The food and beverage industry is cooking up more events than ever before — the number of food and drink events on the Eventbrite platform increases every year. In Australia, we often look to the US for current food trends to seek out what’s hot and on the rise (take food trucks for example!). To look at growing food trends abroad, we analysed more than 40,000 food and drink events in the US and found that the fastest growing trend was the pop-up dining experience, with 82% growth.

Pop-up dinners are one-time food events that offer guests a taste of something different. Whether it’s an unexpected location, a personal interaction with the chef, or a unique menu or theme, these events cater to the “Experiential Diner” — who craves not just an amazing meal, but a new and exciting dining experience. From a collaborative dinner with seven hatted chefs, to breakfast with gorillas, fundraising events, and exclusive dining experiences, we’re seeing these one-of-a-kind dining experiences pop up all across the country.

This shift towards ticketed experiences is also creating a new kind of entrepreneur — up-and-coming chefs are turning to events to build their brand and highlight their creativity without necessarily being tied to a brick and mortar restaurant.

To explore the value of these events and the guests who attend them, we surveyed more than 2,000 people that attended a pop-up dining experience on Eventbrite in the US. Here’s what we found:

1. Pop-up dining events attract guests who are willing and eager to pay more for a unique dining experience

Three in four (75%) pop-up event attendees believe it’s worth paying more money for a unique dining experience. In fact, 50% of respondents say that even with the exact same menu, they’d be willing to pay more for a meal at a pop-up event with a chef interaction than for a meal at a regular restaurant.

Cost is not a major concern to the experiential diner — 59% don’t feel that a pop-up dining event’s cost is very important when deciding whether or not to attend. What is important?

  • A unique menu or theme: 84%
  • Events that promise to be one-of-a-kind: 74%
  • A memorable location: 76%

More than four in five (83%) would rather attend these events in non-traditional venues over restaurants.

2. Experiential diners are embracing the ticketing trend

Eight in ten pop-up event attendees say they actually prefer to buy tickets in advance rather than pay at the end of the meal. It creates a more relaxing environment for both the guests and the chef, so that the day-of can be all about the food. These diners view the meal as a valuable experience that they expect to pay ahead of time for, much like a concert or sporting event. In fact the survey results revealed that diners would actually spend more on a pop-up restaurant event with their favourite chef than they would for a performance from their favourite band or a ticket to see their sports team.

These diners are also open to innovation when it comes to alternatives to the restaurant reservation system: 55% say they would dine just as often or more often at a restaurant they liked if it required a pre-paid ticket.

Pre-paid ticketed dinners are a win-win. Guests don’t have to worry about the bill looming at the end of the meal, and you’ll know exactly how many seats you need to fill to turn a profit — while avoiding food waste and lost revenue due to no-shows. You can even offer the option of paying for add-ons or alcohol pairings at the time of purchase so that the focus of the meal is the food, not the bill.

3. These diners are lucrative, influential tastemakers that dine out often

Experiential diners tend to be the leaders and influencers in their social circles — 65% say they often plan big group outings among their friends, and 72% say that people often come to them for restaurant recommendations. When they like a particular restaurant or chef, they are strong advocates — over a third (37%) post online reviews directly following a good experience, and nearly two-thirds (62%) have posted food photos on social media in the last three months.

They skew female, millennial, and affluent. They dine out frequently, with 55% eating out for dinner at least twice a week, and they can’t get enough pop-up events. Nearly half say they attend pop-up events at least four times per year, and 84% say they’ll attend just as many — or more — in the next year.

4. Pop-up events can turn guests into powerful, vocal advocates for chefs and restaurants

Pop-up events activate the social currency of these diners. After having a positive pop-up dining experience, 90% would recommend the restaurant or chef to loved ones, and 87% say they’d return to the restaurant with friends.

The ephemeral, one-of-a-kind nature of these events make them inherently more shareable. Diners are more likely to share posts on social media about a pop-up dining experience than about a night out at a restaurant (75% versus 51%) and are nearly three times more likely to follow or communicate with a chef or restaurant after a pop-up event compared to a regular meal (95% vs. 33%).

5. Experiential diners are craving connection to their food, the chef, and each other

These diners not only want to connect with their friends, but also enjoy the spontaneity of making new friends around a shared experience. Nearly 60% of experiential diners say they go to pop-up food events because they enjoy the communal aspect, and would attend more events in this category if their friends were attending (55%), or there was some kind of social element (47%).

Pop-up experiences also provide an intimate atmosphere to get to know the makers and ingredients behind a meal — satiating the experiential diners’ desire to form a personal connection to their food, and go deeper than what can be gleaned from just reading a menu. 55% say they are more likely to attend if there is potential for a more personal interaction with the chef, and 49% would be interested in attending more of these events if local ingredients were used.

Looking for more inspiration? Subscribe to the Eventbrite Blog (in the righthand sidebar) to stay up to date with free resources for event professionals — including our top tips for hosting a pop-up dinner and the complete guide to food & drink events.

You can learn more about Eventbrite’s food and drink community here.

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