Pop-up restaurants have become an increasingly popular way for chefs and entrepreneurs to test new concepts, build their personal brands, and connect with new audiences. Unlike traditional restaurants which require long-term leases and major investments in build-outs and equipment, pop-ups allow you to get your food in front of people with much lower overhead and risk.
That being said, promoting a pop-up restaurant presents some unique challenges. Pop-ups are ephemeral by nature – they’re here today, gone tomorrow. You need to generate buzz and excitement around the limited window when your restaurant will be operating. Pop-ups also frequently take place in non-traditional locations like art galleries, stores, or event venues which don’t have established customer bases. You’ll need to put in extra work to attract an audience.
Here are some proven strategies for effectively promoting a pop-up restaurant:
Start Early with Teasers
One of the best ways to build anticipation for your pop-up is to announce it weeks or months in advance. Give people time to get excited. Post teasers on your website and social media channels with just a few key details like the date, location, and chef. Ask people to sign up for your mailing list to be the first to get more information as it becomes available.
Slowly reveal more details over time like your concept, menu highlights, ticket pricing and availability. Offer special perks like early bird pricing and reservations to people who sign up for your mailing list first. Drip feed information to keep people engaged and eager to learn more.
Tap Into Your Chef’s Network
Chances are, your chef already has a following and network from their work at other restaurants, cooking classes, or media appearances. Encourage them to promote the pop-up through their own channels. The chef should mention the pop-up on their personal website, LinkdIn, and social media accounts. Ask them to record a video teaser talking a bit about their vision for the pop-up to share across channels.
Chef collaborators, vendors, friends and family can also help spread the word. They should be proud and excited to support the pop-up and happy to promote it to their own audiences.
Curate an Influencer Guest List
Influencers on social media platforms and food blogs can be incredibly helpful partners in promoting your pop-up. Offer to host select influencers for a complimentary tasting meal in exchange for coverage on their platforms. Be strategic in who you invite – go for influencers with an aesthetically pleasing feed and engaged, local audience. Make sure to brief them on key messages about what makes your pop-up unique.
Influencers sharing high-quality photos of your food and space or writing favorably about their experience gives you access to new audiences and social proof. Make your pop-up photogenic and Instagrammable to get that coveted influencer coverage.
Partner with Local Businesses
Partnerships create win-win opportunities to cross-promote your pop-up. Is there a boutique, flower shop, or art gallery near your pop-up location? See if they are interested in displaying your flyers or mentioning your pop-up on social media and in newsletters to their customers.
You can even offer special packages or discounts for the other business’ customers to incentivize sharing. For example, 10% off the pop-up for the boutique’s customer base. This introduces you to built-in audiences who already patronize nearby businesses.
Host a Media Preview Event
Local media outlets like newspapers, magazines, and TV stations are always looking for new and exciting dining events to cover. A media preview gives them a special sneak peek at your pop-up that they can feature in advance.
Invite select media contacts to attend a trial-run tasting 1-2 weeks before you officially open. Give them a tour and samples of signature dishes while sharing key messages about what makes your pop-up unique. Having media share photos and write previews will build credibility and get your name out there.
Share Updates on Listings Sites
There are countless event listing sites and local guides where you can share basic info on your pop-up like the time, location, and a short description. Getting listed establishes your pop-up as a real, happening event. Some top listing sites include Facebook Events, Eventbrite, Eater, Thrillist, and Yelp Events.
Make sure to include a link to purchase tickets or make reservations when possible so you can convert engagement into sales. Keep listings updated with the latest information if anything changes.
Run Paid Ads
Paid advertising can rapidly expand your reach, especially if you have a limited marketing budget and timeline. On Facebook and Instagram, you can create ads targeted to local foodies that drive traffic to your website or ticket sales page.
Work with a designer to create eye-catching display ads showcasing dishes, the chef, or the experience for local publications and websites. The more appealing your ads, the better response you’ll get. Promoted blog content can also introduce your story to targeted audiences.
Offer Reservations Online
Make it super simple for people to become customers with online reservations through platforms like OpenTable or Tock. This eliminates the friction of back-and-forth emails or calls to reserve a table. Listing on reservations platforms also helps establish your legitimacy and get your name in front of active diners browsing local options.
Promote direct links to your reservation system across marketing channels – website, social media, newsletter, etc. Putting the reservation link right in front of people and making the process turnkey converts interest into bookings.
Build Relationships with Neighbors
Your literal neighbors around the pop-up location should be some of your biggest supporters and advocates. Introduce yourself and let neighbors know that you’ll be bringing in customers for just a limited time. Giving a heads up helps maintain goodwill.
Sweetening the deal by offering neighbors a complimentary tasting or discounts on meals also encourages engagement. When neighbors dine and see firsthand the quality you deliver, they’ll be more likely to recommend your pop-up to their own networks.
Go Grassroots with Flyers and Signage
Don’t underestimate the power of old school, on-the-ground promotion. Blanketing the neighborhood around your pop-up with eye-catching flyers builds awareness. Hit coffee shops, bars, stores, community boards – anywhere locals gather.
Signage outside the pop-up space is key as well. You want constant visibility driving foot traffic there even when you’re not open. Place sandwich boards, A-frame signs with menus and hours, flags, etc. Strategically using flyers and signage around the neighborhood puts your pop-up top of mind.
Launch with a VIP Sneak Peek
Reward your biggest supporters and best customers by hosting an exclusive preview event just for them before opening to the public. This could be an invite-only cocktail hour or special tasting menu.
Offering VIP access makes loyal followers feel valued. Having influencers or VIPs post about an early look they got builds demand and exclusivity for your opening. Thank VIPs after the fact with free signed menus, photos, or a discount on future reservations.
Share Your Story on Social Media
Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook are made for storytelling brands like restaurants. Humanize your pop-up by giving it a unique voice and introducing your chef and team on your accounts.
Give followers a peek behind-the-scenes as you prep for opening. Share photos highlighting dishes, decor and ambiance. Instastories are an engaging way to show real-time sneak peeks. Enlist the help of your team and chef to post user-generated content as well.
Consistently posting mouthwatering, high quality photos and videos builds your pop-up’s brand and gets people excited about your offering.
Collaborate on a Cocktail or Dish
Partner with another local business to create a special co-branded menu item only available during your pop-up. This could be a custom cocktail using ingredients from a nearby distillery or specialty food purveyor. Or a dish highlighting another restaurant’s bread, cheese, or charcuterie.
Promote the exclusive item together across your marketing channels. Cross-promotions attract fans of their business who may be new customers for you. It keeps things fresh and encourages sharing social media posts tagging both businesses.
Maintain Momentum Post-Pop-up
Your marketing efforts shouldn’t end when the pop-up closes. Keep nurturing your new audience in the hopes of driving interest in your next pop-up or venture.
Send an email thanking guests and recapping highlights from the pop-up. Continue posting social media content like professional photos from the event for people to relive. Share press recaps or reviews praising your food or experience.
Keeping your pop-up top of mind after the fact builds sustained interest and loyalty for the future. Offer first access to any news of your next pop-up so guests feel part of an inner circle.
Promoting a pop-up restaurant requires tapping into both traditional marketing and grassroots hustle. You need to creatively generate buzz around a temporary event with a short window. By starting early, leveraging influencers, forming strategic partnerships, investing in some paid promotion, and relentlessly networking, you can spread the word to get customers in the door during your pop-up’s limited run. Stay nimble and proactive in your marketing, and your hard work will be rewarded with engaged crowds and hopefully the first step towards something permanent.