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My First Pop Up Dinner Party

Have you ever hosted a Pop Up Dinner Party? I’ve always wanted to, but have been too intimidated to actually give it a go. The practicalities seem so daunting. Then a few weeks ago, I was invited to this special Pop Up Dinner on Bernal Hill and it was as perfect and beautiful as I’d always imagined. Despite my initial reservations, it made me want to take the plunge and host my own. I mean, how hard could it be, right??…

Pop Up Dinner Party by the Golden Gate Bridge | Oh Happy Day!

RIGHT! To my surprise, it was actually super easy. I’m sure there are a some other people who’ve been intimidated like I was. So today I thought I’d share a few things I learned as a beginner.

Location: The most inspiring Pop Up Dinner parties happen in unexpected locations (like here or here!) For my first one, I knew we wanted to a) sit near the Golden Gate Bridge, b) be near a road or parking lot for easy loading and unloading, and c) be in a spot that was easily accessible with public transportation (since some of my friends don’t have cars.) The Tuesday before the event, my friend and I drove around looking for the best spot and finally settled on a paved area near the Presidio. It had a great view of the bridge, was protected from the wind, and was less than 100 yards from a parking lot. Done and done. However, when we came back on Saturday for the event – it was PACKED with tourists. No, really: some even asked us to take photos of them sitting at our table. (“Um… sure?”) When I do it again, I’ll definitely pick a spot that has less foot traffic.

A bunch of people asked if we had permission to be there. Good question. The answer is: I don’t know? I called the Park Department to ask some generic questions and it seemed like they didn’t really care as long as the group was under 30 people. So, we didn’t get a permit and no one bothered us.

Oh, one more thing. Make sure to give a really clear address or location for guests to put into Google Maps (especially if your spot is off the beaten path.) Some of our friends got a little lost on their way.

Pop Up Dinner Party by the Golden Gate Bridge | Oh Happy Day!

Setting Up: An hour and a half before the event started, we borrowed a car to pick up the table and chairs and to bring over all the food and supplies. I actually borrowed Jordan’s table and chairs, but it’s just as easy and really affordable to rent them.  Setting up the table went as quickly as Jordan said it would – my husband and I did it together in about 15 minutes. We used our own Ikea plates and silverware which we brought in a big tub. This also makes cleaning up super easy – just throw everything in the tub and go. I didn’t want to break any of our pretty wine glasses, so we used Mason jars instead. At the last minute, we also threw an extra knife, paper towels and some garbage bags into our bag and were really happy we had them all on hand.

Food: I get overwhelmed cooking for groups of people, so this time I split the cooking duties with a friend and that took a lot of the pressure off. We kept things super simple and choose dishes that could be served chilled. (Next time, if I didn’t have any cooking help, I’d probably just order takeout.) Transporting the food was really easy though. I placed both items in white serving dishes and covered them with tin foil before we left the house. When we got to the location, I just placed them on the middle of the table and wiped down the inside edges to make the dishes look a little cleaner.

Pop Up Dinner Party by the Golden Gate Bridge | Oh Happy Day!

Drinks: Since summer nights in San Francisco get chilly, Jordan recommended ending the night with a warm beverage. This was THE BEST idea. My friend brought glühwein in a thermos and just when people started getting cold, we brought it out. It totally warmed everyone up and kept us chatting at the table for an extra hour.

Decorations: We kept things pretty simple and went with an all-white color palette. Jordan told me to rent the linens – but I borrowed a tablecloth from a friend. It worked out alright, but the tablecloth wasn’t exactly the right size for the table and on 2 sides you could see the table legs. I know that’s NOT a big deal (and seriously, no one noticed it) but I’m totally OCD and it bugged me. Next time, I’ll just listen to Jordan and rent all the linens. For flowers, I picked up some dahlias and greenery from Trader Joe’s. I saved a few kombucha bottles the week before the party and turned them into vases. Easy and cheap. I would’ve also loved to use candles, but it was a little windy that night and I get weird about open flames outdoors.

Pop Up Dinner Party by the Golden Gate Bridge | Oh Happy Day!

Cleaning Up: Jordan told me that everyone would help us clean up at the end – which was totally true. Clean up took about 10 minutes and everyone helped to carry the supplies back up the hill to our cars.

Overall, the night was really special and I know I’ll remember it forever. During dinner, we watched sailboats glide across the bay while the fog rolled in. While we ate dessert at twilight, we saw all the twinkling lights appear along the bridge. It’s the stuff that you see in movies – except this was real life! I couldn’t stop pinching myself.

So, there you have it! Have I sold you yet? Would you ever host one yourself??

Pop Up Dinner Party by the Golden Gate Bridge | Oh Happy Day!

  1. Isabelle

    July 27, 2015

    I’ve never heard of people doing these, maybe because I live in the UK, but it actually seems like a really really lovely idea! Also that view is just incredible oh my gosh x

  2. Bella Bucchiotti

    July 27, 2015

    It looks like a great evening!

  3. Kaitlyn

    July 27, 2015

    This is such a cool idea! The photos look great with the bridge in the background. It does seem pretty simple with some planning and a really fun twist on a dinner party!

    – Kaitlyn |

  4. Holly Erinn

    July 27, 2015

    This is such a fun idea! It’s like a modern take on a picnic, such a imaginative get together! I may just have to try to get the crew together for something like this. Lovely photos, by the way!!!
    xo. holly erinn

  5. filicia

    July 27, 2015

    oh my, you totally sold me, though i am not very sure if people in my country (or city specifically, Jakarta) find pop up dinner like this weird or not haha.
    maybe just like you, the tourist or even people passing by will ask to take pictures haha


  6. Lauren - émoi émoi

    July 27, 2015

    Wow- I’ve never heard of a pop up dinner in locations like this before! It’s a fun idea, so I might give it a go soon!


  7. Em

    July 27, 2015

    I think all of this advice is great! However, I have to disagree with how easy it is to rent items like chairs or linens. I was under the impression it was, too, because where I live (Raleigh) my local rental company will let me come to the warehouse to pick up a small order. However, when my sister-in-law and I were trying to plan a similar party in NYC, we couldn’t find anywhere in Manhattan, Jersey City, Brooklyn, etc. that would let us pick up an order from the warehouse, and the cheapest delivery fee was $250. We ended up purchasing the Ikea stools y’all used, but just a word to the wise, renting might not be so easy, depending on where you live!

      • alison
      • July 27, 2015

      Thanks for the tip! Our experiences are limited to San Francisco – so it’s definitely possible that it would be different in other cities. 🙂

      • Alice
      • July 29, 2015

      About 20 years ago it was easy to get chairs (I don’t know about tables) from any local funeral home or VFW halls in Chicago. You called them and if they didn’t have use for them you could borrow them at no cost but you had to pick them up and return them on your own. I did it for my daughter’s communion and the in-laws always did it for holidays and such. I haven’t had to rent out chairs and tables since then and I don’t know if funeral homes still rent them out, but that may be a source for you in New York or in any large city. I love the idea of a pop up dinner party. I never heard of it until now and I’d like to give it a try. I hope you make some calls and have success.

  8. Jessica Burgess - Fantabulosity

    July 27, 2015

    Whaaat!? Why have I never heard of this, and WHY is it not on my agenda yet!? Holy Moly. Planning one NOW! Thank you! XO!

  9. Jenn

    July 27, 2015

    I would pay to go to one of these… when do I get an invite 🙂

  10. Liz - Shopping My Closet

    July 27, 2015

    Beautiful locale!

    Liz @

  11. Paige

    July 27, 2015

    This is such a great, and fun idea! It looks like everyone had a blast, and that view is amazing!


  12. Sarah W

    July 27, 2015

    This looks so magical! I live in the Seattle area, (east side) and I’m trying to think of places I could do this. It looks like so much fun!

  13. Kamisha

    July 27, 2015

    You have sold me.
    I love it and I am already scheming of some places and people to invite.

  14. Molly

    July 27, 2015

    Lovely! Now I really want to do one!

  15. Andrea

    July 27, 2015

    I absolutely love this idea. So clever and looks wonderful!
    You’ve got me thinking about where I can host a pop up dinner around my city.

  16. Alice Paling

    July 28, 2015

    Wow, this looks so much fun. I can think of so many great locations where I live…you’ve definitely inspired me, thank you. X

  17. Lydia

    July 28, 2015

    Do you also pick spots with public restrooms nearby?

      • alison
      • August 3, 2015

      I didn’t worry about this too much – the party was only a few hours long. But, in case of an emergency, there were restrooms about 800 meters away.

  18. Michelle

    July 28, 2015

    I’m so doing this! Thank you for the inspiration! I’m wondering if something hot made in a casserole dish or crock pot would stay warm covered with blankets in a cooler? (It’s insulated, right?)

      • alison
      • August 3, 2015

      Yes, I definitely think that would work!

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