The power of pop-ups

By Matt White, Chair of The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) and Director of Catering, Hotel & Conference Services at The University of Reading

Millennials and Generation Z have a greater passion for food and drink than any other generation before them – in fact 54% spend their disposable income on eating out. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that today’s students demand even more diversity when it comes to their food and beverage choices and have a much higher expectation of the services available on campus.

Pop-ups come in many different forms – from a temporary restaurant in a disused space or a street food stall to a guest bar or even a special menu to tie into a calendar event – and they can be a great way to keep students on their toes and engaged, with limited financial outlay for the university. 

For example, we know that 84% of students want to eat a range of food from home and abroad. This is a true reflection of their travel experiences and the increased mixing of cultures in the community and, even more so, on campus. Pop-ups offer the perfect mechanism through which to trial different world cuisines and dining styles. The Royal Holloway University of London has demonstrated this to great success with its introduction of international food stalls. This has resulted in overwhelmingly positive feedback, with 75% of students surveyed saying they were more likely to eat on campus because of the new global street food on offer.

At TUCO, we run regular study tours to help our members stay ahead of the pack when it comes to menu inspiration and to enable their chefs to experience and learn different cuisines first-hand. Take our Northern India study tour at the end of last year, which immersed chefs in the culture and traditions associated with creating Asian street food and traditional family meals. By learning about the wealth of cooking styles and ingredients used, our members returned with a new set of skills and knowledge that enabled them to create their own Indian-inspired fusion dishes or pop-ups.

Ultimately, today’s students are surrounded by a wealth of different trends, cuisines and eating out options all competing for their attention, and university caterers need to stay restless when it comes to innovating their offer. The trusty pop-up has a big role to play in this, enabling operators to try out new ideas, dishes and suppliers before investing further, or tap into food trends and calendar events as additional revenue drivers.

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