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The pop-up pandemic

Covid-19 is fast moving and unpredictable, which means that investing fixed locations with heavy overheads is an increasingly risky business. Who knows when the next lockdown will arrive. Mobility has become the order of the day. In recent years food trucks have become a staple of the events industry, a fixture at music festivals around the globe. With the pandemic, however, events disappeared, and so did much of the business for food trucks. Now, food trucks have become a new outlet for fixed restaurants, enabling them to travel to customers who can’t visit them. If restaurants have become mobile in the new food truck renaissance, traditional food truck operators have also turned to new technologies in search of new business. Food trucks need to ‘pop-up’ in less crowded areas where usually business would be thin. Apps now allow food trucks to let customers know when they are in the area, what they have on the menu, and enable them to take mobile orders.

This trend is part of the wider movement towards ‘pop-up’ operations, which are now common in the retail and catering sectors. Originally these types of businesses emerged in response to rising rents before the pandemic. But the rise of the pop-up economy is also linked to the growing demand for experiences, particularly if these can be made instagrammable. The growth of pop-up also leads to a further eventification of everyday life, in which specific moments have to be framed and shared to make them more significant and generate FOMO among friends and contacts. Pop-up operations in the past depended on locations with a heavy footfall, but with the mobilised pop-up scene stimulated by the pandemic, new technologies are being used to link to more scattered consumers as well. One can imagine that pop-up businesses will also thrive in the post-pandemic city, where empty offices are begging for new uses. We have already seen pop-up restaurants emerging in convention centres, pop-up picnics in parks, and pop-up pet shops and ceramics showrooms in city centres. Where will it all end?

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