produced & styled by Lauren Kelp
photography by Josh Ulmer
Who doesn’t love a good dinner party? How about a traveling dinner party with 40 friends you’ve never met face-to-face? We started this pop-up dinner party concept, called Tablemakers, about a year ago because we wanted to celebrate all of these amazing people doing inspiring things in their local communities. No agenda, no weirdness, just a fabulous dinner with a bunch of people doing cool things. The hope is that people gather, eat, celebrate, and break bread in a really thoughtful way. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday evening, right? Think you can’t host something similar?
Think again! I am breaking down five super easy steps to ensure you throw the perfect pop-up dinner – no weirdness, no agenda, just really good food, great wine, and some killer conversation.
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The Guest List
We are all about celebrating people pursuing their passions & taking their life by the horns. Get a bunch of passionate people in the room & there is no shortage of great conversation. Grab a pen & jot down everyone you know who is doing interesting things & you’ve got your guest list.
Maybe you want a little more diversity, how about asking each of them to bring a new friend or use this party as an excuse to invite the photographer, designer, or shop owner you’ve met once or twice and want to get to know better. The more, the merrier in my book!
If you are hosting a pop-up, you don’t want to spend half of it in the kitchen so the menu is an important piece to get right. Family style is ideal for big gatherings & it makes people feel more relaxed. Even your most polite guests won’t get up and ask if they can help serve because it’s all coming out at once.
It’s important to determine what kind of budget you have for your pop-up. Setting a small budget doesn’t mean you have to serve up skimpy dishes; in fact, just the opposite can be true, with just a little extra thought.
Using local and in-season ingredients is a great way to keep costs down. Dishes with grains, pastas, or broths as the base are delicious and economical. Mix up a salad, a few cheese boards or dipping sauces, to add to your main dishes & you’ve got a killer spread! Depending on your guests dietary restrictions, it’s important to have options but don’t go overboard. A few simple dishes made with love + a few sides and your guests will be nothing short of elated. Throw in a surprise element (hint hint: a fun little dessert) & you’ve just been elevated to pro pop-up status.
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This particular step is the difference between a disaster and a masterpiece. Okay, a little dramatic, but the prep is key to a big dinner party. Gather your ingredients a few days before, make a stop by the local flower market, hit up your guy at the cheese counter, and, for the love, buy that new top you’ve been lusting over (hey, hosting a pop-up is hard work & you deserve to treat yourself!)
Depending on where you are hosting your pop-up dinner will determine when you set up the event. If you are having this pop-up in a unique location that is not your own, check with the venue manager and make sure you’ve determined a timeline for when you can arrive and start setting up on your big day so everyone is on the same schedule. If it is hosted in your own space (i.e. your backyard, your office, your retail space, your farm, etc.) then make sure those that are lending a hand of help know their arrival schedule and the full plan for the night a few days in advance.
If there are vendors involved, sometimes it’s best to over-communicate. Send all of your vendors a clear timeline of how the day of the pop-up should go along with your contact information, addresses, and any other useful information (i.e. where to park, access codes, etc.).
Lastly, after the prep for the set up schedule is determined, plan out a timeline for your meal prep by determining when each dish should be served and you’re well on your way!
This is your time to shine. You’ve got a killer guest list, a perfectly curated menu, and the space is going to be fantastic. I always think a key to a good pop-up is having great people and good food, so don’t spend a ton of time on the venue decor. A few low arrangements on the table or an interesting place setting and you’re golden.
When setting your table, make sure you’ve got a few extra seats in case anyone decides to bring a last minute plus one. Having a few water carafes on each table along with a wine opener allows you from having to get up all the time & helps curate a more relaxed, family atmosphere.
Leave some extra room in the middle for the serving plates or have a table off to the side to place dishes on when they are done being passed. Don’t be in a rush to clear the table. I love leaving the food platters on the table because it makes guests feel comfortable about having more food & nothing says ‘delicious’ like seconds helpings!
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Hosting these pop-up dinners is hard work, but it’s an absolute blast. Getting a bunch of interesting, creative people around a dinner table talking shop, inspiring one another, and breaking bread with strangers is magical & you fostered that – it’s time to celebrate!
Double check your prep list, buy a few extra bottles of wine, wear something comfortable, and make too much food, because your guests are in for the long haul!
You can even celebrate hosting your own pop-up by gifting your guests something sweet, like your favorite tea candles, cool stationery cards, a trendy art print or event a yummy take home drink mixer. It’s an added thought that will ensure your guests have a night they won’t soon forget.