Guerilla Dining or ‘Pop-up’ restaurants as they are also called have been around for a while, especially in the USA, however, they are now becoming ever more popular as punters look for new interesting and cheaper alternatives to restaurant eating.
They are restaurants, but not in restaurants, (if that makes sense). They operate from disused buildings, car parks or people’s front rooms, and these new eateries are ‘popping –up’ all over the UK.
The restaurants take over an ‘interesting’ space and operate for a limited period of time before closing.
Much of the marketing is done on social networking sites with foodies being alerted to the latest pop-ups via Facebook and Twitter. However “ a restaurant so exclusive that there's no advertising, is very hard to find, and that if you're not in the loop it will have vanished by the time you even discover it.” Says Mark C O'Flaherty of the Observer.
With such a short life span, there is little time for customers to get bored of the restaurants’ concept, in fact, they often clamber to get in before it disappears.
By rejecting the formal restaurant model, it allows the caterer more freedom to experiment with the food, décor, drinks and the entire ambience. It changes the customer /caterer dynamic and most of all, it’s a lot of fun.
A Case study #Meateasy
Last Friday I took a few friends and family out for dinner to my spiritual home, south-east London. But this was no three course meal and a bottle of plonk, dressing up to impress stuffy waiters and other diners I’d never speak to.
I made no reservation and I paid in cash. I was at the #Meateasy and WOW, what an experience!
We had found the Goldsmiths tavern with little trouble but were initially surprised to find it was essentially a building site, the pub was gone, a shell of a building with planks of wood and various construction tools gathering dust, hauntingly daubed on a wall were the words ‘#Meateasy this way’.
After a few dubious looks from my guests I opened the door and in we went, through the building site, up some poorly lit stairs and through an ominous looking door; and there it was, in all its glory, London’s premier guerrilla dining adventure.
Horns were going off, strangely dressed waiting staff and even stranger looking customers,.
A Mexican wrestler was serving cocktails from jam jars, waitresses hitting buckets with sticks whenever money was thrown in the pot and numbers being shouted at customers for their turn to approach the kitchen and order their food.
The mix of colour and noise was mesmerising and the aromas from the kitchen quite extra-ordinary. This was a new experience an adventure, a rejection of all that is trite and mundane, a new way of eating out that sticks two fingers up at the formulaic, dinner by numbers approach of so many restaurants out there, and guess what? It was heaving.
The first time I went to the #Meateasy, I’d let Yianni know I was on my way, but the message hadn’t got to the front door before we arrived, the floor manager was busy explaining that we could come in and get a drink but it was unlikely they
would be able to serve us food. They were just too busy! Apparently people had been queuing since four to get in, anyone arriving after seven risked not getting fed at all.
So how do they do it? What hungry customer in their right minds would queue for hours with no promise of getting fed.
Well the food for one thing, Yianni’s award winning burgers have been causing a storm all over London for a few years now. In pub car parks and industrial estates across south London, the meat wagon offered up extra-ordinary gourmet burgers; 18 months in the development and constantly being tweaked.
Yianni and his team are considered by many to make the best burgers in the UK. Combined with an astute business sense, they have hordes of followers on Twitter ready to drop everything and run to the latest Meatwagon location for feeding. They would open up outside pubs creating an impromptu eating area and the feast would begin.
Winning awards and plaudits from critics, bloggers and journalists alike, they have become darlings of the London press, exuding cool with their DIY / punk approach to dining.
But this didn’t all happen overnight, in fact, four months ago it looked like the dream was over. The trailer was stolen and the insurance company refused to pay out (the thieves took the lock with them so the insurance company claimed the gates were never locked), and it looked like the end of the road for the Meatwagon…and then came the #Meateasy.
After a (no doubt drunken) New Years’ day conversation with a friend who was about to start renovating a pub, he was offered the top floor until the building work began, and the Meatwagon, now the #Meateasy, was back in action.
Closing on 16th April your chance to get to the #Meateasy may be limited but if you get the opportunity I would heartily recommend it.
NCASS member Yianni Papoutsis runs the Meatwagon and #Meateasy.
Yianni was also involved with Nicky from Healthy Yummies and Jason from the Towpath Café in creating the Towpath festivals, small (but beautifully formed) music and food festivals across London along canals and on wasteland, re-claiming disused space and putting on parties for the war child charity.
I’ve never been served pan-fried scallops at a rave before! But it worked, they even blasted out music from a de-commissioned army personnel carrier – it doesn’t get more guerrilla than that.
Re-opening in May is Frank’s Bar in Peckham. Set on the 8th Floor of an NCP car park in Peckham. The entrance is equally spectacular, with the top three floors dedicated to art installations and a view over London to rival the London eye.
Frank’s Bar has become an annual pilgrimage for South and East London’s trendiest young things and the foods not bad either! Sunset at Frank’s bar is an experience in itself.
Another NCASS member, Doug at Puschka is looking to go guerrilla this year in Liverpool with his new pop-up concept. We can’t wait to check that out.
Let us know if you’re planning to pop-up anywhere, we may have a few hints and tips to help you out!
There are different criteria of what makes an event ‘guerrilla’, depending on who you talk to, however, being temporary seems to be a key component, also not having it in a restaurant is pretty much critical.
In addition a degree of al fresco can certainly help you hit the right notes. But essentially doing something completely different, claiming space long ago allocated for other uses and selling great food are what is called for.
But really its’ about being imaginative, using the food and décor, to develop a strong concept to impress the trendy young things and keep them queuing in the rain until you’re ready for them.
There are some real advantages to pop ups. It takes a lot of work and there is always a risk when setting up events yourself, but those risks are limited by the lower rents and the time scale.
If you have the right food, the right space and the right concept it can and does work, and it offers something completely different for the trendy young hipsters to impress their friends.
You get the freedom to create the whole experience without having to adhere to the traditional restaurant or bistro concept. So as Randy Crawford might sing, if she gets to the meat wagon in time…
I play the street food Because there's no place I can go Street food It's the only food I know …
Image courtesy of The Guardian http://goo.gl/UF1SG