Thomas Keller is opening up a pop-up version of The French Laundry on the fourth floor of Harrods in London on October 1. He’ll be taking 14 staff members from the Yountville restaurant for a 10-day run of the restaurant. It will serve a 250-pound ($400) nine-course menu for lunch and dinner.
What’s behind the decision to open the pop-up?
Thomas Keller chooses his partners carefully. His decisions are all about enhancing his brand with other highly successful luxury brands. Last year he partnered with BMW, which supplied The French Laundry with BMW ActiveHybrid 7 cars for its concierge service. ” The collaboration dovetails perfectly with both partners’ long-time commitment to establishing new and creative ways to elevate the premium experience.”
A 10-day run is not a huge commitment – it means 14 staffers might get some European exposure (maybe a holiday?) and the revenue is fairly high, depending on how the deal was structured. According to Bloomberg News:
The 250 pound cost will raise a few eyebrows. London has two restaurants with three Michelin stars: Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, where the top-priced menu is 180 pounds for seven courses; and Gordon Ramsay, where it’s 130 pounds for seven courses. The Chef’s Tasting Menu on the French Laundry website is $270. The Harrods venue will seat 70, which equates to 35,000 pounds a day for food (including tax) if all the places are filled just once each for lunch and dinner.
Of course, The French Laundry is a labor-intensive high-end restaurant and costs will be high for food, labor, and front-of-the-house furnishings.
What does this mean for other chefs?
Chefs have been adding food trucks, especially during the warmer summer months, to expand their reach into new markets with often lower priced offerings. Temporary projects allow chefs to expand without committing to deals during uncertain times in the real estate market. But food trucks are not appropriate for fine dining. Pop-ups generate their own public relations precisely because they are temporary. Conversely, it is difficult to generate news stories about a restaurant that’s been in business for many years. Pop-ups allows a chef to risk very little by opening up on someone else’s property, potentially on someone else’s dime. A chef can test the waters in another city or country – and generate business for his flagship restaurant if all goes well.
Super Chef expects to see more chefs of Thomas Keller’s caliber opening up pop-up restaurants in venues across the globe. In the past, this might have been accomplished by becoming a visiting chef, hosting a single or a weeklong series of dinners at someone else’s restaurant. But if Harrods is as much a tourism spot as it is a shopping mecca, expect to see more non-restaurant venues enticing high-end chefs – as casinos, sports stadiums, golf courses and hotels have done in the last few decades.