Starting with the restaurant industry, pop-up locations for companies have become more and more popular as a means to test different locations and the reception to the brand before committing to a physical location.
Cosmetic and clothing brands are some common entities outside of restaurants that will set up shop for a short period of time before closing the doors and moving, but the food industry is seeing the biggest resurgence of the practice following the pandemic and lockdown.
It's extremely common for kitchens to want to expand their footprint or even just try new menu items but worry that it's too far out of the comfort zone for their existing clientele. Pop-ups help facilitate these goals, letting kitchens create delivery and pick-up only locations in different cities, states and even countries! These off-premise dining locations are called ghost kitchens or virtual kitchens.
They make sense financially too as the setup tends to be no more than moving cooking equipment into a new space, with things like order processing and delivery being handle by third-party services such as Uber Eats and DoorDash.
Some kitchens will actually choose to change their branding for the pop-up, also known as a virtual brand. By changing the name and brand identity of the pop-up, they can make sure that customers coming to try the new menu aren't biased based on previous experiences. While a lot of people love trying something new, regular customers often come back to get the same experience and dishes they enjoyed previously.
Now that culinary experts have a way to test out their ideas for new cuisine in a low-impact manner, ghost kitchen pop-ups are seeing more and more progressive menus that showcase ideas that may sound wrong but end up creating taste sensations we never would've thought about.
If their new dishes flop and don't get the reception they wanted, the mission is still accomplished! The pop-up was able to test the waters with the restaurant only having to spend money on transporting equipment, renting the space and tacking on a few extra ingredients to the existing inventory order.
Some smaller chefs looking to break into the market can utilize pop-ups as their only means of operation, removing concerns of long-term building leases or the costs of construction. You'll see them setting up stands at different food halls or commissary kitchens that house multiple chefs all at once.
Even renowned chefs will use pop-ups to try and cater to a specific crowd or provide a type of food their customers have requested but doesn't fit in with their existing menu. Not wanting to add it to the menu could be because it simply clashes too much with the culture and flavors already there or it may use seasonal ingredients that aren't available long enough to make adding it a good option.
In these cases, pop-up virtual kitchens can be the perfect size to house ingredients for seasonal fares or focus on serving a specific meal and dedicating the space solely to the lineup the chef wants to create. It's all thanks to the restaurant innovation we've been seeing the last few years which has brought restaurant tech and amazing food together more than ever before.
The virtual kitchen trend that started the current wave of pop-ups is still going strong and this is leading to more and more venues and commercial kitchens making changes to accommodate the temporary nature of pop-ups.
Existing restaurants that have extra room in the kitchen or operate on specific hours are opening their doors to other companies. Renting out this extra space saves both parties money on expenses while giving customers a full-sized restaurant to visit to have their meals if they aren't looking to do delivery and takeout.
Another way existing kitchens use pop-ups is to help with fundraisers and community events. By taking their existing equipment and setting up for a day or weekend, they can easily help raise money for their cause with minimal cost to themselves. They simply need proper food storage, a cook top or portable oven and then a restaurant SaaS to process orders through.
Any successful ghost kitchen start up will tell tales of how fun the experience was and how exciting pop-ups are to run. What gets left out of these stories are the behind-the-scenes details that need more consideration when deciding your kitchen's next steps.
Pop-up kitchens are definitely cheaper than a traditional brick-and-mortar location but the cost for someone brand new will end up being several thousand dollars to cover the cost of equipment and proper licensing. Operating a pop-up without the right permits and approvals can see it shut down swiftly by local agencies, losing all of the money invested on top of potential fines.
As long as you take the time to draw out your pop-up plans and make sure all of your bases are covered, it can be an excellent opportunity for your culinary career. Pair your passion with the right restaurant tech and you'll be bouncing around different pop-ups in no time.