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The pop-up restaurant and limited edition dining

For a chef, a pop-up restaurant means exposing themselves to new stimuli and opportunities. For food lovers it represents an experience to be tried immediately or never again. The format put down roots in the USA, spread to Europe, and is spreading still. Here’s how it works.


The classic restaurant can wait. The trend now leads to the pop-up restaurant, here today, who knows tomorrow, so better try it quick! In recent years, the idea imported from the United States is being increasingly implemented in Europe, where it attracts an ever more curious clientele, and also a growing number of aspiring chefs. How come? Because with this formula they are able to test the commercial viability of a restaurant concept before its market launch, and even star-studded maestros are sometimes tempted to propose an exclusive and unique event… unrepeatable because it is temporary. Let’s investigate further.


What is a pop-up restaurant?

A pop-up restaurant is in some ways like any other restaurant, but is different from conventional restaurants in these respects:

  • its location: a pop-up restaurant is often situated in an unorthodox place. On the roof of a skyscraper, in an ex-industrial site, or in a private home, a shop, a garage, an ex-railway station…
  • its temporary nature: a pop-up restaurant may be open for just a day, for a week or at the most for a month or two. Or it may be part of an ongoing event, as in the case of the Expo Milano, when the rooftop of Palazzo Beltrami – looking out over Piazza della Scala – played host to Priceless, an eco-sustainable design structure where for six months 35 masterchefs took turns to create 24 meals at lunch and dinner, offering unique and highly appealing “limited edition” culinary experiences.

This twin aspects are enough to make it clear that deciding to dine in a temporary restaurant is a very different matter to going to eat in a conventional restaurant or pizzeria. So what is the philosophy behind a pop-up restaurant?


Pop-up restaurants and the “Wow!” effect

Along with the idea of offering diners the opportunity of leaping at the chance of trying a rare and fleeting experience, the success of the temporary restaurant trend has a lot to do with their name: pop-up.

Do you remember the children’s illustrated books whose pages would sometimes conceal folded 3D effects that leaped up at you as you turned the page? The same principle of sudden surprise works with these restaurants. Because a pop-up is, literally, an “animated” restaurant, in the sense that it jumps unexpectedly into life, out of the blue, generating a “surprise effect” unthinkable for a normal restaurant. After all, a pop-up restaurant can remain a secret until the last moment: the chef or owner may announce the location shortly before opening, attracting clients through online communications.

The first pop-up restaurants to take the world’s food enthusiasts by surprise appeared in major US cities and European capitals: from New York to Seattle and London to Paris, where on the roof of the Palais de Tokyo a “transportable” mini-restaurant was installed for 12 people at a time, with a breathtaking view of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. That was certainly pretty “wow!”…

Recently, in an industrial loft in Düsseldorf, Michelin star chef René Schudel – the extremely popular host of Swiss TV’s shows «Funky Kitchen Club», «Flavorites» and «Schudel on the Rocks” – carried out ten exclusive pop-up culinary events where he revealed many of his gastronomic skills and secrets to the numerous diners, plus invaluable advice and tips on professional cooking.

A new food and restoration culture, in other words, officialized in 2011 by the first Restaurant Day in Helsinki, a culinary encounter/happening where restauranteers and chefs can open their space and offer their menus to the public, for one single day only. An initiative which in just five years spread progressively, involving people from all over the world, including Italy.

How to open a temporary restaurant in Italy

Despite the bureaucracy surrounding licenses and permits, which tend to discourage innovative initiatives of this nature, Italy too has begun to develop the trend for temporary restaurants in its most sophisticated sense, giving rise in recent years to culinary experiences combining exclusiveness and novelty, planning and design, and above all the best of Italy’s typical gastronomic and culinary traditions.

A good example was provided by Vincenzo Candiano, chef of the Locanda Don Serafino restaurant in Ragusa, Sicily: from 21 to 27 February 2017 he opened a pop-up restaurant in Milan, driven by the desire to bring Sicilian cuisine directly to the heart of the capital of Lombardy, serving dishes and wines from his homeland.

So, what are the advantages of a temporary restaurant? There are various potential creative and entrepreneurial advantages involved:

  • limited investment risks
  • short term rent agreements
  • having the possibility of testing a certain model, to verify the possibility of opening a “non-temporary restaurant”.
  • easy to promote.

For those interested in opening a pop-up restaurant, another advantage comes with the kind of diners it attracts… very different from diners at a classic trattoria. Because the people who choose to spend an evening in a pop-up restaurant are looking for interesting cuisine, but also for a broader all-round sensorial experience, as happens during a meal immersed in a new ambience, created in a space which until a few days earlier had been completely deserted.

These are people who are by nature curious, attracted by new trends and kinds of lifestyle, eager to try novel sensations and break routines. A youthful public and, above all, a social medium public. Who, if positively stimulated by their experience, will share photos on Instagram, posts on Facebook and Twitter, and launch the event on a virtual virtuous publicity cycle. Not bad really… no?


What do you think about these new restoration formats?

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The pop-up restaurant and limited edition dining
For a chef, a pop-up restaurant means exposing themselves to new stimuli and opportunities. For food lovers it represents an experience to be tried immediately or never again. The format put down roots in the USA, spread to Europe, and is spreading still. Here’s how it works.
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