How to Start a Successful Pop-up Restaurant: Your Ultimate Guide

November 22, 2022
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Pop-up restaurants are one of the best-known restaurant concept trends, according to the What’s Hot survey. And as per the Eventbrite report, diners in pop-ups have seen over 80% year-over-year growth. This business model has something for everybody, from restaurant owners to chefs to customers. 

But the idea of opening a pop-up restaurant may be somewhat intimidating. There are essential things to figure out. Here, you will learn how to start a pop-up business and what it takes to state your position in the food industry.

What is a pop-up restaurant? 

Image: lokiboxdesign

Image: lokiboxdesign

A pop-up restaurant defines itself as a dining business with temporary nature (i.e., a flexible location, concept, and size). This model gets inspiration from supper clubs that were all the rage as early as the 1960s. 

Unlike permanent restaurant businesses, pop-ups exist for a limited time (an evening, a day, a week, a month, or more). Their lifespan is subject to the original objective and pertinent limitations (e.g., lease and permits and licenses).  

These temporary restaurants can be set up in existing restaurants during off-hours, cinemas, cafes, bowling alleys, arcades, bars, outdoor markets, or even your home.

What is the purpose of pop-up restaurants?

Some common reasons why you choose a pop-up concept over a brick-and-mortar location include:

Test out menu or restaurant concepts. 

Test out pricing methods.

Open a mobile kitchen to raise money for charity events.

Provide chefs with total creative freedom without a considerable risk factor.

Offer high-end meals at a more reasonable price by reducing restaurant costs.

Attract potential investors who want to see your business concept in action. 

Opening a pop-up restaurant: Pros & cons

New pop-ups are being opened all the time and customers cannot wait to access these events. Having said that, before jumping into opening a pop-up, you should consider all the upsides and downsides.

1. Pros

Lower startup costs, for example, reduced labor costs and overhead;

Generating interest because of the limited-edition nature of the pop-up restaurant (i.e., encourage customers to pay a visit before it closes);

Access to infrastructure and free marketing if your temporary restaurant is hosted in an existing restaurant space;

Ability to move from one location to another with a similar pop-up menu or concept;

Allowing aspiring chefs and young professionals to build a reputation in the restaurant industry;

Attracting investors to finance your business if your pop-up receives rave reviews;

Becoming a permanent restaurant if your pop-up is successful.

2. Cons

Necessary willingness to run the business with limited resources and/ or in an unfamiliar location;

Heavy reliance on marketing and public relations

Probably hard to create repeat customers if you only operate occasional pop-ups.

How to start a pop-up restaurant in 9 easy steps

Where opening a pop-up location does not need the same level of investment as a permanent restaurant, there are still many things to consider before opening day. 

1. Decide on your new restaurant concept

Selecting a unique concept is the secret to your new venture’s marketability since novelty is closely tied to the success of this business type. Think about who your target audience is and what makes you special.

For example, you may start a pop culture-themed restaurant with movie-themed decorations and food menu ideas inspired by famous franchises. Else, a spooky temporary location for those who wish Halloween to be a long-term affair.

2. Formulate a restaurant business plan

Even temporary restaurants need a thorough business plan. It acts as a blueprint outlining your vision (e.g., the pop-up’s end goals) and saving you from unpredictable situations.

You are recommended to start with a SWOT analysis. This involves defining the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of your new pop-up restaurant. Then, get into specifics about your format, menu, staff, suppliers, competition analysis, finances, and marketing strategies following your marketing costs.

3. Check the permits and licenses

As with a typical restaurant, a set of permits and licenses are required when you start a pop-up. We hope you know that food trucks are not regulated the same as pop-ups. So, check your local county website to know your local laws and requirements. 

While they may differ by state, here are several standard ones:

  • Business License
  • Employer identification number
  • Building health permit (i.e., the building where your pop-up restaurant is located has to pass health inspections).
  • Employee health permit
  • Zoning permit
  • Sign Permit
  • Resale permit
  • Seller’s Permit
  • Music license
  • Liquor license
  • Food service license

4. Decide where to operate your pop-ups

Image: worldarchitecture

Image: worldarchitecture

Here are some factors to consider before determining the right location for your new restaurant:

  • Target audience;
  • Potential competitors;
  • Accessibility and parking;
  • Zoning restrictions;
  • Foot traffic;
  • Utilities and rent costs.

And here are some ideas for your pop-up restaurant location:

  • An area that is safe for cooking and serving food;
  • Recycled shipping containers;
  • Roof-top gardens;
  • Parks;
  • Old unused buildings;
  • City-wide festivals;
  • Private events;
  • Some cities that have dedicated spaces for pop-up restaurants, for instance, New York and San Francisco;
  • An already established restaurant (e.g., contact a local business that only serves breakfast and lunch. You can leverage the dining room to serve food at night).

5. Secure pop-up restaurant funding

If you are among those who have no money to invest in your new restaurant, the good news is that there are restaurant financing options to consider. These are equipment loán, startup business grants, SBA Microloans, business lines of credit, etc.

6. Hire your pop-up team

Most pop-ups tap their network and Facebook groups to find the right person for their business. It is also a good idea to hire staff through restaurant industry job sites such as Poached and Culinary Agents.

7. Create a profitable pop-up restaurant menu

Opening a pop-up is a great opportunity to prepare plates that attract new diners. Do not forget to consider prime costs and food costs when pricing your menu, ensuring you are making a profit. 

Here are some restaurant ideas in this regard:

Use seasonal and locally sourced ingredients.

Cater to different diets.

Try dishes that are absent in the neighborhood.

Have a signature menu item ideally named after your own pop-up restaurant.

Give customers the privilege to customize their meals.

Use One2’s contactless QR code menu that is more cost-effective, safer for everyone, easier to update, and delivers a better experience. Above all, it helps improve sales.

One2's touchless menu

8. Set up and design your pop-up restaurant 

For a complete dining experience, you necessarily bring in the equipment and system, particularly the right POS software. Also, remember that if you choose an existing restaurant with existing space like the dining room, there will not be much room for customizing the place following your concept and cuisine. Should you desire to make the place yours, think about selecting a location you can decorate from the get-go. Advisably, search for layout examples and design inspiration.

9. Promote the pop-up online and offline

As most pop-up restaurants have limited availability, they do not need to build a solid following. Rather, their restaurant business plan includes some form of marketing that builds excitement before opening. 

These might include:

  • Create a social media presence on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
  • Alert customers online with email marketing.
  • Distribute flyers in the neighborhood.
  • Reach out to reporters for press coverage.
  • Implement a QR code menu to serve more guests faster.
  • Give customers the option to pre-order the dishes and pay for them online. 
  • Promote the specials on your website using the One2Menu system that updates your specials and prices instantly. Contact us for further details and unparalleled support.
  • Advertise food promotions on social media.
  • Invite local influencers to try your pop-up food for free in exchange for word of mouth on social media accounts.
  • Use the One2 system’s best features, including Restaurant SEO, Google Integrated Menus, and Contactless Payments.

What One2's customers have to say.

Related questions

1. How long will a pop-up restaurant continue to be in business?

It can last from some hours to some months.

2. Tips for opening a pop-up?

Build a prix fixe menu for pop-up kitchens with limited storage space.

Choose shorter times over longer setups to generate more buzz.

Provide a temporary residency for guest chefs, which those who run a physical store to take advantage of this trend.

Give customers the option of BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle), putting the pressure of getting a temporary liquor license off you.

3. Elements that make for the success of pop-up restaurant operations?

4. What is common kitchen equipment for a pop-up?

  • Cutting tables
  • Portable steam table 
  • Deep fryer, grill, portable brick oven
  • Reach-in freezer or cooler 
  • Cleaning stations 

5. How much does a pop-up restaurant cost?

Opening it will cost several thousand dollars, depending on your pop-up size and the amount of equipment it needs.

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