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What is a pop-up restaurant?

Editorial Team

5 min read
Plates of pasta and salad

Pop-up restaurants were the sixth most popular dining trend in 2018.1 A year later, they reached the number two spot.2 The 2020 COVID-19 outbreak hurt the entire dining industry; but, with pandemic restrictions easing, this hot dining concept is making a comeback.

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How do pop-up restaurants work? How do you start one, and why are they so popular? Let’s take a look.

Pop-up restaurant: defined

A pop-up restaurant is a temporary venue that blends the experience of fine dining with the buzz of an exclusive exhibition. Whether the experience is set up in an abandoned industrial park or rooftop terrace, these short-lived venues allow organizers to test new concepts, build their brands, demonstrate their culinary skills, and reach a wider audience.

How to open a pop-up restaurant

Although pop-up restaurants come in all shapes and sizes, there are several key elements required to make your venture a success. Below are some of the requirements.

1. The goal

While pop-up restaurants can be profitable, they’re not normally moneymakers in the traditional sense. Instead, they allow you to try new menus, locations, and design concepts. It’s important to set expectations as far as the benefits a pop-up restaurant can bring to your business.

2. The location

In theory, you can convert any unused space into a pop-up restaurant – from a school gymnasium to an industrial warehouse to a city park. The main hurdles include: obtaining clearance from whomever owns or controls that space; securing the necessary permits; and making sure there is a safe and clean area to prepare and serve food.

3. The gear

Even though pop-up restaurants are temporary, you still need:

  • A professional kitchen with all the normal cooking, cooling, and storage infrastructure. However, it’s not uncommon for some organizers to adopt a catering model in which the food is prepped off-site before being brought to the pop-up location.
  • All the tables, chairs, dishes, decorations, and cleaning supplies you’d normally expect with a full-service restaurant.

Fortunately, many of these items can be rented or purchased second hand – helping you to keep costs to a minimum.

4. The permits

In addition to getting permission from a landlord, you will need to acquire the relevant permits from city officials. This requires passing all health and safety inspections. An unused warehouse might have the space – and even a kitchen. That said, certain health risks could shut down operations before you even get a chance to open your doors.

5. The marketing

The shorter the run, the more important marketing a pop-up restaurant becomes. That’s because you won’t always have the benefit of word-of-mouth advertising to help drive future sales. Starting to spread the word early allows you to reach more potential customers before opening.

Social media is an obvious favorite among pop-up restaurant organizers. Don’t forget to target current customers, as well – by email, SMS text, or some other channel. Offering exclusive discounts to your most loyal fans can go a long way in generating hype.

Pop-up restaurant costs can vary considerably depending on the space, menu, and your marketing budget. It’s not uncommon to spend several thousand dollars just to get off the ground.3 This pales in comparison to the $100,000 to $2 million required to open a permanent restaurant location.4

Why open a pop-up restaurant?

Pop-up restaurants offer benefits for everyone involved:

  • As a business owner, you can test concepts, menus, and designs before committing resources to a permanent brick-and-mortar location. Pop-up restaurants also allow you to demonstrate to investors that you have what it takes to launch and grow a business that resonates with customers.
  • As a chef, pop-up restaurants allow you to try new culinary concepts that might be too risky to attempt in a more formal setting. It also helps that pop-up restaurant attendees tend to be more relaxed and understanding than typical restaurant-goers.
  • As a customer, you get to enjoy the novelty of it all. There’s also the satisfaction you get from “being in the know” whenever an exclusive or temporary event takes place.

However, pop-up restaurants are not without their challenges. Because you’re working off-site with mobile, rented, or used equipment, there are a lot more logistics involved. It’s not just the gear either. You also must factor in labor, time, paperwork, and a host of other considerations – all of which may make it harder to control costs. This is why pop-up restaurants are better suited for testing the waters and generating buzz than for raking in profits.

Let us help get your pop-up restaurant off the ground

For your pop-up restaurant to succeed, there is one final ingredient. You need a way to securely accept payments. That’s precisely where our PCI-compliant POS systems excel. In fact, many full-service restaurants use our portable POS solutions to process payments anywhere – whether at the table, at the curb, or during deliveries.

All you need is a Wi-Fi or cellular connection, and customers can settle their bills using any major payment method they want – including credit cards, debit cards, mobile wallets, gift cards, cash, and more.

To learn how our POS and payment solutions can help get your pop-up restaurant off the ground, schedule a free consultation with our merchant services team today.

1 “What’s Hot: 2018 Culinary Forecast,” National Restaurant Association
2 “What’s Hot: 2019 Culinary Forecast,” National Restaurant Association
3 “How to Start a Pop-Up Restaurant (+Tips, Cost, Examples), 2nd Kitchen, 20 November 2019
4 “How Much Does It Cost to Open a Restaurant,”Fit Small Business, 8 June 2020

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