“We never take for granted that being busy is not only a privilege, but more and more a necessity”. The current trading environment means that margins are tighter, competition is stronger and so anyone with a bricks-and-mortar space is forced to get smarter about how they maximise their resources and their revenue. Countertalk Spaces exists to help in that respect: matching venues with unused space and closed days or services, with people who have incredible food concepts and no permanent place to showcase it.
But we often find that there’s nervousness about taking a leap into the unknown and inviting someone else into your precious space: “handing over the keys to the Porsche” as Chris Greenwood of The Louies so eloquently puts it. But as Chris also finds, the benefits that it reaps are many-layered and immensely positive. So how does it work, and how can you really use it to your advantage? Emma Rock of Museum of the Home joins Chris in telling us their experience.


CG: I started working with this model in 2012 at my previous music venue in Shoreditch; it’s like booking in a promoter or dj for a one-off or a run of shows. It means we can focus on service & wet sales and undoubtedly takes the pressure off by having one less thing – the kitchen – to worry about. As South London Louie operates as a gallery cafe during the day with all our baked goods & sandwiches made at our bakery and biked over daily, the kitchen doesn’t get hammered 24/7, and is often clear after lunch service. So we have plenty of down time which can be farmed out to supper clubs. And because we always insist on running FOH for all the supper clubs and residencies, this creates more shifts for staff, too.

What has kept me inspired is when I see chefs who started doing supper clubs with us ending up with their own sites (Oren, Omni, Klose & Soan, Donnelly’s, Whole Beast) or in successful jobs (Tonoya Barua Chaudhuri, sous chef at D&D + Gordon Ramsay at the Savoy after).

It gives us and the public the opportunity to experience different food styles & price points. We can reinvent ourselves as a restaurant periodically without massive & costly upheaval.

ER: We have some beautiful event spaces at Museum of the Home, and while we are well known locally as a Museum, we have only been hiring event spaces commercially for a few years so wanted to broaden the appeal as much as possible.We wanted to provide a home for pop-ups to create an opportunity for people to come in, create beautiful experiences and hopefully strengthen their networks and community ties.

I’ve followed Countertalk for several years and knew that their commitment to promoting healthy working environments in hospitality and their strong ties in the community would make them the perfect platform to list the Museum with. In quieter months of the year (Jan, Feb, and potentially August), we list our spaces at a reduced fee with the aim of giving chefs an opportunity to host an event and make some money in a city where rising hire fees (and other expenses) often make this very difficult or impossible.

We are super busy with our commercial hires, and have an events team (2 x full time, 1 x part time) who manage this. Hires can be totally separate to the Museum’s day to day activities (birthdays, weddings) or can have more of a synergy with the programming here (selling fairs, book launches etc). While the pop-ups booked through Countertalk are technically private events and not explicitly tied to the Museum’s public offer, this year we explored the way in which the cooking and events that take place here align with the Museum’s vision and our work around food equality. It can be really tricky to balance the impact and disruption of commercial hires with the general running of the Museum, but without them we wouldn’t be able to function at the level we want to.


CG: We never just hand over the keys to the Porsche… we stay involved with FOH all the way and try to assist chefs as much as possible (if they need it), such as by helping to work out costings, portion size, manage waste, or correct pricing. It’s important to support without stifling, so the chefs can focus on the end product.

In general the more successful supper clubs are the ones which offer a combined experience beyond food. We have had a particularly good run with Empress Market’s Pakistani food events, as Chef Numra themes them impeccably with great, inventive food, and add-ons such as music, book readings & even henna tattooing. We have had a poetry & soup event, a couple of all-fungi based ones (food of the future), one based on a new Thai protein product which is derived from chicken feathers (food of the future part 2?) And one that involved wine pairings with music called Winyl led by the ex-Hakkasan group head sommelier. The supper clubs which involve unusual techniques or difficult-to-find ingredients also do well (compared to menus that are easier to replicate at home), since our audience is in general a very foodie one. We have had some great supper clubs on Mondays & Tuesdays featuring sous chefs spreading their wings & cooking their creations… these tend to end up full of other chefs, bartenders & floor staff on their night off; the perfect clientele!

I look for enthusiasm and attention to detail first, then vision versus experience. Confidence is also vital. It’s good to see a clear understanding of what is involved early on, from menu ideas to pricing to marketing; someone who can be realistic about what dishes they’ll be serving. We definitely need to see some commercial cooking on the CV or evidence of past cooking for more than a dinner party. Experience level helps us gauge how much to get involved. We also need strong communication throughout the ticket selling process so we can make sure ticket sales are where they should be.

ER: It’s always good when someone has an angle from which they approach food that is specific to them – making them stand out in a crowded arena – and we have found that most people who come to us through Countertalk do have that special something. Personally, I also look for someone who is well organised. Whether they have loads of experience or not, it is really important that the operational side of the event is run well. We try not to get too involved in this side of things but sometimes as a venue we do have to step in a little bit – which I hate as I always feel like I’m breaking up a party. Unfortunately our licence is quite strict, as well as the building being fairly complex – so we have to make sure we lock up on time.

I don’t know if I’m allowed to name names…. but Empress Market and Pav’s Polska Kitchen both brought an amazing energy to the space as well as DELICIOUS food. I also liked how both of these were telling quite a personal story through food – both brought their families as well. Working with Marhabtayn was also a highlight as their team are passionate, committed, joyful and well organised and all proceeds from their event went toward an amazing cause.


CG: We have had a Countertalk listing for 18 months and more than 50 enquiries; approx 30 of these have converted into events, which is a very good ROI I reckon! We really appreciate the accompanying content for socials, especially the “walk through” videos, which create a nice spike in interest. We keep adapting the deal to make it work for chefs at all levels and styles of food, and being able to do this ourselves quickly on the CT Spaces platform is very convenient. We take wet sales by running our regular drinks menus alongside the pop-up and often work with the chef with pairing if required. For instance we made a masala negroni for a Sri Lankan event which went down a storm + served a budlea syrup based spritz for a dinner themed around invasive species.

More and more cafes are adopting supper clubs & residencies, especially if located in a neighbourhood rather than a town centre. With a shrinking stand alone restaurant sector, there are more and more empty kitchens out there, and building them from scratch now is insanely expensive. So making use of what already exists makes sense.

We never take for granted that being busy is not only a privilege but more and more a necessity… so integrating events is crucial. Repeat business from chefs is great so after a successful date we try to pencil in another event, usually at least 3 months later.

ER: Income generated from commercial hires supports the running of the Museum, keeping it free and open to all – so it’s hugely important to us. Because a lot of the people who use Countertalk are looking for more affordable spaces (i.e chefs hosting supper clubs rather than big corporate parties), it’s not our most financially viable platform but the events that have come to us this way feel very meaningful so we know their impact is more far reaching than just the hire fee we receive.


CG: It’s great for marketing in general and offers our core audience amazing diversity and access to unique, food-led experiences which you can’t replicate in a restaurant. It is also very rewarding to showcase fresh talent and to be a part of their development. A lot of the supper clubs lead to longer residencies (which we hold yearly from November to Xmas; last year was the brilliant Cambodian outfit Barang and for 2024 we have an amazing West African Master Chef alumni lined up… which I am very excited about). Some of the supper club chefs we have worked with have gone on to cater for private parties & big weddings that we manage, also held at the gallery, from 60 seated to 90 & up buffet, to 120 canapés style. It’s also great for our FOH staff to get the opportunity to work with different chefs & styles of food… and make staff food much more interesting.

ER: The non financial benefits have far outweighed the financial ones in our case! We have met so many amazing creative people (who both run events and who attend them), and maintained relationships with many of the chefs who have come in for just one night. We try to approach our commercial relationships with the same time + consideration that we would with any long standing partner and because of this (and the amazing people who have come to us), hosting pop-ups has definitely opened up some really interesting and beneficial new directions for the Museum. We’ve also learnt a lot about ourselves and the things that we need to do to make our offer more complete here.


CG: For chefs, my advice is to have a clear idea about what they’re looking to achieve (menu, pricing, suppliers, marketing strategy). Tidy up your socials, keeping personal & private separate. It’s also crucial to demonstrate an ability to work alongside us (it’s not a dry hire) and a willingness to listen to advice from us on what has worked or not worked in the past – like on price points and style of service, especially pace. The natural default speed for chefs is to get food out of the kitchen as fast as possible, but in a supper club environment without checks printing out, it’s down to FOH to make sure it’s just right.

For venues, my advice is to have good photography, a fair financial deal (with not too many complicated add ons), support (especially on the marketing front … tickets don’t just sell themselves) and spare fridge space for prep. I would suggest always including your own KP and passing that direct cost onto the chef. That way you know the kitchen will be left as they found it, grease trap cleaned etc. Your regular morning kitchen crew will thank you. Ideally try to attend a similar size event by the chef before your prospective one but don’t ask for a comp ticket. Don’t be afraid to check references, we are all guilty of not doing this enough. Hire slow, sack fast.

ER: If you can afford it, it’s a good idea to host a couple of events for free as proof of concept, so you can invite lots of friends (and potential customers) to have a good time and connect over the table. This gives you the chance to take some photos / gather reviews to promote future events and to try out your offer in a less pressured environment.

Also focus on what makes your event, or even your venue, special – and listen to your gut about how you communicate that to your audience. Try and work with people you love and use good ingredients!


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