You’ve probably heard about the rising popularity of pop-up dining establishments. It’s been done on subways, in outdoor spaces in major cities, even in vacant houses (where the location of the meal isn’t revealed until the last minute). But have you ever thought about hosting your own pop-up dinner party?
With our tips and advice below, planning and executing can be really quite easy. Start by picking out an outdoor space — say a spot in the nearby park — where you can set up a table for 10. Invite your friends over for what seemingly appears as a normal dinner party (just ask them to be prepared to be outside for a portion of the night). Reveal your pop-up plan to your guests, if you’d like — we think it’s more fun to keep it under wraps.
The morning of the party (or better yet, the day before), set out all the utensils and equipment you’ll need to transport to your party site. As you’re dining al fresco in a public space, disposable plates, utensils, and cups are best to use so you don’t have to lug back dirty dishes once you’re done. There are a variety of eco-friendly options available if eating off plastic worries you. Wrap the silverware in napkins and place each set in a plastic drink cup (or custom tumbler) for guests to grab and go (carry a stack of plates separately). Don’t forget a portable table and chairs, linens, and lighting, too — unless you’d rather dine on a blanket, seated atop cushions on the ground. Flowers and music are up to you — all you’d need is your iPod and this handy, battery-operated speaker.
Ask your guests meet you at your apartment or home for cocktails about 45 minutes before you ideally want to sit down to eat. This gives you about 30 minutes of mingling before heading out to your dining destination (we’ve allowed for 15 minutes transit/transition time, but it depends how close/far you are from your dining site). It also allows you to greet your guests, make introductions if necessary, and enjoy a cold beverage of your choice — all while waiting for any stragglers who might be late.
As you’ll be packing your meal to take with you, choose dishes that can be made in advance and easily packed in containers, like a Thai Beef Salad, Chickpea Salad, and Sesame Noodles. Kitchen too small to cook a meal for 12 (or can't cook)? Nothing’s wrong with calling in some delivery, to-go. Just be sure whoever leaves to pick up the food leaves ahead of the rest of the group so everyone arrives at the same time. And while many cities ban alcohol in public parks (check with your local authorities to be sure), we’d leave the beer and bubbly at home and instead bring a pitcher of Watermelon Fizzes (though if you brought this Sherry Lemonade, no one would ever know).
Setting the Scene
Have a couple members of the group set out to the dining site in advance of the rest of the group to set the table and create a welcoming scene. If you’re situated under a tree, hang battery-powered lanterns from the branches, or arrange twinkle lights amongst small vases of wildflowers down the table. Lanterns with tea lights or these LED, battery-operated “candles” also work well on the table. Then put on that iPod, open up those to-go containers, and sit down for a meal you’ll surely never forget.