Remember the days when simply serving up a delicious meal — along with the well-executed customer service to go with it — was enough? While delicious food and good customer service are still very much part of the equation, the stakes are suddenly higher.
No long is eating out just — or even primarily — about the food. Today, diners are looking for an experience above all else, and this is no better exemplified than with incredible popularity of pop-up dinners.
Let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon, along with tips and tricks for pulling off a pop-up event of your own.
The Power of the Pop-Up
Self service ticketing platform Eventbrite recently rounded up the country’s top food and drink event trends, and one emerged not only as a clear favorite, but also as growing at the meteoric rate of 82 percent: pop-up dining events.
Not familiar with the pop-up concept yet? Simply put, these are one-time dining experiences which may highlight a particular aspect of the meal. From quirky themes to chef’s tastings, pop-up restaurants, which are also called supper clubs, offer diners the unique and thrilling experiences they seek while giving chefs an alternative to the commitment of a permanent location.
And while pop-ups are not a completely new concept, the rise of social media has brought these events into the mainstream.
The success of pop-up dining can be attributed to several factors. For starters, contemporary foodies are craving something different. Pop-ups allow chefs and restaurateurs to reinvent themselves over and over again thereby continually offering diners new and exciting experiences.
Factor in that pop-up dining is typically more interactive — chefs and guests often intermingle — and its appeal grows.
Lastly comes the allure for chefs themselves, many of whom relish the opportunity to showcase their culinary creativity with unexpected menus and menu items.
Beyond the Pop-Up
But pop-ups aren’t the only experiential dining trend changing the face of the restaurant scene. Communal dining events, including everything from family-style plates to communal seating, came in a close second with 76 percent growth.
That people are choosing to share the dining experience — often with strangers! — may seem surprising, but it actually makes good sense in an era in which social guides nearly everything we do.
In fact, according to Eventbrite, making new friends is one of the main reasons diners attend these kinds of events.
Other experience-based dining trends claiming a spot on Eventbrite’s list? Breakfast and brunch events; spirits and mixology events (with whiskey events leading the pack); and local or organic events.
Embracing the Experiential
For epicurean entrepreneurs, pop-ups and other experiential dining events offer premier branding opportunities while presenting their food to people in a mutually satisfying way. Consider these additional figures from Eventbrite:
• 75 percent of people believe unique dining experiences are worth paying more for.
• 50 percent of people would pay more for the exact same menu if it had a chef interaction.
• 59 percent of people say cost doesn’t impact their attendance (menu, uniqueness, and location do)
• 80 percent of people would rather buy tickets in advance.
What does all of these mean for chefs and restaurants looking to cash in on the experiential dining trend? Above all else, the importance of playing to the crowd is key. Give diners what they’re looking for in the form of originality across everything from menu to venue.
Of course, this starts long before diners walk in the door. Marketing should play up the exclusive, can’t-miss nature of your event as much as possible. Many even going so far as promoting events as “secret” with last-minute reveals of everything from chefs to menus.
Overall, your social media presence is huge in generating the buzz that brings people to your event — particularly when you consider the degree to which people want to be part of the “next big thing.”
Photo teasers, hashtags, and finding and courting your “influencers,” AKA frequent diners who get the word out, are all part of pop-up success.
One warning? In embracing social media, don’t lose sight of the importance of good, old-fashioned mixing and mingling.
Pop-up diners want to share their experiences with each others and with the chef whenever possible so focus on creating and nurturing opportunities for face-to-face interactions too, such as shared toasts or chef Q&As.
Lastly, don’t forget to leverage your attendees’ willingness to pay more and the popularity of prepaid ticketing to your advantage. Not only is this the latter the preferred method of attendees, but it also helps minimize food waste and no-shows.
Ultimately, pop-ups themselves may not be permanent, but the concept is here to stay. And while planning a pop-up can be a serious boost for your business and brand, you also don’t have to go full-on pop-up to see results.
Integrating experiential elements into marketing, menus and more is a simple way to get in on the trend.