Ask the experts – how do I start a supper club?

I am passionate about food and meeting new people and really want to start my own pop up supper club. What are the main things I need to think about when I organise my event?

Supper clubs are a great way of bringing together communities of food lovers who share similar passions and interests, encouraging them to try new and exciting dishes and meet a whole host of interesting people. We spoke to Wen Lin Soh of Edible Experiences, Jess Astbury of Grub Club and Iain Wells of Mr Pigstuff for the lowdown on starting your own.

Location, location, location

There are two main factors to think about when you look for a space: the location and the facilities. You need to consider how easy it is for your guests to get there. How far it is from the nearest station? Wen recommends “shoot for less than 10 minutes. If more, be tougher on your hire price.”

It’s also really important to know what you are getting with your venue hire arrangement: gas or induction hobs? Enough plates and cutlery? Unique features? Jess explains that “you can do wonders with some fairy lights and personalised place holders, but existing personality in the space is always very welcome!”

Get the word out

Word of mouth, customer feedback and social media are your best tools here. Jess explains that it is important to “utilise your existing networks by starting small and local – ask family, friends, friends of friends, put flyers in your venue and around the local area.” Feedback can also be really helpful for spreading the word and Wen advises “don’t be shy to ask happy customers to tell their friends about you. If they had a good time they’ll want to support you. And nothing holds more weight than a recommendation from a friend.”

When it comes to social media, Iain would head towards Twitter for its great visual impact: “images are very important, they show guests what you do in less than 130 characters.”

Top tip: Think about listing your event on a foodie platform, such as Grub Club or Edible Experiences, to make your presence known with existing audiences.

Tickets please

When it comes to how much you should charge for your event, Wen suggests a helpful formula: “Do a practice event. Invite acquaintances and friends of friends (not your family and best friends, who will skew this experiment), or other supper club hosts you like. Tell everyone in advance you’re not charging, but you want them to contribute whatever they think the meal is worth, at the end of the evening. Take the total, divide it by the number of guests. That’s what you should charge for your first fully professional event. It won’t be perfect, but it will be an uncannily reasonable guess.” From there you can alter the price according to your event’s success and the waitlist for each one.

Play that funky music

Music can be a really great tool to set the scene for your supper club. When you choose the soundtrack to your event, Jess recommends to “go with music that fits your brand and make sure that it’s loud enough to create a lively atmosphere but not loud enough so that guests have to shout over the table!”

Likewise, at Mr Pigstuff, Iain makes sure that the music doesn’t drown out the chatter of the group. Pick something that suits the ambience you desire. If you are stuck for tunes, go with what makes you smile! Wen says a happy playlist is a surefire way to inject some sunshine into your food and service, “and your mood, for better or worse, will be infectious.”

Make some memories

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It all boils down to two things according to Iain: “great food, and a good social experience.” It really is the people and the participation that make your supperclub memorable – Jess explains how “guests often go to an event for the menu but leave with the people, conversations and atmosphere lingering the most prominently.” Interact as much as possible, have long communal tables, and make sure the atmosphere is chatty and fun – you are the most important ingredient!

If all else fails, Wen says tell some stories about your food: “Why did you make this dish? How and why do you eat it? Is there a “proper” way to eat it? Who taught you how to make it?” Stories are great for people to talk about in their social media posts or during their chat around the office water cooler the next day.

Got something you’d like to ask the experts?

Email ‘Ask The Experts’ to hello@wearepopup.com with your question and we’ll put it to the panel. 

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Ask the experts – how do I get my press pitch noticed?

I’m really interested in starting my own pop up, but I’m not sure how I should approach the press about my project. I know it’s important to create a buzz with journalists, but I don’t know where to begin! Can you help?

Contacting the press is a sure way to get your shop covered in the news, but getting their attention to get your press pitch noticed is an entirely different feat. Asa Bennett of the Huffington Post, Bex Burn-Callander of the Telegraph, and Alice Revel of Running in Heels each gave us their top tips on how to Perfect Your Pop Up Press Pitch.

Plan Ahead

Start your marketing weeks before the launch of your pop up. This may even be before you have secured a space. Successful marketing needs to be planned months ahead. Give warning to the press and ensure that journalists know as far ahead as possible of your launch, especially if you want them to attend – they are busy people and get booked up in advance. Online and offline publications have different deadlines. Stories in magazine print can be planned two to three months in advance, so bear that in mind when creating your marketing plan.

Secret tip – deadlines vary so it might be worth your while to do a little research. For instance, there aren’t as many people working weekend shifts in the press. Send your press release on a Sunday morning and you have a much greater chance of getting into the paper the following day.

Target Your Journalist

Look at who you want to target and what demographic you want to reach. Is your pop up a restaurant? Look for journalists who write about food. If your pop up is in London, you are not going to want to reach out to a journalist in Aberdeen.

Set Yourself Apart

Journalists are bombarded with over 600 emails and different pitches every day, so it begs the question, what makes them pick a worthwhile story? Start with your subject line. Give the bare necessities such as the company name and what is happening. Grab them by the first paragraph, as journalists tend to have short attention spans. Pull in the key points to your launch or event. Paste the rest of your press release under your email in case journalists want to read further. Do not include attachments or high-res pictures. Just offer to send them upon request instead.

gelato mcqueen press release

When writing your email, think carefully about whom you are reaching to. Depending on the angle, tailor your email to the story and the messaging you use.

When McQueens Flowers and Black Vanilla Gelato collaborated on their wonderful Shop Share pop up last summer, lucky journalists received a press release accompanied by a taste of things to come – some samples of Black Vanilla’s flower-inspired gelato. A sure-fire way to get journalists’ attention!

Use Social Media with Caution

Social media has given people instant access to others, including journalists. But should you tweet your press release? Most would agree it’s better to keep it in email. Pitching to journalists via Twitter can be tricky because you’re constrained by characters. Keep the details of your pitch all in one place as it will be easier for journalists to get all the information they need.

Got something you’d like to ask the experts?
Email ‘Ask The Experts’ to hello@wearepopup.com with your question and we’ll put it to the panel. 

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Ask the experts – how do I take payments in my pop up?

I have found a space for my pop up but heard that card machines and tills are really expensive, can you tell me the best way of keeping costs to a minimum?

The traditional method of taking card payments was a complicated and expensive process. It involved obtaining a new merchant account and seemingly endless negotiation back and forth with your bank. This would turn into a long contract with unwanted charges each month – far from ideal for a pop up space.

However, now this does not have to be the case. We spoke to Alex Segerby, Commercial Relations Manager at iZettle, about the new way of tackling transactions without such challenging obstacles or high costs:

“Luckily, times have changed. It is now possible to set up a card payments system within minutes. All you need is your smartphone or tablet and an account with a service such as iZettle. You download a free app, set up your account and a card machine is sent to you – which is also free! The only cost involved is a small percentage per transaction. On top of this, you can use the app to log cash transactions (free of charge) and receive detailed reports on your sales – which helps you keep on top of the business side of things.

This means that you can take payments for the duration of your pop up and when it’s finished you have no charges.”

All you have to remember is plug in, get paid.

Boost your sales.

People who pay by card tend to spend more than they do than when they pay with cash, and using an easy payment system such as this allows you to facilitate more transactions without large overhead costs. Saving on these rates and getting more money in your accounts each month will help maintain a healthy cash flow, so you can then invest those savings elsewhere in the company.

Get more mobile.

Create your own product library like the one in the iZettle app, speeding up payments and allowing you to keep track of your sales. Also, as each transaction is done on your smartphone or tablet, you can sell both on the go and in your store. Spend more time selling to customers direct from your iPad, and less time trawling through paperwork.

Build relationships with your customers.

Use the option of emailing illustrated receipts to personalise what your business is offering, with the primary aim of creating a customer database. Provide a coherent brand message in this way in order to form the foundations for maintaining your client relationships and building your all-important customer list.

Keep track of sales.

Use your payment system to follow up your sales and keep improving your business – the beauty of a pop up is that you can test a concept, measure its success and learn from the experience. By checking in with the statistics, you can optimise your time and effort: analyse what is popular with your customers in order to make informed decisions about top-selling products and potential special offers.

Grow your business with iZettle & We Are Pop Up

Get started with a free card reader for your We Are Pop Up shop. You also get the first £1,000 of sales free of transaction fees for the entire first month. Contact directuk@izettle.com for more information.

Got something you’d like to ask the experts?
Email ‘Ask The Experts’ to hello@wearepopup.com with your question and we’ll put it to the panel. 

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Ask the experts – do I need food certifications?


I have an idea for a food pop up but I’m not sure about the certifications I might need to trade with food, can you help?

It all starts with the space you choose to pop up into. There are 3 main things to consider.

Firstly, In order to be a legal food vendor, you must register your business and the site you will be serving in with your local council. This is so they can pay you a visit to be sure you’re following all the health and safety standards. The same goes for the place you are storing your food (if this is different).

For example, Hackney Council asks for 28 days notice before you plan to start trading, so get your application in as soon as you’ve found your spot. We did ask if it was possible to open sooner and they sounded like this timeframe could be flexible.

Secondly, if you’d like to pop up on the move, you’ll need a Street or Market licence from your local council.

Finally, in order to handle food for public consumption you must get a food hygiene certificate. A course with Hackney Council costs £65 but you can search for other places to train up too. 

We spoke to our local Council – Hackney – to get the skinny on what it takes to pop up, but we suggest you confirm these details with your local council as each local authority will vary slightly. You can go on to the website of the Council in which your pop up will be based, and search for ‘food safety’ or ‘food licensing’ and you’ll find the contact details and information you need.

Got something you’d like to ask the experts?
Email ‘Ask The Experts’ to hello@wearepopup.com with your question and we’ll put it to the panel. 

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Ask the experts – how do I reach new customers?

I’ve just booked a space for my pop up in an area I’ve never traded in before, can you advise on the best way to reach my new customers about my launch?

Many of the landlords and ShopShare owners on We Are Pop Up are already very networked and part of a great community in their area, so the first place to reach out is your new landlord. Can they help you spread the word about your launch date and through the duration of your pop up?

Partner and collaborate.
Perhaps there is another pop up or small business that sells a complementary product to yours and who would be happy to pass on customers to you, knowing that you will do the same for them. ‘Need a beer for your tasty burger you’ve just bought?’

Meet the neighbours.
Maybe there is a collective or local area group that is made up of other business like yours that would be happy to give you hints on the local demographic. Don’t be shy about meeting the neighbours – the new customers and footfall you’ll bring with your launch will be beneficial for their business too, so work together to promote each other.

Do the locals know you’re coming?
Cause a fuss and make sure they don’t miss you! Be clear about your launch date and the duration of your pop up so locals know it’s for a limited time only. Can you put posters or vinyls up in the space even before you’ve launched, so passers-by see that you’re coming? Can you have a sandwich board outside announcing your arrival? Have you drafted a press release and let the local press know you’re coming? (Here’s a handy press release template you might like to use)

Build on what you know.
Even if your pop up is in a new area, you’re not new to your product or service or your brand story, and your new potential customers will want to hear it. If you already have a social media presence, do build on what you have and what you know works – you’re probably more of an expert than you think! Then gather inspiration from other similar brands trading in your new area. How do they reach the demographic you want to reach? What social media and promotional tools do they use, whether it’s more traditional methods like flyers and posters, or more modern such as tweets and whatsapp updates, or a combination of several ‘channels’.

Look around you, learn from others, talk to your neighbours, and ask customers to tell their friends. And don’t forget a pop up is the perfect opportunity to experiment and try new things so be bold and give it a go!

Here is some further advice on Small Business Marketing Lessons from The Guardian’s recent live Q&A with industry experts.

Got something you’d like to ask the experts?
Email ‘Ask The Experts’ to hello@wearepopup.com with your question and we’ll put it to the panel. 

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