Hotels embracing the pop-up culture

The food truck at The Ritz-Carlton
The food truck at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain features a flat-top grill, a double fryer, an ice chest, fridge and freezer. Prep work is done inside the hotel and then dishes are cooked and finished in the food truck.

The food truck at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain features a flat-top grill, a double fryer, an ice chest, fridge and freezer. Prep work is done inside the hotel and then dishes are cooked and finished in the food truck.

National Report – Pop-ups are, well, popping up all over the country. These temporary shops used to be limited mostly to Halloween costumes and Christmas decorations in mall locations. Flash forward 15 years and the phenomenon has grown to include anything from high-fashion megabrands to online-only start-ups and various types of food and beverages.

The hotel industry has embraced the model in a number of creative ways. The Roger Smith Hotel in New York has joined the movement in a big way. The hotel features three street-level spaces that are designed as revolving pop-up spaces. RS POP was a former storage unit, RS POP [+] was a former shoe store and The Corner was a former art gallery. The hotel opened the first location, RS POP, in 2009.

“We’re really in full swing with this model,” said John Knowles, director of marketing and one of the creators of the pop-up strategy at the hotel. “It allows us to connect people with services and get to know their businesses as well as have them understand we’re not just a hotel. We’re a place for innovation, we’re a place for people to come and take a bite out of the Big Apple.”

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Designer Stephanie von Watzdorf, founder of the Figue luxury brand, styled mannequins in pieces from Figue’s Fall 2014 collection throughout the lounge at The Pierre in New York during Fashion Week.

Designer Stephanie von Watzdorf, founder of the Figue luxury brand, styled mannequins in pieces from Figue’s Fall 2014 collection throughout the lounge at The Pierre in New York during Fashion Week.

At The Pierre in New York, the city’s fall Fashion Week in September was the impetus for the hotel’s latest pop-up venture. It partnered with Stephanie von Watzdorf and her Figue brand of luxury clothes and accessories. The week-long installation included mannequins styled by the designer, and Figue aromatherapy candles positioned throughout the Two E Bar/Lounge. A special F&B line-up included a Figue-a-tini cocktail, appetizers and a miniature dessert.

“We really wanted to enter into the spirit of Fashion Week. We definitely see it appealing to a very fashion savvy, fashion forward crew—not just the international guests who will be here, but also New Yorkers or maybe people staying in other hotels in the neighborhood,” said Emily Venugopal, director of public relations at the hotel and force behind the partnership with Figue.

The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, in Marana, Ariz., near Tucson, put its own spin on the pop-up trend by purchasing a fully operational food truck that it uses on the property and at community events, such as farmers’ markets.

“As the trends change, our job here at Dove Mountain, especially being away from F&B cities like New York, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, is to make sure we come up with new and innovative things,” said Andrei Kalikas, director of food and beverage at the hotel. He and the property’s executive chef at the time came up with and implemented the idea. “We had the first operational luxury food truck on the road. It’s definitely caught the attention of meeting planners,” he said.

Kalikas said that on-property it’s used next to the pool to help the restaurant handle the lunch rush and as an ice cream truck, among other uses. The hotel made the cost of the food truck in just five months.

POP-UP PERKS

Hotels see a number of advantages to providing these types of experiences to guests and non-guests, as well.

Appetizers that accompanied the Figue pop-up at The Pierre hotel included deviled eggs, foie gras parfait with portwine jelly, curried Maine lobster with lotus chips and more.

Appetizers that accompanied the Figue pop-up at The Pierre hotel included deviled eggs, foie gras parfait with portwine jelly, curried Maine lobster with lotus chips and more.

Knowles said one big benefit of pop-ups, like the ones at Roger Smith, is that they don’t require the same labor as other types of events.

“At an event you might have foodservice, you might have set-up and other issues, but with a pop-up, they’re coming in and renting the space, and they’re ultimately left to their business. They set their own hours, they set their own prices. We don’t impose ourselves where we don’t need to,” he said.

Kalikas said the Ritz-Carlton’s food truck helps from an advertising perspective, on and off the property, by fulfilling the brand’s “surprise and delight” mission.

“It’s an advantage when you have a meeting planner or a client onsite and they’re touring the property,” he said. “A lot of luxury hotels have nice facilities and they do a great job at tastings, but when you pull up in a food truck, it puts a smile on their face. They’re truly excited. Quite often they will incorporate it into their programs from that experience.”

Venugopal said the Figue pop-up is a nice way to reintroduce The Pierre. “We’re looking to really engage with new people that may have heard about this and are interested in Fashion Week,” she said. “They might not necessarily be going to the shows but do want some sort of Fashion Week experience. Once they come and have this experience, our goal is that they will come back with friends.”

ISSUES TO CONSIDER

According to Kalikas, food trucks face different issues than brick-and-mortar sites due to the fact that they are mobile.

“We are actually based in one county, but where we like to operate and hit our markets is a different county, so anytime we go it’s a special license,” he said. “That can be a challenge, for sure. Also, the Arizona liquor license does not allow us to serve any alcohol [outside the property].”

To solve the license issue, the hotel purchases a temporary license that allows them to operate off the property for a month or so at a time, he said.

The food truck also must undergo frequent local health department inspections, but Kalikas said having the Ritz-Carlton behind the truck is a valuable resource.

“We have five different kitchens [on the property],” he said. “For us, adding another one is not as dramatic as if you operate a food truck on your own. We have very good health standards, and constant and consistent brand-standard audits and inspections, and the truck fits into that.”

Upkeep of a physical space has to be taken into consideration, said Knowles. The work has to be done after each tenant finishes its time in any of the three spaces.

“Operationally, that’s an obvious challenge. It adds a new dynamic to our maintenance staff and our team. It is as important as our rooms,” he said

Venugopal recommends being familiar with the partnering brand so that it isn’t damaging to your brand. That’s one reason the Pierre partnership with Figue worked so well, she said.

“We have to be mindful that we are a luxury hotel,” she said. “The price point had to be in keeping with our clientele. As long as both partners are happy with the goal and what everyone is getting from it, how can it fail?”

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