Your Complete Guide to Pop-Up Restaurants

by Katie Sawyer, 11 minutes read
HOME blog your complete guide to pop up restaurants

What is a Pop-Up Restaurant?

A pop-up restaurant is a term used to describe a temporary restaurant that pops up during events or in other spaces that experience a lot of foot traffic. They vary wildly in size to set-ups the size of phone booths all the way up to actual buildings that are set-up temporarily. They can also appear as food trucks, which is primarily how the recent pop-up restaurant craze started in the first place.

Also, with the advent and rise of social media, brands are able to thoroughly promote the appearances of their pop-up restaurants at various locations. For example, if a New York based sandwich company recently purchased a food truck and was planning on making a trip to Chicago and Philadelphia, then they could assure that their fans in those areas are aware that they’re coming by broadcasting the news on their social accounts. Now that you’re better aware of what pop-up restaurants are exactly, let’s move onto who pop-up restaurants are best fit for.

Who are pop-up restaurants best made for?

While pop-up restaurants can be useful for a wide variety of people, there are certain situations where they are especially effective. One of which is a brand looking to expand into different cities and wants to test the areas before making a full on investment. Through the use of a pop-up restaurant, they can get a better idea of whether or not the restaurant would be popular in the area.

Another group are chefs looking to test the popularity of a new dish that they are uncertain of. With a pop-up restaurant, they can gain immediate feedback on their new recipes without harming the reputation of their physical stores. Entrepreneurs looking to begin their own brands can also make great use of pop-up restaurants. They give them the opportunity to get a taste of what the restaurant industry is really like along with helping with getting their name out there. These are just a few groups that are in a position to greatly benefit from the effectiveness of pop-up restaurants.

Another aspect of the restaurant industry that they’re gaining exposure to is having to organize and build employee schedules, which is often much more problematic and time-consuming than new business owners originally thought. To make sure that you get your employee scheduling situation straightened out before it grows to be a bigger problem, click on the link below to start your free trial of Deputy.


Your Complete Guide to Pop-Up Restaurants

Why are they so effective?

Whether or not you’re aware of it, you most likely see pop-up restaurants frequently throughout your day. Carnivals, festivals, malls, busy boardwalks, as well as a number of other environments are known for being hot spots for pop-up restaurants to present themselves to the world.

Your Complete Guide to Pop-Up Restaurants

This is because these environments are known for attracting heavy foot traffic that would make a pop up restaurant a profitable move for their brands. That said, opening up at a good location doesn’t guarantee success, in order for a pop up restaurant to be profitable, they need to be able to attract new customers that have never heard of the brand before. While that is no easy task, the benefits that come with a successful pop-up restaurant make the effort all worth it.

Benefits of Pop-Up Restaurants

A pop-up restaurant provides a number of benefits over opening a permanent restaurant location. While a permanent restaurant is typically a large investment in time, money, effort, etc. The demands of a pop-up restaurant are much smaller and less stressful than a typical restaurant all while still providing a number of the same advantages. Here are a number of benefits that come with the opening of a pop-up restaurant.

  • Experiment with New Menu Ideas

Maybe your cheeseburger shop would like to experiment with a new burger that is all vegan, but would like to try the item out in a situation that won’t risk tarnishing your brand if your regular customers don’t like it. This is where a pop-up restaurant comes in handy! Just make sure that you’re in an area where people would be likely to try out your new menu item.

In this case, the cheeseburger shop is trying out a new vegan option, so an area where people are more health conscious or an area with predominantly women would fit best so that they’re more likely to order the new menu item which gives you a way to gauge how successful the new item is by getting direct feedback from customers.

  • Test out New Locations

Whether you’re a new restaurant or a well-established brand, a pop-up restaurant is a great opportunity for you to test a particular location to examine whether or not it would be a profitable idea. There are a number of factors that go into determining whether or not a new location would be successful for your brand, you have to look at foot traffic, culture of the area, car traffic, etc. and while market research is a great way to get an idea of the above factors, your safest bet is by testing the location out yourself. You never know, the location that wasn’t your first pick could end up really surprising you.

  • Get People Excited

One of the biggest reasons why pop-up restaurants are so successful is because they create a buzz amongst people in the area that encourages them to come check out the shop before it goes away. This attracts all the foodies close-by to try out the menu and spread word of the brand online and in-person. All in all, pop-up restaurants create an urgency among customers that is great for brands trying to spread the word and get themselves better established fast.

  • Convinces Investors    

Restaurants cost money, a LOT of money. They’re so costly that financing one without outside help can be downright impossible. That’s why many prospective restaurant owners frequently look for help in the form of investors and other financial lenders. While these avenues may provide a fix for their financial woes, securing a loan can be a difficult task for a number of people. During the process of receiving a loan, the lender will want to know every aspect of your business to assure that they’re making a safe investment and that you’ll be able to pay them back.

Your Complete Guide to Pop-Up Restaurants

One of the best ways of convincing them that your idea will be profitable, is by hosting a pop-up restaurant where you’ll be able to use actual results and data to demonstrate just how profitable your idea is. Remember that all they are really concerned about are your numbers, so keep thorough accounts and records of how much you spent compared to how much you made in regards to your pop up restaurant. Also, make sure that your pop-up restaurant is in an area similar to where you would like to open up your own restaurant so you have an easier time convincing lenders that the results of your pop-up restaurant will mimic the results of your physical store.

  • Establish your Brand

Not everyone can afford a big fancy marketing campaign that spans multiple media avenues that includes commercials and billboards, that’s why pop-up restaurants are so useful for business owners trying to spread word about their new restaurants. They give you an opportunity to showcase your brand by giving people a (literal!) taste of what your restaurant will provide the foundation for establishing your own restaurant.

Now that you’re better aware of the benefits that come with a successful pop-up restaurant, let’s take a look at some tips for starting and maintaining your very own pop-up restaurant.

How to Start a Pop-up Restaurant

While starting a pop-up restaurant is typically easier and much cheaper than starting an actual restaurant, it can still prove to be troublesome if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. Take a look at the following steps that are helpful in setting up your own pop-up restaurant.

  1. Build a Business Plan

While building a business plan takes a lot of time and focus to complete properly, they are great for laying the groundwork and for figuring out your initial costs, your target market, how long it will take for you to breakeven, etc. It will also function as a great reference point whenever you speak to investors, lenders, other business owners, etc.

  1. Build your Brand

No matter how efficient your business plan may be, you’ll need to build your brand as well as a solid brand presence. This includes a strategy for: social media, promotional materials, engaging at events, etc. Your brand is what will make people want to stand in lines around the block just to get a taste of your food while you’re in town, and what will be talked about on social media and beyond. Do plenty of research and spend a lot of time on social media promoting the cities you’re going to be in along with uploading pictures of your food, the inside of your pop-up restaurant, your merchandise, people enjoying the food, and so on.

  1. Get a Business Entity

With all the fun stuff out of the way, it’s time to get into the technical talk. If you’re an experienced business owner then you can go ahead and skip this section, for everyone else, stay put. Forming a business entity is a great way to protect yourself from legal liability as well as well as saving you some money on your taxes. In general, you’ll have to file a form with the state agency (usually the secretary of state) that takes care of business filings in your state, whenever you want to get your business entity. You’ll also have to pay a filing fee, but after the state receives and processes your paperwork, you’ll receive a certificate stating that your company now officially exists. You’ll notice that your business entity will contain documents that detail the rights and responsibilities you now have as the owner. These are important, so make sure you take time to go over the most important areas as well as circling important dates on your calendar like when your taxes are due.

Speaking of taxes…

Your Complete Guide to Pop-Up Restaurants

  1. Register for taxes

Along with getting a business entity, you’ll also have to register for a variety of federal and state taxes before you’re able to start your own business. Without it, you can end up in some serious legal trouble, so make sure you don’t skip this step.

  1. Open a business banking account

When tax season comes along, you’ll make the process a whole lot easier on yourself (and your accountant) if you have a banking account devoted solely for keeping track of the funds coming in and out of your business.  Not only that, but having your finances in order will make you feel more confident as a business owner.

  1. Set up your accounting procedures

I want you to pay some extra close attention to this section because it will highlight areas that are the main reasons why the vast majority of small businesses end up failing. You MUST build a system for accurately recording all of your various expenses and sources of income so you’re constantly aware of the financial performance of your pop-up restaurant and know the locations where you should continue to set-up shop along with the locations that weren’t such a good idea.

If you take a look at the graph below, you’ll see that 82% of failed small businesses experienced issues with their cash flow.

Your Complete Guide to Pop-Up Restaurants-chart

To avoid this problem and to assure that your pop-up restaurant doesn’t experience any issues with bringing money in, put extra attention and effort into making sure that you’re keeping in-depth records of all of your business expenses, profits, etc. If not, your pop-up restaurant may end up becoming another statistic.

  1. Get your licenses, permits, and business insurance

Owning a pop-up restaurant means that you’re going to be setting up shop in a number of different cities and states, so you want to be extra careful that you’re obtaining all of the necessary permits and licenses for operating a business in whatever area you’re in so that you don’t have to worry about being prematurely shut-down or having to pay hefty fines.

Something else you’ll need is business insurance, which is especially important if you plan on hiring employees because workers compensation is a legal requirement in many states. Another area that is important in terms of your employees is your systems for handling and building your employee schedules. When you’re in a new area and have a small time frame for setting up your restaurant, you need to be assured that you’re employees are on time and ready to roll so that you don’t experience any hold-ups that can cost you profits. One way around this is by investing in a employee scheduling platform like Deputy, which gives you an easy avenue for building your schedules and sending them out so that everyone knows where to be and where. If you’re interested in seeing Deputy work for yourself, click on the button below to start your trial.


Your Complete Guide to Pop-Up Restaurants

  1. Establish a strong web presence

Aside from being prominent on social media, you’ll also want a website for your pop-up restaurant that details information like your menu, your location dates, brand information, etc. Just make sure that your website runs well on mobile devices so that you don’t end up alienating people visiting your site through their smartphones, tablets, etc. Along with that, you’ll want to build a logo so you have a face for your brand that you can slap on your website, social media, t-shirts, etc.

Last Thoughts

Pop-up restaurants have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years and business owners can greatly benefit from them as long as they build a strategy that plays to its strengths. If you’re looking to make the jump into building a pop-up restaurant, then go over the above information to ensure that your new business venture goes smoothly.