Tea and the Pop-Up Restaurant

Tea rooms can take a lot of time, effort, and money to open. Then, if you aren’t able to generate enough buzz about the place, you could find your stream of customers running at a mere trickle or even at a pace akin to a leaky faucet. There is a grand experiment going on with restaurants where you can minimize your upfront investment. Maybe the same could apply to tea rooms.

A simple pop-up décor at What Happens When — here today, gone next month?
A simple pop-up décor at What Happens When — here today, gone next month?

The pop-up restaurant seems to be based on the principle “If you didn’t like what you had this time, come back tomorrow and see if you like the dish you have then.” This is a 180-degree turn from chain restaurants that survive by giving you exactly the same dining experience in any of their 200 locations nationwide (or whatever). It’s called “predictability,” “reliability,” “boring” … uh, I mean, “comforting.” No surprises, unless the chef is having a really bad day (been there). Even a restaurant, café, diner, or — yes, it’s true — a tea room strives hard to provide consistency (preferably, a positive consistency).

There are good reasons for the about-face presented by pop-up restaurants: chefs can experiment, trying a seafood dish one night and switching the next night to a meatless stew that diners would really lick their chops over; a large up-front investment is not needed; and the experiment can be short-lived by design. Many of these pop-ups are intended to be open for a little as a few days or as long as a year.

So, how does this apply to tea rooms?

First, you will have to think totally outside the box — the tea box, that is! While the standard tea room offers a set selection of teas, you can mix it up, featuring a tea of the day, or having special tea time set ups. The sky is the limit here. And so is your imagination, so open up your mind to new tea vistas.

Next, find a location. Around my neck of the woods a lot of new retail spaces were built a few years ago before the economic malaise set in and they are mostly still empty now. Cheap space! Rent for a month or two and promise to be out sooner if the owner finds a longer term tenant. Make up a low cost sign and have your crazy cousin stand out on the street waving it about. And don’t forget to check with the local authorities about their requirements (my guess is that they won’t quite know what you’ll mean if you tell them you want to open a pop-up tea room for a month or two).

Keep the interior as simple as you can: a way to heat the water quickly; teapots that are inexpensive and can be knocked around a bit; ditto for the teacups or mugs; rent some small tables and chairs for the duration; have several tea types on hand; and stock some cookie dough that you can bake up fairly quickly in a toaster oven (accidentally make sure that the aroma wafts outside to draw people in). (Again, check with local authorities before beginning your venture.)

The idea here is to be different, daring, and dashing (off to the next venture when this one has run its course). The pop-up tearoom — you heard it here first!

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