Last Thursday, about 50 in-the-know local students at Murray State University in Kentucky were the first to try a big and bad new pop-up. The first in a series of pop-up specials was all about the better burger trend: local, grass-fed burgers and truffle fries with red velvet cake for dessert. The new event was created in response to students’ desire for something different and special.
“We decided on a really decadent gourmet burger and fries,” says Paula Amols, director of dining services at Murray State. “And because the students responded so positively to our recent Harvest Dinner, which featured local food, we thought using local beef would just add to the appeal.”
The day before, the dining department tweeted, shared on Facebook and snapped on Snapchat details of the event. In order to sign up for the meal, students had to use Snapchat. Spots filled up quickly, with just a few left open when the pop-up started at Thursday dinner.
Nick Buckingham, chef de cuisine at Murray State, got to work on the burgers, grinding the beef that same day and cooking the burgers to order, happily recalling his hectic days in the restaurant world. The bake shop provided red velvet cake for dessert. Amols and Executive Chef Tim Bruce were on hand as well, running the burgers and fries out to the lucky participating tables marked with a metal post.
At that point, the good old-fashioned marketing tool of “eating first with our eyes” took over.
“The real buzz happened as we’d walk through the dining room with the plates, and when other diners saw the participating students eating,” Amols says. “There were two young men sitting in a booth by a window wall, and a group of young ladies walked by outside. One of them stopped and her mouth just dropped open when she saw their plates on the table!”
And then, of course, Snapchatting commenced, with students posting photos of the burgers enhanced with heart emojis and positive phrases like “You bet I’m happy.”
Using social media to communicate with college students isn’t new, but if you’re good on Facebook and Twitter but missing the boat on Snapchat, it’s time to address that, as this event proves.
“We let students know ahead of time that this was coming and it was a great way to get them to follow us on social media,” Amols says. There are plans for more pop-up specials, possibly a Flintstone-size rib dinner, a fancy steakhouse meal and maybe a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner as well. Napkin holders with QR codes routing smartphones to dining services’ social media accounts should help keep the buzz going.
While social media will help spread the word, the experience has to be on-point once the students get there, Amols adds.
“I think what makes this concept work is that it makes the participants feel special; they’re getting something only a few others are getting,” she says. “It was Tim’s idea to take the orders to the table, and I think that visibility, walking through the dining room, was a great idea for creating excitement. It got them talking.”