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What You Need to Know About Pop Up Restaurants

The term ‘Pop-Up Restaurant’ became a trendy term as far back as 2014. Historically, there were ‘supper clubs’ and ‘underground restaurants’ which were considered exclusive, until people realised that they can now be made accessible to the public for a limited amount of time, hence the birth of pop-up restaurants.

As of 2019, there has been steady growth in this trend. If a budding chef or foodie wants to test out their menu for a fraction of the cost of setting up a conventional restaurant, then this is the way to go.

The main reasons why pop-up restaurants are worth doing include:

  • It’s not as costly as setting up a conventional restaurant
  • It’s the best avenue for testing out new and exciting concepts that will get people talking
  • It’s easy to latch on to existing brands and events where a ready audience awaits
  • Similar pop-ups can be set up from town to town or state – like a tour waiting to happen

Here are a few pointers on how to set up a profitable pop-up restaurant.

Have a Business Plan Ready

A pop-up can serve as a major step towards owning a chain of renowned restaurants. As a budding chef, it’s important to have a business plan that outlines short and long term goals. This allows for adequate planning and in the long run, booming business. Check out some great sample business plans here.

Location, Location, Location

A pop-up restaurant can be set up in a back alley in any neighborhood that gets plenty of foot traffic, or even an abandoned building (provided it’s safe), or in a gallery or at a community event. It’s important to do your research on what will appeal to your demographic – are they mostly young, inner-city types or families with kids? Popular festivals and events are worth keeping an eye on – do they attract the type of people who would love your food? Whatever – if there are lots of people walking by at the right time of day for lunch or dinner – then a pop-up is a good bet.

Get the Necessary Licences and Permits

Maintain a good relationship and reputation with local council and authorities – follow the regulations when setting up a temporary installation such as a pop-up restaurant. For example, it’s important to find out if the location requires any rent or extra charges. There could be food handling certificates as well as liquor licenses (if this makes up part of the menu) and other permits that you need to obtain to ensure the pop-up gets the green light.

Focus on Marketing and PR for the Upcoming Pop-Up Restaurant

Sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? But there are promotional avenues that need little to no funds and still get people talking about your pop-up. To begin with, family and friends are a great start. Make use of their social media networks to help get the word out. Next, connect with popular local media sites, local TV and radio outlets, and magazine editors to increase your reach. These connections will prove invaluable long after the pop-up event, so nurture them.

Setting Up a Temporary Kitchen and Dining Area is a Must

The pop-up restaurant differs in a few ways from a food truck. To begin with, a food truck may or may not have kitchen and dining facilities for its patrons. A pop-up restaurant is a precursor to having a fully-fledged diner and so these facilities are important to have. Invest in easily-mobile and affordable options. The design of the temporary dining room also needs to be eye-catching but realistic. This is because repeat patrons may have high expectations which cannot be fulfilled in upcoming pop-ups – keep it simple for now. Explore cost-effective rental options from providers like Alsco to get good quality restaurant and hospitality supplies.

Have a Well-Laid Out Menu

The main reason people would flock to a new pop-up restaurant is a menu with a twist. This doesn’t mean complicated recipe combinations, but merely a menu that offers something no one else is doing. Make sure the menu is clear and well-laid out. For example, have a creatively written blackboard at the entrance of the pop-up so patrons can know what to expect. More importantly, keep the prices friendly and in line with the chosen location. Festival charges may not be as high as an independent set up because a pop-up can leverage the existing temporary infrastructure already in place.

Plan For Your Next Pop-up Restaurant

In other words, Rinse and Repeat. One pop-up restaurant down, lots more to go. This means finding out from those who visited the initial set up to share their experience and general feedback, from the venue to the menu.

Remember after-sales marketing and PR. This is the time to make use of the reviews to make the next one better. One sure way of keeping the pop-up consistent is having a long-term relationship with a regular festival or event in the area. This means the pop-up becomes constant during each subsequent event and costs are predictable.

The Do’s and Don’ts When Setting up a Pop-Up Restaurant

  • Do: Plan Ahead – Adequate planning, from funds to affordable suppliers, is crucial to make the pop-up restaurant a success.
  • Do: Be Social – As an upcoming restaurant owner, it’s as important to develop a rapport with the locals as it is to wow outsiders. Look after the locals. Know who’s who in the zoo.
  • Do: Be Open-minded – As an emerging chef or restaurant owner, you must be open to criticism. Flexibility helps you adjust a business plan, tweak the menu and stay focused on keeping your customers happy. Don’t live life in an echo-chamber with people who just tell you everything is perfect – ask for criticism, never get complacent and always strive to be better than the last time. Your customers will notice.
  • Don’t: Spend More than Necessary – It’s important for a pop-up restaurant venture to be as cost-efficient (if not profitable) as possible. Make connections with affordable suppliers, take advantage of already existing events to keep overhead costs down, and remember that a fully-fledged restaurant is the end goal of the venture (money must be saved!).
  • Don’t: Cut Corners – Do NOT set up a pop-up restaurant without the necessary permits and licenses. This could adversely affect future pop-up ventures applications and, ultimately, the restaurant or bistro you are working towards creating. Use affordable but quality equipment in order to avoid overspending on replacements or having malfunctions during the event.

Photo courtesy of Flickr by SteelMaster Buildings

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