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Pop-Up Dinner Organizers Consider A Post-Coronavirus Future

The restaurant industry is facing an ongoing crisis, but pop-up chefs confront unique challenges during the pandemic.

BY RSVP June 18,2020

Pop up restaurants were incredibly popular before the pandemic, and the appeal of pop-ups - for chefs and restaurateurs - was the overheads were much lower than for traditional restaurants, catering businesses, or food trucks. The pop-up model was even the perfect alternative for cooks who were disenfranchised by the culture and structure of traditional kitchens.

There was some excellent food popping up everywhere from disused restaurant spaces to pubs in many cities. Pop-ups weren't just a second choice for would-be restaurant owners. These events were an outlet for creativity. It allowed chefs to create menus around themes, make some weird and wonderful stuff in different places, bring people together — that the constraints of most restaurants didn’t allow.

Without small venues and hidden locations, big investors, or government assistance, pop-up chefs and restaurateurs face unique challenges in the COVID-19 era. But as it becomes increasingly unclear what challenges restaurants will go through in a post-pandemic world, these businesses are also uniquely positioned to meet the needs of local guests, and maybe even offer a vision for dining in the future. 

Some pop-up organizers have come up with a short-term solution for their events: picnic gatheringsYou can buy a ticket for these gatherings, which includes food, water, and a drink for either 2 or 3 people, and includes a picnic rug. 

Most of them, however, are converting their pop-ups into residencies. With some landlords becoming increasingly nervous about signing restaurants up for long leases following several high-profile closures due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis, rotating pop-ups that last for three or six months have benefits for both landlords and operators: retail is also suffering so this is a way for landlords to offer a different unique selling proposition and introduce more people to their estate; residencies, instead of unique pop-ups, open a lot of doors, which includes potential investors, and puts organizers on the map. 

In Berlin, Bon Bock has transitioned from unique pop-ups to a three-month dining series, where they invite a selection of vibrant new chefs from Germany and abroad to Cafe Bravo KW. 

Further South, in Lisbon, Portuguese chef Hugo Candeias, has just arrived from Spain, coming directly from Hoja Santa, Albert Adriá's restaurant, in Barcelona, to open a residency at TAG the Restaurant, between 1 June and 30 September 2020.

While many pop-up chefs express uncertainty about what the future might bring, others are hopeful they’ll succeed in a post-pandemic world. And as diners begin to reenter society, they’ll want a level of intimacy that restaurants in these early phases of reopening won’t be able to provide. 

In some ways, pop-ups have become more and more like traditional restaurants over the years, serving food out of restaurant dining rooms or large event spaces in place of home kitchens. With event spaces and bars unlikely to welcome pop-ups back any time soon, the model has been stripped down to its simplest form. The future of pop-ups is what they’ve always been: something that pops up somewhere to feed people. And all that’s required is trust.

(Photos: Test Kitchen HK and Luis Ferraz)