Thought Leadership

Why Pop-Ups Remain Powerful for the Hospitality Industry

Pop-up restaurants are a growing trend in hospitality, but they’re not just some basic side-hustle. Done right, a pop-up can be the best marketing tool you have. We’ll show you why they’re so effective, and tell you what you need to know to run your own.

By Dave Eagle

Australia’s reputation for being a foodie’s paradise is becoming mainstream knowledge. Our cities host scores of innovative chefs and a public looking for great dining experiences – this hunger for something unique is evident in the recent rise in popularity of pop-up restaurants.

We explore why pop-ups are a powerful tactic for hospitality businesses, and some things to consider if you’re thinking about setting up an event of your own.

Exclusivity breeds excitement

For a population of adventurous eaters, the temporary nature of a pop-up creates extra excitement.

When famed chef René Redzepi brought the two-Michelin star restaurant Noma to Sydney for a 10 week run, all 5,500 seats sold in under 90 seconds. Sure, some of that has to with Redzepi’s international acclaim, but people weren’t spending $485 per ticket just to say they’d eaten his food.

Besides, it isn’t just elite, Michelin-starred restaurants winning at the pop-up game: California-based In-N-Out, a regional fast food chain known for their fresh burgers, has on a few occasions popped up in Sydney – once selling out in 10 minutes.

College student Jonah Reider ran a pop-up out of his dorm room in New York City; he came to Australia for a limited run in a 27-square meter Darlinghurst apartment and had to choose his diners by lottery.

The fact is, Australians love a good pop-up restaurant, which is good for restaurant owners. The concept doesn’t just provide a quick(ish) way to earn extra income. All the excitement and anticipation that builds leading up to a pop-up event makes them much more valuable than that.

Why popups remain powerful_Kounta
Image credit: Alpha / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Pop-ups cleverly make use of FOMO

Unlike a traditional storefront, the pop-up isn’t an open-ended business venture – it only lasts for a certain amount of time, have limited products to sell, and if it re-opens, it may show up somewhere else entirely.

This all combines to create in consumers the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), a concept that doesn’t just have a catchy – it’s directly associated with various behavioural science principles, and when used right, can be one of the most effective tools you can use to promote a new product or service in your hospitality business.

Research has shown that around 69 per cent of millennials experience FOMO, and 60 per cent of thems make reactive purchases because of the phenomenon. To put it another way, a huge percentage of millennials make purchases just because they feel they might miss out if they didn’t.

It’s logical then, that FOMO is especially potent with pop-up restaurants, because there’s more than just the meal people will be missing. There’s the event itself, which can feel like a big social happening – the kind of thing people will post selfies from on Instagram while their friends are jealous at home, wishing they could be there. Done right, the promotion surrounding your pop-up turns into user-generated content that promotes your brand.

READ NOW: Is Your Hospitality Business One of the Many That Gets Tagged on Instagram Every 28 Seconds?

Pop-ups help you achieve strategic goals

Creating and sustaining FOMO might be the number one task you have in preparing to launch a successful pop-up, but how you’ll do that depends on what the goal is. Here are a few common reasons to plan a pop-up for your hospitality brand:

  • You might be looking for a standout way to acquire new customers: a popup is a great way to attract more new customers to your venue. It’s also a smart way to get your first customers, in advance of opening a new restaurant or location.
  • You want to create a different experience for your customers: that is, you’re creating an event (or taking part in someone else’s) for customers who already like your food and want to try something new. That’s the reasoning behind some of Australia’s top chefs who operated one-night only pop-ups at the 2018 Australian Open.
  • You want to test the market response ahead of launching new menu items: creating a pop-up event to promote and serve new menu items does more than create excitement around the dish: it gives you an opportunity to get some customer feedback on it, too.
  • You want to get more people talking about your brand: that could be generalised awareness (“Hey! Check out our pop-up and get to know us”) or it could be around something specific that want customers to know about.

So what does this look like in the real world?

Image source and credit: property of Gelato Messina via

Case study: Gelato Messina makes a splash with milk

Gelato Messina needs no introduction – the words “Gelato” and “Messina” are at this point synonymous with one another. Tell someone you’re going to get some Messina, and they’ll know you mean gelato. Say you’re headed to get some gelato, and they’ll assume you’re going to Messina.

So what do they need to promote?

Well, while most of their customers/fans know and love Messina, they may not know that the company recently purchased a 270-head dairy farm in Victoria.

As part of its commitment to using the best ingredients, Messina decided this was the best way to ensure the milk they use is top quality – and milk is in nearly every item Messina sells, so this is a big deal they want people to know about.

In advance to switching over their milk supply, Messina teamed with Deliveroo, creating a pop-up Milk Bar last November to serve from the very first batches from their cows – before the milk hit Messina’s production lines.

For one day in Sydney’s World Square, and one more in Melbourne’s Southbank, the Messina Milk Bar served milk – for free – to the first one-thousand people who showed up each day.

Customers could try the milk in one of five flavours – Chocolate, Strawberry, Salted Caramel, Malted Vanilla, and Iced Coffee – served up in an old-fashioned milk bottle branded with a classic looking “Messina Milk” logo.

While enjoying their drink, customers were able to wander into an interactive art exhibit of sorts, dubbed The Infinity Field. The field was actually a large cube which people could step into, with milk-bottle flower sculptures and every surface mirrored so it evoked a never ending pasture, all lit up in a Deliveroo shade of teal.

The event was described as “the chance to sample the latest Messina product before it’s released to the market” were no doubt upset to find out this was a one-time-only deal. Messina’s own blog was pretty clear: “This won’t be coming out in stores and will only be available” at the pop-ups. True to form, Messina handed out every last bottle they had. FOMO achieved.

Can a pop-up work for you?

On the surface, the Messina Milk Bar sounds like an elaborate expense that most small businesses can’t afford, especially without the name recognition needed to get a sponsorship deal from Deliveroo. But look past the glitzy exterior, and you’ll see the foundation for a successful pop-up:

  • Build the event around a specific product or theme: For Messina, it was all about the milk, and that led to the creation of everything else. The Milk Bar, the Infinity Field, the flavours—this is what sprung from the idea of Messina Milk.
  • Create excitement about the event: Taking control of their dairy supply, especially in the way that they have, is a huge step for Messina. It marks a pivotal moment in their growth as a company, and they’re inviting customers to celebrate the next phase with them.
  • Create FOMO: To say that Messina is beloved is an understatement. To be able to get a free bottle of the first public batch of their “homegrown” milk on the only day it would be available—well, there’s something exciting about that for Messina fans.

  • Partnerships help: You don’t need to get a sponsor to build elaborate walk-in art exhibits to create a successful pop-up partnership. You just need a good partner. In this case, a good partner means “a business that complements your own and can afford half the overhead.” A craft brewer partners with a barbecue restaurant and sells ribs and beer. A restaurant chef trades spaces with a food truck owner for a day. In hospitality, there are dozens of combinations that could be mutually beneficial.

While pop-ups are involve a lot of planning, hard work (and let’s not forget fun), above all, they are essentially a way to give attendees a unique experience they’ll remember.

Beyond the excitement of the pop-up you’re planning, it’s also a good idea to reinforce the impression your event makes. Getting chefs to mingle with the guests, sending attendees home with a little takeaway (party favour), and following up with thank you notes are all great ways to cement the wonderful experience you’re aiming to create.



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