A Year in Review pt. 2: Brutal Learning Opportunities

January 2, 2014
Brutal Learning Opportunities
To begin, this past year I subscribed to the idea that there is no such thing as failure; there are only brutal opportunities from which to learn. Let that be the context for the rest of this post…
We had a few brutal learning opportunities present themselves to us over the last year. There was our first pop-up, our first vending event, and our first run-in with the DC Tax & Revenue Administration, just to name a handful.
The best though had to be our pop-up. It was the most public of our learning experiences, and provided some of the best dictums that we would absorb all year: 1) communication is powerful; 2) be ultra-prepared; 3) broodjes as a concept is a powerful one in execution.
A behind the scenes play-by-play…
It was 6:30am on Friday, September 20th when I woke up after 6 hours of not that great sleep. I was excited. It was pop-up day. Exactly a week prior we had sold approximately 8 tickets to family and friends for the event, at the time certain the event would be a major professional embarrassment and blow to our brand.
That morning, I awoke to the sale of our 75th ticket. We saw a 303% rise in ticket sales in the days leading up to the event and the team (myself and four friends) were getting revved up for what was sure to be a hectic night.
Our first major challenge in all of this was estimating the amount of food we needed to have on hand. If 75 presale tickets were sold, and 30% of those ticket holders brought a non-ticket holding friend then we could expect about 100 people. I heard it’s always better to have more food than less, so we ordered and prepped ingredients to make 120 sandwiches.
We had a keg which we would be divvying into 10 oz. pours and a 8 bottle sangria ie 124 beer servings, 40 ish servings of sangria (named rosemary’s strawberry borrel, the ingenius brainchild of Molly)
First lesson: 
Estimate better.
I say better because I still don’t think we could’ve gotten it perfectly. I imagine an educated guess of the number of people who attended our pop-up that evening to be 150.
In the first half hour, we sold out of sangria. In the second hour, we sold out of beer, and had we been better prepared with our food service, we would have sold out of food in the second hour as well. As it happened, we had a bit of food left at the end because we were building sandwiches to order throughout the entire evening.
I don’t know the exact science behind estimating covers, but next time I would increase our expected attendees by 75% of presales.
Yes, we would still have sold out of beer, sangria, and sandwiches had we followed this rule, but the eventuality would have been much less dramatic and sophomoric.
In fact, the suggestion then might have been ‘wow, they’re really popular! look at how many people are here! they’ve even sold out of food’ instead of ‘wow, they’re really popular but highly disorganized! they didn’t estimate their food well at all.’ Most importantly, we might have run out of food when people were coming up for their second and third servings, instead of their first.
Second Lesson: Be 5x more prepared than you think you need to be
 
We dropped the ball on preparedness. We made a schedule, we stuck to the schedule, but the schedule was inherently flawed. It did not take into account that at 7pm, there would be 120 hungry broodje lovers outside the Spork doors ready to get their Prost! on.
My assumption was that at 7pm, we would have 25% of our patrons come in, 50% in the second hour, and the final 25% in the third. It did not go down like that, and in retrospect that was faulty logic on my part. There were only three hours to eat tapas style sandwiches, drink cheap beer, and listen to a great band. Folks were there at 6:45pm.
In an effort to keep our product fresh, we fully assembled only 40% of the sandwiches for that evening prior to 7pm. The idea was that we would continue to build sandwiches as the night progressed to ensure quality/freshness. Consequently, when 130% of expected attendees walked in at 7:10pm to start eating, we just weren’t ready to satisfy those numbers. What resulted was a haphazard process in which a lot of the folks working the event just didn’t know what was going on. It was tough three hours as customers waited in long lines for food that wasn’t always there when they made it to the front.
Third Lesson: Broodjes as a concept is meaningful and powerful
 
It was around 9:30pm when we had exhausted all stores of bread and gouda that I took a walk upstairs for the first time that evening. Due to the unexpected timing of the event, I was in the kitchen until a half hour before the end of Prost!
What I saw was sobering. There were 150ish friends, family, and strangers packed into the sprawling outdoor patio of The Silver Spork. They occupied tables, leaned against fences and some event stood outside the fence, always within earshot.
Amidst the cloudless 60 degree night, Harmonic Blue jammed and smiles were spread across every single face I could see. Empty plates, and a few full cups littered the tables and brick floor, but the sentiment was clear: people were happy. There was a type of joy in the air that I could only ascribe to the 6 months I spent abroad in Amsterdam, particularly the hours I spent with new friends sharing a beer or (could you imagine) a broodje. That sentiment is the reason Broodjes & Bier ever existed: we’re a lifestyle company that sells sandwiches, and not the other way around. Embarrassed, tired, and exhausted, I knew the event was still in many respects a success. We had done it.

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