Word to the street: the ins and outs of pop-up residencies

By Daniel Woolfson

- Last updated on GMT

Word to the street: the ins and outs of pop-up residencies

Related tags Street food Kitchen Social media

Critics may have long grown tired of pulled pork, “American-style” barbeque and kimchi tacos, but consumer appetites for street food are as high as ever. Daniel Woolfson considers the ins and outs of hosting a street food pop-up residency in your pub.

The rise of the street food vendor took the industry by storm over the past few years. By late 2014, you couldn’t turn down a road in certain parts of the country without being offered a pulled pork bun from a converted minivan.

A large number of these small businesses were started by young entrepreneurs who lacked the economic clout to open restaurants but quickly grasped that a standout, simple concept – one that lends itself to sharing on social media – is often the most successful.

Strangely enough, many members of the pub trade found themselves in the ideal position to form a symbiotic relationship with some of these businesses, giving the vendors the advantage of a bricks and mortar site whilst using their digital profile and branding to increase footfall.

“[Street food vendors] carry huge clout in the digital arena but lack the financial resources to move into bricks and mortar,” says Victoria Hassett, marketing coordinator at ETM Group, which regularly hosts street food pop-ups at its Farringdon site the Hat & Tun.

“By joining forces we are offering these flourishing businesses a solid location to base themselves and a ready-made clientele. In turn, we are opening our venue up to a whole new audience.”

But it’s not just a case of the two operations hi-jacking each other’s strengths. Hassett insists both vendors and pub owners must understand each other’s objectives to ensure the fusing together of businesses can deliver the right standards and customer experience.

Vision and ethos

 “As a brand we have to sell in the concept to the operator, ensure they understand our vision and ethos,” adds Fabian Clark, founder of street food concept CLAW, which recently announced a residency at East London pub the Three Compasses. 

So what does a typical agreement between vendor and operator look like?

“Once the operator has bought into the brand we have to discuss the menu and variety of options, then talk about the duration of the pop up and how we can market it,” says Clark.

Hassett recommends kicking off negotiations at least two months in advance of the residency’s start date. “Careful sourcing of the appropriate street trader ensures that the priorities for both parties are aligned and that we are working towards the same shared goals,” she says.

Huge impact

“The setup is hugely important to ensuring sales are maximised on the days the pop-up is in situ. A strong, branded presence in the venue has a huge impact on the revenue so ensuring impactful branding, menus and marketing tools are agreed beforehand is a must.”

In most cases, once the residency begins, the pub takes a percentage of the pop-up’s turnover rather than setting a rental fee.

“This works well as levels of trade can be seasonal,” says Lauren Johns, director of the Three Compasses. “So if the kitchen is turning over less at any point, they’re not stung with an unmanageable rent and in the same way if the kitchen is enjoying a busy period, it means the venue is also taking more money so can cover the increased energy bills and staff costs.”


One of the most important factors is establishing who takes responsibility for front of house service, she suggests. “As it is two separate companies working together to provide a service, both need to know who is responsible for what elements of that service.”

There is no general consensus as to the ideal length for a residency to last. Johns and Clark recommend anything from two to three months. “You want to be in a pop-up for a month at minimum but ideally for two,” says Clark. “We’ve done short residencies – one day even – and it simply isn’t enough time to start making a name for yourselves.”

However, Hassett says the Hat & Tun has reaped the rewards of briefer, two-week residencies, which she claims piques customer interest by creating exclusivity.


“We always host a press preview two weeks prior to the residency to ensure that maximum exposure is gained in advance of the pop-up through traditional media channels and social media interactions which drive uptake and covers to the residency when in situ.”

If done correctly then, it stands that hosting a street food pop-up can be of major gain to both parties involved.

“Our customers get to enjoy a rotating menu and keep coming back to see what new pop-up is in the kitchen,” says Johns. “It means our pub is being promoted to a whole new social media database with every new pop-up – it’s also a great reason to go back to press with a new story.”

Clark adds: “When in a commercial kitchen we can be slightly more experimental with our offering, allowing us to test and deliver recipes that wouldn’t be possible on the street. Like any restaurant, we have to ensure customer loyalty because if we can keep bringing customers back then it directly benefits both us and the operators.”

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