Running a Pop Up: How I Design Meals (and Everything)

When people find out I cofounded a pop up dinner club, (and run an empowerment workshop and run a research collaborative)  they sometimes struggle to make it all fit together. So you’re a designer but you do all this other stuff? How’s that all work?

I don’t just design things, or spaces, I design experiences. When I design a landscape, or a book or even a meal, I’m thinking about the kind of experience I want people to have, and then filtering that impact down to all the touchpoints I can control. In landscape design, that’s the signage, the circulation, and how it sets up assumptions for how you’ll interact with others, the topography, the site furnishings, how you move through the space and the viewpoints I set up.

In meal design, there are also touchpoints, both physical and non-physical. There’s the way you enter the space, the signage, the lighting, the way people are seated (do we sit them with people they know? Are their groupings?) and what’s on (or not on) the table when you arrive. There’s the way we give or hold back information (menu information, what’s a surprise, and what’s not?) There’s even room to play in how we serve you and how you serve yourself, and how the meal sets you up to interact with others (Can you pass the…?) And I’m not even designing the food.

I just came across this UK-based pop up that is a collaboration between a set designer and a chef and I thought, yes, this is exactly what my chef partner and I have been doing.

Here’s some eye candy to enjoy below drawn from a recent camping-themed pop up they held on the theme of ‘camping.’ They give a sense of just how much the little details add and how central experience design is to creating a memorable meal.

Photos of The Art of Dining Gone Camping pop up linked from the websites above:

featured image photo credit: Rochelle Li

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