return he saw was an uplift in business at his main restaurants.
“The one big spin off from Glastonbury was that we had a really big knock on effect from a PR point of view,” he says. “Lots of people that lived 1-2 hours away from the festival site came back to visit our main restaurants in Somerset afterwards. The PR effect is invaluable and difficult to quantify but the pop-up certainly produced a really good buzz and we did get some customers off the back of it.”
Step one: Location
If you’re intent on running a pop-up, the first thing you need to get clear is where you want to do it. You could choose to take advantage of the high footfall provided by pre-arranged festivals and events, or generate high levels of interest by hosting your pop-up within a well-known, already established restaurant or bar.
Wherever you choose, make sure you think about how your location relates to your own offer and target audience, and ensure they both complement each other. This holds true whether you decide upon an existing restaurant or bar space, a festival, a street corner, empty building or rooftop.
“All the brands we’ve chosen to work with have been carefully selected,” says Eadaoin O’Brien, hospitality manager for Harvey Nichols, which has hosted a range of pop-ups from the likes of Mahiki rum and patissier Claire Clark. “That’s the most important starting out point, that the brand you choose to work with is the most appropriate for you and your customer profile.
“Our aim is to work with a like-minded brand that our customers’ experience will be maximised.”
Also bear in mind the location’s surrounding demographic and existing operation: the last thing you’d want is to run a pop-up restaurant with 100 covers on a Saturday night in a space in London’s West End that would usually do 95 covers anyway.
“We try to look at places where the covers earlier in the week might not be as strong as later in the week, so it’s a win-win situation for both you and the owner/operator of the building you’re using,” adds Behan.
Step two: Menu
Keep it simple, especially for your first pop-up attempt anyway. You’ll be working in unfamiliar surroundings with potentially a team of front of house and kitchen staff you don’t know and who aren’t used to your menu, so trusting waiters to perfectly serve liquid nitrogen ice cream at the table could be foolish.
“If you’re popping up in a restaurant where you’ve got to use the existing kitchen brigade and all your dishes are hot and complex, you might want to rethink that to give yourself some breathing space throughout your service and menu,” says Behan.
“However you must still serve great tasting food. Ultimately the food you serve is the most important thing - it has to stand up to expectations. Make sure you know your menu inside out comfortably, and that your front of house team knows what they’re doing because they can make or break you.”
Price your menu according to what your customer can afford. If you’re popping up at a local food festival, passers-by aren’t going to be tempted by fine dining prices, no matter how incredible your offer is.
Despite his restaurants being high end operations, Fellows charged less than £10 a dish at his Glastonbury pop-up, which was in fact relatively expensive for a festival menu.
“You have to be conscious that most people will be paying in cash, and that there’s a limit to what they are willing to pay,” he says. “If you do it year on year you could build the price up but ultimately if it’s a festival people are there for the music and as much as you need to cover your costs, you have to fit within that.”
Step three: Logistics
The majority of planning for your pop-up will likely go into its design and operation. As with any new restaurant launch, think about the amount of covers you can feasibly do with your staff size, what layout will enable you to effectively turn the tables and how the space will be decorated to communicate your brand/ pop-up’s message.
On top of this you’ll also need to consider where you’ll source your kitchen equipment from, how you’re going to have your gas, electricity and water supplied (if you’re not in an existing restaurant or bar), what licenses you’ll need for the period of your pop-up, and what regulatory requirements you’ll need to meet.
License requirements can vary from council to council so it’s best to get in touch with your local authority as early as possible to ensure you have everything signed off in time for launch.
Some licences you may be required to obtain include: Late licence, alcohol licence, live music permission, fire safety and environmental health approval, licence from the owner of the land the restaurant will be located on.
Step four: Marketing
Pop-up restaurants are hardly a new concept, and with so many around, how can you entice diners to yours instead of the next big thing to hit London?
“It’s about having a story to sell and not something that’s been done a hundred times as you won’t generate any interest,” claims O’Brien, who will often choose operators with a new product to sell or business to promote.
Dehan however chose a number of high profile chefs that weren’t usually accessible to diners to help co-host his pop-up, which is run alongside Anna Hansen’s Modern Pantry at Meza this month.
However the best way to spread the word about your new pop-up is through social media, namely Twitter. Former Masterchef winner Mat Follas’ Kai We Care pop-up restaurant, held last night at One Moorgate Place, was the result of a musing on Twitter that ended up generating interest from across the hospitality industry, and over £60k for the New Zealand Earthquake relief.
“Twitter is unbelievable as a marketing tool,” exclaims Behan. “If you can create a buzz around your pop-up you’ll find the phone starts ringing almost immediately.”
As we rolled into January 2017. The daily phone calls from kitchen porters calling in sick or just not turning up. We decided it was time to advertise for someone who could be consistent. We only wanted someone to cover the lunch sessions, four or five weekdays each week. Personally, I thought this would be ideal for a parent with young kids at school, as the hours were only 11am to 2.30pm. Ideal for school out time. I hadn’t considered the response I actually received.
It was a good week before anyone replied to the advertisement. The reply came from a gentleman who stated that he had recently moved to the area and was bored at home a lot of the week. He was looking for a reason to get out of the house….oh and he was in his late 70’s.
He had also stated that he was very active for his age. I didn’t hesitate to invite him in for a chat. Outside of the kitchen I am a member of Ipswich Jaffa running club. I am by no means a super athlete but I like to call myself a consistent middle of the pack runner. But this aspect of my life has taught me many things. One of which being, age is not but a number. I have been beaten regularly in races by ladies and gentlemen of all ages. So for this man to say he was active and able was all I needed to hear.
Like I said, I invited him in for a chat and showed him the small kitchen where he’d be working. He was unfazed and looked like he quite fancied the challenge. I made him an offer which he accepted. 4 days a week to start with, which I he was more than happy with.
Straight away. Day one. You could see this man had a work ethic which would be a real asset to the kitchen. Organised, clean and thorough. A real godsend. I’m not going to assume he finds it easy but he’s been with us a few weeks now and he seems to be enjoying it. Not the job necessarily, but the work environment. He is regularly involved in the kitchen banter. Although we do adjust some of our low level jokes out of respect for our elders. There are only so many jokes about balls and phallic drawings any man needs to see or hear. I am currently very happy with how this is working out. At only a few weeks in, he has settled and found his rhythm. This post was normally filled by students or the bar staff who were looking for extra hours. The sink is no easy job. As any chef knows, the kitchen Porter is probably the most important member of any food establishment. If they are no good the whole service goes down. So far, we’ve had no problems like this.
This post is not meant to patronise and I hope that comes across. I know there are a lot of people in the same situation as our newest staff member. We live in a world where discrimination is writhe. More than ever in fact. You just need to look at recent news headlines to see what I mean. I say to you, as chefs/managers and restauranteurs. Do not overlook someone because of their age. Let the individual decide whether they can do the job. They will let you know. Embrace the opportunity to work with someone who will add another dimension to the environment. This gent may stay for a month, a year or whatever. But I hope this gives you food for thought.
Some may know me, most wont. I am Brian a chef from the east of England. Head chef of a pub and owner of a small catering business. I've been a chef for 25 years. I do this web stuff purely for fun. It's literally just me and my laptop. No big corporation. Just a chef, wanting to connect with other chefs. Enjoy.
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