Our Blank Plate Boulder pop-up cafés are one-off events that take place in different locations, each with a unique theme and personnel. One month we’re in a lush South Boulder backyard eating brisket tacos, the next we’re on a rooftop deck in Nederland talking about chanterelles.
Better question: why should you attend?
I could ramble on about the different reasons we love pop-up cafés but for the moment I’ll distill it into five. Only the fifth one is from our perspective, i.e. why we love putting them on; the other four are guest-oriented and gleaned during my ten years in the restaurant business.
5. Creative expression.
We keep things fresh by choosing a different theme each month. As well as allowing us to showcase emerging and established talent in Boulder County, this keeps us engaged and inspired, which in turn keeps things fresh. And even though as of this writing we’ve done eight dinners, we haven’t scratched the surface of the many ideas we want to execute — new ones keep…popping up.
4. Your “tab” is settled way ahead of time.
My friend Neal and I worked together in a place called Becco on Restaurant Row in NYC’s theater district. It was his first management position and my first bartending gig and we became fast friends over many afterwork beers. While fantasizing about the restaurants we would open (the national pastime of service industry professionals), we were fanatical about one thing: we would figure out a way for guests’ checks to be settled ahead of time. Too often we witnessed lovely dinners devolve into uncomfortable conversations about who owed what. After one perfect meal we experienced it ourselves, witnessing a particularly nasty exchange between two members of our party of 12.
Prepayment wasn’t a motivating factor in putting on pop-up cafes but it’s a pretty sweet side effect of the format. By reserving online for the all-inclusive event beforehand, the sometimes unpleasant financial exchange is already taken care of.
3. POW! Decision fatigue eliminated.
There’s only one decision, and that’s to reserve a seat. (And then, of course, what to wear.) After that it’s pure relaxation — our hope is that by making the decisions about how the night will unfold, we’ll facilitate an experience for you, our guest, of letting go.
In the hospitality field, creating an experience is the greatest service we can offer our guests.
In my night job as a server in a restaurant, several times every night I witness the anguish of someone trying to decide what to order. The decision is so stressful that the indecider often will postpone main course selection by ordering an appetizer. He or she doesn’t seem to realize that the anguish is only staved off for a few minutes. I’ve been that indecisive orderer and the only thing that was accomplished by agonizing over these decisions was that my meal wasn’t as enjoyable as it might have been otherwise.
There’s another aspect to this situation that took me years to realize: When you look at a menu, you’re looking at words on a page. That’s it. These words are often only vaguely evocative of the food they represent. If you think I’m a little off base you can do a simple experiment: Go to any food establishment where you’re not familiar with the offerings, choose an item from the menu, and imagine in detail the way that dish will look, smell, and taste. Order it and then compare your imagined dish to the way it actually looks, smells, and tastes once it’s in front of you.
Lately, one of my favorite practices as a server is to get the menus away from guests before they order – ideally before they start looking at the menu, before they’ve formed any attachments to the words. Not everyone wants to dine this way, and that’s totally okay. They have to be the right people in the right frame of mind. Sometimes that’s a table ready for a five or six course dining experience; other times it’s a couple who are so engrossed in conversation that the best way for them to enjoy each others’ company is to relinquish the responsibility of making decisions as soon as possible. As a server there are fewer things more uncomfortable and less rewarding than needing to repeatedly interrupt two people totally engrossed in conversation. That’s why they’re there! To enjoy each other’s company! The other night I convinced such a couple to hand over their menus; the next time we spoke was three courses later when I needed to gauge their hunger level. (Just enough room for dessert. There’s almost always enough room for dessert 🙂 )
When you reserve a seat for one of our pop-up cafes your decision making is finished. Savor your liberation!
2. You meet new, like-minded people.
Just as not everyone wants to relinquish decision-making control, not everyone wants to sign up for a dinner for which they only receive limited information – there are no Yelp reviews of our dinners (although we were featured in Boulder Weekly). Our hope at Blank Plate is that the type of person who comes to our events is community oriented, is interested in breaking bread with others, and is someone who cares about what she or he is eating. For this person eating food is not solely for fuel; the biological necessity of eating is a happy excuse for ritual, whether it’s messing around in the kitchen or meeting up with friends.
We love food rituals; my favorite new one takes place the day of each of our pop-ups. Eva arrives midday at our location bringing fresh flowers, other important last minute items, her let’s-get-it-done-attitude, and, most importantly, burritos from Chipotle (with many containers of hot sauce). We take a few moments to eat and chat before getting back to preparing for the arrival of our guests. It’s usually the only quiet moment of our day.
If that ritualistic aspect resonates with you in any way then my guess is that you’d probably enjoy attending a pop-up dinner — other guests feel that way too.
1. It’s an ADVENTURE.
Our first two pop-ups took place last year and our guests clearly loved them. It was exciting, and yet I didn’t understand the experience the way they did. I felt a need to see a pop-up from a guest’s perspective so in March I went to a pop-up in Denver called Silver Spork Social.
It was so fun! The attendees all met at a coffee shop and we were led to the dinner location. During the walk there I realized the interesting, slightly bizarre level of trust that was taking place. I didn’t know anything about Paul, the organizer, or anyone else present, yet I was pretty certain we weren’t going to a fast food restaurant; I also was pretty certain we weren’t headed to an orgy or a drug den. Those assumptions were correct and we were treated to a fantastic five course meal. I was so relaxed that I didn’t even care that I was spoonless for a minute during a soup course.
The like-minded people, the all-inclusive prepayment, and the lack of need to make any decisions are pleasant byproducts of the pop-up framework. The best part of attending a pop-up is knowing a minimum about what you’re soon to experience.
Try one sometime.