What is a Pop-Up Restaurant? Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

What is a Pop-Up Restaurant? Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

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The concept of a pop-up restaurant started relatively recently, and has become a popular trend. While it’s certainly not easy, it can be a great way to get your name out and into the world, show what you can do, and earn a bit of a reputation. Some people use this to simply have fun, but others use it for marketing, training, and even as a soft opening of a full restaurant concept. 

In this blog we’ll break down what a pop-up restaurant is and how you can get started.

What is a Pop-Up Restaurant?

First things first, what is a pop-up restaurant? It’s a temporary restaurant, at its simplest. While there certainly is a bit more nuance than that, the simple truth is that a pop-up restaurant comes as a short-term setup in someone’s restaurant, home, or even in old buildings and warehouses. The sky's the limit with the location, so you can get creative.

Benefits of Opening a Pop-Up Restaurant

So, why do people open a pop-up restaurant? Generally, it’s done as a bit of a practice run for a larger concept, but pop-ups are also used pretty regularly as a marketing tool. By creating something limited and time-locked, you’re forcing guests to come in now, rather than say “yeah, we should go there some time!” The secret? That “some time” is only for a few days or weeks.

It’s the same idea behind those ads that you see that insist that you “act now,” they’re trying to invoke a sense of urgency.

Beyond that, though, pop-up restaurants allow you to test out new concepts with your market and see how they’d operate. While some things, like pizza or burgers, will almost always have a market, this can be incredibly handy for creative or out-of-the-box concepts — especially if your food is something that’s new to the area.

Disadvantages of Opening a Pop-Up Restaurant

While I wish I could say it weren’t true, pop-ups have a few downsides. The largest of these is tied directly to what can make a pop-up restaurant so special — time. After all, while the time limit is great to get customers in the door, it also means that you have very little time to actually plan and rework things that may not work.

Beyond that, you also need to worry about costs. Getting a restaurant going is no easy task, and it’s generally funded with long-term returns in mind. If you’re trying to get loans and financial support for a short-term pop-up, you’ll need to be confident in your abilities and able to prove it.

Different Types and Styles of Pop-Up Restaurants

No two pop-ups are the same, and that’s by design. Their whole thing revolves around the mystique of something new and limited, and because of this, they tend to be a bit… out there in terms of concept. Sometimes, you’ll find a simple pizza pop-up restaurant that’s simply being used as a tester for a full brick-and-mortar, ghost kitchen, or food truck. 

Other times, though, you’ll find that pop-ups are equal parts art show and dining experience. Some famous pop-ups have even gone so far as to set up an art exhibit and give away “free food with purchase of a ticket.” While this was done to get around local ordinances on where food could be sold, in this example it worked extraordinarily, ultimately leading to four locations for this business.

In short, let your mind run wild. Enjoy the chance at creativity, and come up with your wildest ideas. While not all will stick, there are certainly a few unique chances that you’ll think up just in time to get them going next summer.

pop-up restaurant in the street

How to Start a Pop-Up Restaurant

But, how do you start a pop-up restaurant? Well, it’s not an easy task. It requires a bit more work than setting up a normal restaurant, because you’re not left with as much time for testing, setup, and training. Beyond that, finding a venue can get all-consuming and, ultimately, become a real pain.

Let’s talk about how to start a pop-up restaurant.

Step 1: Develop Your Concept

As with all things, you have to start at the beginning. In this case, it’s your concept. What do you want to sell? Who do you want to cater to? What’s your target market and audience? These are all crucial questions to ask yourself before you’re in too deep. No matter what type of food you want to sell, a pop-up needs a theme, a concept, in order to work. 

It can be as simple as “we sell great food in a weird old hotel or warehouse,” and that could work — or you can go the full nine and come up with something truly out of the ordinary. Set up a medieval-themed fantasy menu in a cabin overlooking a lake, create a new style of fusion and lean into it, the choices are truly endless.

Step 2: Create a Business Plan

This is an incredibly important part of the process. Without a restaurant business plan, you’ll likely find that things are a bit too disorganized to properly set up in time to run the pop-up when you want. Figure out financing, your location (next up), and who you plan to hire for each position. On that note, be sure to go into this with a chef and server or bartender in mind to lead the vision. This will help hammer down on consistency, ensuring you’re able to actually function as a restaurant before the doors open.

Step 3: Secure a Location

Just as the concept plays a super important role in how your pop-up restaurant will be perceived by the public, so too does its location. If you’re aiming to create a dark, moody experience, it’s likely not going to work out if you have the pop-up set in a winery or in the country. Instead, look for restaurants that are willing to rent space, old warehouses or factories that can be (safely) converted on a temporary basis, or even homes in your area.

This is because location is just as large a part of the experience as the food and drinks. If this is a limited time, exclusive experience, lean into it! Get yourself an unforgettable venue and use that to market and build a name for yourself (before launch).

Step 4: Plan Your Menu

While you likely have something of an idea for the menu already, once you have the location, it’s time to get the menu fully nailed down. Just as with a full restaurant, your menu is your heart, so it’s crucial that it’s bulletproof. This means planning out all of the costs that it’ll incur, along with pricing, plating, and preparation.

Beyond that, though, you also need to think about how it’ll be presented. You can’t just print out a bunch of basic paper menus and expect to charge a premium, so how will you differentiate your menu from that of other pop-ups and restaurants in town? If you have a theme, use it to make your menu stand out, and if not, try to get a talented graphic designer on it — it’ll help, I promise.

Step 5: Marketing and Promotion

Marketing makes the world go ‘round, and pop-up restaurants know this better than many standard restaurants. Just like with food trucks, a pop-up restaurant is something unique and limited in scale and volume. Because of this, you want to have a way to get the crowds to show up regularly, as you’ll only be open for a brief period. 

Remember how we said to establish a theme? This is where that will pay off. Lean into what makes you special and hammer that home over social media. Hell, if you can, hire a marketing firm to do a bit of market research and really bring you into the limelight!

Step 6: Set Up Your Operations

Lastly, it’s time to set up. Get your staff trained, the menu prepped, and get a few plates out to your staff. This is a great opportunity to talk to them, too, and get a bit of extra information on what they think works, what doesn’t, and what else you could do to stand out. While it may hurt to hear a bit of constructive criticism, it’s better to hear it now (from staff) than during service (from a guest).

pop-up restaurant

Grow Orders, Save Time & Eliminate Tablet Chaos

Integrate your delivery apps and online orders with your POS and consolidate them into a single tablet. Helping you reduce order issues, grow your sales, and eliminate delivery headaches.

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