The Pop-Up Restaurant Survival Guide: Local Supper Clubs Share Their Tips

No building, no problem. These local supper clubs are finding success as pop-ups; this is how they do it.

By Marissa Alvarado

Pop-up restaurants may not have a physical address per se, but they do have a faithful following of foodies frantically refreshing their inboxes to sign up for the next guest list. If you haven’t yet caught on with the trend, pop-up restaurants (also known as supper clubs) are dinners held at a certain time and place, exclusive to those who sign up for the restaurant’s mailing list.

The trend is finding its footing in Fort Worth — pop-ups like Hot Box Biscuit Club and Magdalena’s Supper Club remain among the most popular, while paving the way for up-and-comers like Hao & Dixya that hosts culinary events of its own. 
So how does a supper club survive without a brick-and-mortar? Here’s how these local pop-ups make it work.

(1) The first rule of supper club: Have a good story. When putting together the creative concept for a pop-up, try to find a story or purpose to get customers intrigued. “Let people know why they’re going to your pop-up and why you created the menu,” said Juan Rodriguez, owner and chef of Magdalena’s Supper Club. “Trying to find the connection with people through your pop-up is probably the most important thing.”

(2) Find a good location/venue. Because a pop-up lacks a brick-and-mortar, restaurants have the opportunity to get creative with their locale. Local dumpling pop-up Hao & Dixya, co-founded by Hao Tran and Dixya Bhattarai, sets up at breweries and marketplaces. “We are always moving from one location or another, and you never know who is going to, or not going to, come to our pop-up,” Tran said. “Our biggest tip is be flexible — adapt to the situation at hand and do your absolute best to take care of your customer.”

(3) Create an exciting menu. A pop-up can be a place to test products and new techniques. Successful pop-ups keep people enticed, constantly changing the menu and allowing chefs to concoct creative new meals. Magdalena’s Supper Club changes its menu monthly; and while Hot Box Biscuit Club utilizes the same four-course format, it’s constantly reworking the menu. “I don’t like serving the same thing twice, back to back,” said Matt Mobley, co-founder and chef of Hot Box Biscuit Club.

(4) Utilize email. Using an email newsletter and guest list can give a pop-up an under-the-radar, speakeasy feel, which adds to the appeal. “We try not to do too much on our social media about our supper club because we want to keep it almost like a secret,” Rodriguez said. “We like to use our email subscribers as a way to promote our dinner.”

(5) Limit your space. With limited dining space that fills up fast, customers who don’t make the list have an urgency to try to get in next time. “We’ll basically just send an email blast out and say, ‘First come, first serve.’ Once it fills up, it’s done and sold out,” Mobley said.

(6) Make it BYOB. Because pop-ups usually run sans liquor license, encourage customers to bring their own alcohol. Hot Box Biscuit Club serves a complimentary drink and prompts brunchers to “bring your own bubbly.” The brunch crowd typically brings Bloody Marys, margaritas, beer and wine.

(7) Interact with customers on social media. Keep a conversation flowing between a pop-up and its loyal customers, Tran said. “Social media, particularly Facebook, has been vital to our business because we post events and announcements on our Facebook page to keep everyone posted,” she said. “We are also on Instagram to interact with our customers and other businesses on a personal level.”