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Restaurant

Short-term Dining: How to Start a Pop-up Restaurant

Short-term Dining: How to Start a Pop-up Restaurant

Not every restaurant has to be a full-fledged permanent operation. Pop-ups are gaining traction as the new way to get started in the restaurant industry. Whether you’re testing out a new menu concept or you’re building a restaurant for one night only, pop-ups give restaurateurs the flexibility to get in the hospitality business, without the long-term commitments of a regular restaurant. 

While pop-up restaurants have grown in popularity in recent years, their history stretches back as early as the 1960s, when supper clubs were all the rage. In 2021, temporary restaurants are now popping up in every corner of the world, making them one of the most popular types of restaurants with an 82% year-over-year growth

If you’re looking to get started in the restaurant industry with a temporary location, check out our tips on how to open and promote your new venture. 

 

What is a pop-up restaurant?

Pop-up restaurants can take many different forms, but essentially they are temporary restaurants that vary in size, location and concept. Pop-up restaurants exist for a limited time. The amount of time, however, could range from a day to months. Their lifespan depends entirely on the original objective and also any existing limitations surrounding the restaurant (licences, lease, etc). 

Pop-up restaurants exist for many different reasons, but for many chefs and restaurant owners they serve as a great way to test the waters before jumping into a bigger project. Some restaurateurs use pop restaurants to test the following: 

  • A specific concept
  • New locations 
  • New menus
  • A specific audience 

By opting for a pop-up restaurant, restaurateurs get to test out new ideas without the investments and risks associated with setting up a new restaurant.

Types of pop-up restaurants

Pop-ups come in all shapes and sizes. They can even be set up within an existing restaurant. If a specific restaurant only opens for dinner, for example, a pop-up restaurant could be set up to offer breakfast, lunch or even brunch. Using an existing restaurant reduces the cost and logistics of setting up or finding a space with all the equipment and specifics required to run a restaurant. 

Pop-up restaurants can be anything from a temporary stand in a food market that’s set up for the summer to a one-night experiential dining rooftop event. 

 

How to start your very own pop-up restaurant

While opening up a temporary restaurant doesn’t require the same level of investment as a full-time restaurant, there are still a lot of things to consider before opening day. 

Concept and menu 

What makes your concept special? Your first step as a soon-to-be pop-up is to take the time to craft a unique concept, something that isn’t readily available elsewhere and sets you apart from the pack. Choosing a unique concept will be key in the marketability of your new venture as novelty plays a big role in this type of restaurant. 

Once you’ve decided on your concept, you need to figure out your menu. Most pop-up menus only offer a limited number of options with a fixed price or “prix fixe”. Whatever you choose will depend entirely on your theme, but keep in mind that being original and offering something different will play a key role in your success. 

Location 

Part of what makes pop-ups special is that most of them have an unusual temporary location. Will you be using an existing space? Do you need a lot of specialized equipment? Will a tent or stand do the job? Once you’ve decided on your concept, you’ll be able to look for the perfect location to fit your pop-up idea. 

You’ll also have to factor in the lease. Will you be renting the location for one night, a few weeks or several months? All of this will determine the rate, ease of availability and type of contract or lease you’ll have to sign. 

Equipment

Opening a new restaurant requires a laundry list of equipment and tools. A pop-up restaurant might not need everything on the usual restaurant equipment list, but you’ll still need to be equipped to get up and running. Depending on how long you plan on hosting your pop-up, you might want to consider renting versus buying. If your pop-up will only be taking place for a night, you’ll only need to rent, but if you’re planning on being open for several months, you might have to buy. 

If you’re not planning on using an existing restaurant space, you might need the following types of equipment for your pop up: 

  • Tables, chairs, cutlery
  • Cooking utensils: pots, pans, chopping boards and tables
  • Equipment: portable grill, oven, deep fryer, pizza oven, stovetop 
  • Fridge or freezer
  • Chafing dishes, food warmers or steam tables
  • Point of sale 

The type of kitchen equipment you need will depend largely on your concept. For example, if you’re opening up a pop-up pizza parlor, you’ll definitely need a portable pizza oven, but if you’re opening a BBQ joint you’ll need a smoker and grilling equipment. Start with your concept and your equipment list will trickle down from there. 

No matter the concept you decide on, you’ll need great tools to keep you taking orders seamlessly. Opt for a restaurant platform or point of sale that’s intuitive, efficient and lets you take orders without a hitch. 

Licenses and permits 

While original pop-ups or supper clubs were clandestine in nature, your modern-day pop-up should be equipped with all the necessary permits, licenses and insurance required for a restaurant. Even though your restaurant will only be open temporarily, you’ll still need to do the necessary paperwork, and that might take time no matter how long your pop-up intends to stay open. Will you be serving alcoholic beverages? You’ll need a liquor license for that. 

Make sure to check with your city’s rules and regulations months before you decide to open. When it comes to permits, leave no stone unturned.

 

How to promote your pop up

Most pop-up restaurants aren’t around long enough to build a solid following. Some are only around for an evening, and don’t have the luxury of time to build up excitement after opening night. Given the limited-time offering, pop-ups depend heavily on some form of marketing to build excitement prior to opening. 

Build excitement with PR

Draft a media pitch for your local newspapers, magazines and popular foodie social media channels. Give them the inside scoop on your opening day, concept and explain your pop-up timeline. The limited-time nature of your restaurant will already turn heads, so make sure you draft up messaging that gets the media even more excited about your opening.  

Create a social media presence 

Social media is key for any restaurant, temporary or permanent. Regardless of how long your restaurant might actually exist, you’ll still need a way to talk to potential guests and communicate. Start by setting up the usual channels: Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Set up your accounts and start posting sneak peeks of your dishes, location and anything else to get the people excited. 

Work with local food influencers 

You might want to partner with local foodie influencers to get the message out. If your pop-up is opening for longer than one night, it might even be worth hosting a night specifically for press and influencers to get them talking and sharing their experience with their followers. If you’re starting from zero, getting local influencers involved is a great way to access new audiences. 

 

Make your temporary restaurant pop 

Pop-up restaurants are all about novelty. These temporary restaurants shake up the industry by bringing in creativity, excitement and anticipation in short bursts. Take the time to craft an original idea that will leave a lasting impression and help you pave the way for future restaurant ventures. 

Looking for the right point of sale to get you started? Talk to one of our experts to find out how Lightspeed can help. 

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