October 6, 2022
Hosting holiday events builds brand awareness and drives revenue. Here’s a round-up of restaurant holiday pop-ups for inspiration.
Pop-ups are trendy, temporary and showing up everywhere these days, especially during the holiday season. Cocktail bars in particular are having a moment and experiencing a boom in popularity according to FSR magazine.
You’ve likely seen many restaurants hosting Miracle, a Christmas cocktail pop-up bar that has nearly 100 hospitality partnerships for the 2022 holiday season. Its sister concept, Sippin’ Santa, was started in 2015 to put a tiki spin on the Christmas cocktail pop-up and launches more than 30 locations each November and December.
Beyond these more curated global executions, restaurants are designing similar holiday pop-ups all on their own. If you want to experiment with pop-ups in your restaurant’s event calendar, it’s helpful to understand the benefits of these unique happenings. Below are some of the reasons why pop-ups are great for restaurants followed by some of the best examples of holiday pop-ups.
Find visual examples of real holiday decor for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve from successful concepts.
Between decorations, signage and promotional costs, you might be wondering — is a holiday pop-up worth the effort? Below are a few reasons why they’re valuable to your restaurant's event strategy.
Holiday pop-ups get your restaurant’s name on diners’ radar, create better visibility for your restaurant and build location awareness. For the new patrons that find you, creating a great experience can mean repeat customers. By expanding your offerings to include holiday pop-ups, you can build up your clientele.
The end goal of a pop-up is to generate sales. Offering themed cocktails as part of your pop-up can help increase check sizes since profit margins on alcohol are typically between 20-40%. Beyond food and drink, you can also sell tickets to the pop-up or create branded merchandise for extra earnings.
Experiential events are memorable, press-worthy and can spread like wildfire through social media promotion. For example, Houston pop-up Winter Wonderland HTX has an Instagram audience of about 3,000 followers. However, news of their event reached nearly 300,000 people (almost 100x their audience), thanks to an Instagram post from a local influencer.
Learn how to make technology work harder for you and maximize revenue this holiday season.
Here’s a round-up of successful holiday pop-ups from restaurants all around the country. Get inspired by their food and drink offerings, decoration choices and themes. Plus, learn how some concepts leverage private events, influencer marketing, merchandise sales, press coverage and brand partnerships to create a strong pop-up strategy.
The Fairlane Hotel’s seasonal pop-up runs from mid-November through the end of December in their Rooftop Penthouse. Ornaments hang from the ceiling, a wrapping paper art display adorns the walls and mini Evergreen tree trinkets sit on the tables alongside candle votives.
The pop-up also includes nine festive cocktails like Jack Frost (frozen espresso martini, whipped cream, peppermint) and Baby It’s Cold Outside (blend of red wine, cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves, honey, brandy). Snacks include a cheese and charcuterie board, potato & chive latkes, Christmas cookies and Yule Logs (chocolate cakes with pastry cream and chocolate ganache).
During the winter months, Fairmont Chicago transforms its lobby into a lodge-inspired pop-up. The set up is reminiscent of an après-ski experience with a photo opportunity on a ski lift chair. Dozens of Christmas trees populate the entrance. Once inside, lit garland with blue, white and gray bulbs frames the bar and lanterns sit on the bar counter.
Want to host the kind of pop-up that embraces ugly sweaters and holiday onesies? Look to the Tipsy Elf Cocktail Bar for inspiration. Throughout the two months of the pop-up (November and December), there are a series of special events in addition to the regular hours including Karaoke Karoling, Un-Tipsy Family Days, Drag Bingo, Ornament Painting and Disco Parties.
Festive cocktails in equally merry mugs are available along with just one food item: pizza (pepperoni or cheese) by the slice. The trendsetter concept from Exxir Hospitality also welcomes private events during the season.
Jersey City, NJ
Cellar 335’s modern tiki cocktail lounge takes a twist every December with their Sleighs ‘n Leis pop-up. Bows, lights, wreaths and yes, leis, dress up the oasis. Tiki-inspired cocktails like Frozen Hot Chocolate with hot cocoa mix, coconut milk & cream and Puerto Rican rums and Rum Rum Rudolph featuring Barbados rum, Laird’s Applejack, gingerbread spices, pineapple and coconut cream are served in kitschy glassware (think Mrs. Clause’s face and long-lashed reindeer). The pop-up is so popular that it typically runs through the end of January to extend the holiday cheers.
If you’re looking for an idea that’s less Christmas themed and more winter focused, look to Camp Bobby at Bobby Hotel. The rooftop experience sits ten stories above Nashville's Arts District and is a cozy cure for the cold. The 1970s-inspired campsite features a camper lounge in a Scenicruiser, private heated igloos, ice skating and personal campfires.
New York, New York
Pan-Latin inspired holiday pop-up, Feliz Coctelería, features a wide range of decor including paper chain snowflakes, holiday llamas, gift-wrapped tables, candy cane striped lining around the bar and Christmas trees stationed at every booth. There’s also music, tacos and limited-edition holiday drinks including boozy hot chocolate.
The Garret Coctelería stays true to its roots with the pop-up, embracing the Latin vibes of the concept. That’s important to remember when picking the theme, decor and offerings for your own pop-up: an event that feels authentic to the restaurant will perform best.
When thinking of designing your own holiday pop-up, consider partnering with a liquor brand for greater visibility. In the past, this South African-inspired restaurant and bar has collaborated with Maker’s Mark whiskey for their signature holiday pop-up, Blitzen Room.
Vintage holiday decor hangs all over the space, and the event is complete with an awkward family photo wall. Chartreuse hot chocolate and frozen egg nog are some of the specialty cocktails served through December. Biltong Bar also invites local food influencers for a complimentary experience in exchange for social media coverage. See the end results here and here.
Christmas might get most of the glory in the holiday pop-up scene, but Chicago’s only Hanukkah bar 8 Crazy Nights brings the Jewish holiday front and center. It serves up trays of brisket egg rolls, challah grilled cheese and three types of latkes (cilantro jalapeno, herbed cheddar or traditional with applesauce and sour cream). The blue-lit space is filled with decor featuring menorahs, dreidels and the Star of David. And guests don’t go home empty handed — pop-up merch like sweaters and hats is available for purchase.
Fans of the 1990 movie Home Alone showed up in droves at the Hidden Bar underneath Nashville’s Noelle Hotel. The pop-up paid tribute to the beloved film and recreated the McCallister family’s house from the wallpaper to the furniture to the dining room table. It even caught the attention of Travel + Leisure. Hidden Bar’s pop-up theme is a great example of how to find the sweet spot of nostalgia and practical execution. Check out their Instagram highlights for even more inspiration.
Rooftop club Waterproof turns into Winterproof each December in downtown Dallas. Their “Snow Globes & Northern Light Lounges” — also known as bubble bars, personal domes or private igloos — are the star of the show and filled with blankets, pillows and rugs. The cozy private dining spaces can accommodate two to four people in the small domes and up to eight in the large domes.
The pop-up sits on the 19th floor of the Statler Hotel with panoramic views of the city. In the past, there was a Hennesy hot cocoa bar with a top-your-own style buffet line that included candy canes, caramel kisses, marshmallows and cookies. The team at Waterproof excels at creating Instagrammable moments at their Winterproof Wonderland, which is key to generating buzz and interest.
Since 2019, Kitty Cohen's has hosted its Get Lit pop-up from late November to late December. Decorative paper spheres hang from the ceiling, Happy Hanukkah banners are pinned to the walls, blue and white streamers dress up empty corners and a blow-up dreidel tops off the theme.
Drinks like “Bubbe's Hot Buttered Whiskey” with bourbon, apple brandy and spiced butter make up a special drink menu, which includes a few charity cocktails. A percentage of proceeds from the charitable drinks are donated to Shalom Austin, the local Jewish Community Center. A special drink menu is a must for any holiday pop-up and offering one to two sippers in a “cocktails for a cause” section is a natural way to incorporate the “giving back” spirit of the holiday season.
2003 film Elf has become a holiday favorite in the past twenty years, and Wrigleyville’s Stretch Bar & Grill embraces and celebrates the movie at its casual neighborhood bar. With over 1,000 different elves, a 10-foot Christmas tree, wall quotes, wreath chandeliers and movie character cut-outs, there’s something for everyone. Tableside condiment carriers feature the “four main food groups” — candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup.
A special food menu is laced with movie references like Buddy’s Breakfast Pasta (spaghetti topped with maple syrup, chocolate fudge, chocolate syrup, mini marshmallows and strawberry frosted pop tarts) and the You Smell Like Beef & Cheese Burger.
Elf’d Up also executes private events and catering opportunities well. They offer a half or full buyout along with drink packages, party platters, specialty cocktails and the option to have Buddy the Elf join the party.
Game Terminal Super Arcade & Bar brings the party outdoors in December, along with their amazing selection of games. The pop-up is home to seven heated igloos, each filled with board games, cozy decor and seats for up to eight people. Let’s Get Blitzen also has thousands of strung lights, over twenty Christmas trees, specialty cocktails and holiday music. It’s a great example of knowing your audience and customers (game lovers) and incorporating their interests into pop-up planning.
One of Atlanta’s favorite speakeasies gets a holiday makeover each season. With silver tinsel and red bows behind the bar, ornaments hanging from the ceiling and lots of garland, it’s a Christmas dream. The Blind Pig Parlour Bar knows the power of influencer marketing too and was featured in this vlog, which is a prime example of how to create relationships that result in user-generated content.
Mordecai shows that there doesn’t need to be a complete transformation of your space to host a holiday pop-up. The team at this bi-level cocktail bar adds intentional touches that dress up the interior without being overpowering. Festive pillows line the banquette seating while mini snow globes make adorable centerpieces at each table. The pop-up also incorporates helpful events for busy gift givers like complimentary wrapping services.
New York, New York
Mr. Purple gives a look at how a brand partnership can come to life for your pop-up. The NYC rooftop lounge works with Veuve Clicquot to produce a winter chalet with ski-lodge decor and fur-lined seating. The Veuve Clicquot branding is done in a tasteful way that really brings the glitz and glam. The pop-up even features a custom Veuve Clicquot champagne bar. Delicious comfort food like fondue, short rib empanadas, pretzel bites and spiked frozen hot chocolate bring the apres ski vibe alive.
Find content ideas for the holiday season, see visual examples from successful restaurants and read expert analysis of why each idea works.
Denver’s pan-Mexican kitchen, My Neighbor Felix, turns into Felix Navidad for the holiday season. Their iconic “muy yum” neon sign gets a Christmas touch with candy and Santa hat decor. Throughout the pop-up, there are signature events like an ugly sweater party, toy drive and holiday movies on display.
Drink specials include customer favorite Santa’s Cookies N’ Milk cookie shots and the Winter Coconut Cosmo that’s dusted with sugar coated cranberries and rosemary. My Neighbor Felix’s social media content shines in many ways, especially with its staff highlight showing who’s behind the bar.
Willow Bar’s garden escape brings a wintery wonderland to Atlanta with igloo domes, twinkle lights, hot cocktails like mulled cider and hearty eats including grilled cheese with truffled fromage forte on brioche. Their reservation system involves booking an igloo for a maximum of two hours and requires a food and beverage minimum of $50 per person. Keep in mind time limits and food/drink requirements when deciding your own reservation strategy.
The Grinch himself makes periodic appearances at Moe’s Cantina throughout the month of December for the How The Grinch Stole Christmas Pop-Up. The installation is a fully immersive experience with green, red and white cocktails (like The Snowball) and photo stand-in (face in a hole) opportunities. Moe’s Cantina excels at their social media marketing for the pop-up by producing short-form, fast-moving Instagram reels with trending audio to promote its drinks and The Grinch.
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Check out these examples of restaurant events, and see if they make sense for your upcoming holiday plan.