What You Need to Know About Pop-Up Restaurants

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Pop-up restaurants are taking the UK by storm. Walking down a city street you’ll be faced with a wealth of exciting, temporary businesses, offering a range of culinary experiences. Pop-up restaurants have something for everyone: chefs love the creative freedom, owners and managers benefit from the opportunity to test and learn, and customers are captivated by the short-term appeal and fun food concepts.

But the idea of starting your own may be a little intimidating. There’s a lot of ground to cover before you can set up shop. Wondering where to start? Here’s what you need to know about creating a pop-up restaurant to elevate your business.

What is a pop-up restaurant?

A pop-up restaurant is an eating establishment or event designed to showcase your culinary talents at a temporary location. This includes everything from a one-off, exclusive event to a rooftop food tent open for a few months.

What are the benefits of a pop-up restaurant?

Pop-up restaurants have a lot of advantages over their permanent equivalent. They enable first-time restaurant owners or aspiring chefs to build a presence and reputation, and seasoned industry leaders to test new concepts and create a space for creativity that might be lacking in an established space. Here are all the ways you can benefit from opening a pop-up restaurant:

  • Test a location: whether you’re starting a restaurant from the ground up or expanding your presence, a pop-up restaurant allows you to determine foot traffic, identify a potential captive audience and gauge how a location works for your vision.
  • Experiment: restaurant owners love pop-ups for the chance to experiment. If you keep dreaming up concepts that don’t work with your existing format, test them in a temporary setup and get direct feedback from customers.
  • Generate hype: the ‘limited time only’ nature of a pop-up restaurant creates buzz, driving diners to test out your food as a matter of urgency and repeat visits while the experience is available.
  • Attract investment: nothing entices investors more than proof of concept. If your pop-up delivers significant ROI and receives rave reviews, they’ll be more inclined to finance your long-term vision.
  • Cut costs: restaurant startup costs can be overwhelming if you think too big too quickly. Instead, pop-up restaurants are a great way to realise your dream and showcase your culinary talents without the need for long-term capital investment.
  • Establish yourself: if your pop-up restaurant is a success, you could become a recognised figure in the food & drink community, complete with the finances and credibility needed to secure a permanent space. You could even become a serial pop-up entrepreneur.

6 elements that make for a successful pop-up restaurant

There are a lot of things to figure out when you’re putting together a pop-up restaurant. These are the six main areas you need to pay close attention to if you want it to be a big success.

The concept

Pop-up restaurants are a great way to test a new concept. This might be a specific food item (like grilled cheese sandwiches) or a specific cuisine (such as Filipino food).

When thinking about concepts, check out the competitive landscape and find gaps that potential competitors have left open. Is your local area missing out on a specific cuisine? Is there a rising restaurant trend that would be popular with your target audience?

Bring these opportunities to life with your expertise (and passion), and develop a pop-up concept that foodies will adore. If your concept and its execution find keen fans, you may have stumbled upon an opportunity to create a lasting business.

The location

There are few limitations when it comes to choosing a location for your pop-up restaurant. In fact, the more outside the box, the better. You could host it in another restaurant’s kitchen during off-peak hours. Or set up shop on a city rooftop, at an apartment complex or somewhere even more unconventional. Sites like Appear Here are a perfect source of locations for any pop-up concept.

The official stuff

Whichever location you decide on, there are health & safety requirements that mean you need to do the following:

  • Acquire relevant licences and insurance
  • Register with the necessary food safety and hygiene bodies, such as the Food Standards Agency
  • Carry out a risk assessment to ensure your pop-up adheres to health & safety standards
  • Examine the overall safety considerations of the location, dining space and kitchen
  • Brief your employees on everything above
  • Keep the whole business primed and ready for inspections
The kitchen equipment

The right equipment and technology can make or break your pop-up restaurant. First, decide on all the kitchen equipment needed to successfully create your dishes. Common kitchen equipment for pop-up restaurants includes:

  • Some form of cooker, such as a grill, deep fryer, portable brick oven or stove top (this largely depends on the kind of dishes you’re making). Choose models designed to keep up with the high demand of a pop-up restaurant
  • Reach-in fridge or freezer to store ingredients and maintain food quality
  • Chafing dishes or something similar to hold food and keep ingredients hot
  • Cleaning stations to keep the space sanitised
  • Worktops where you can separately prepare ingredients and serve your dishes
The payment technology

Due to their short-term nature and exclusivity, pop-up restaurants usually experience heavy customer traffic. This means you’ll be taking a lot of payments. So you can move fast, make sure your payments system accepts every form of payment, whether it’s chip and PIN, contactless or mobile.

By investing in an integrated POS system, you can take high-volume payments, display tipping options upon purchase, track sales data, manage real-time inventory and collect customer feedback. These in turn will help you gauge the success of your pop-up restaurant and make informed business decisions moving forward.

The promotional strategy

A successful pop-up restaurant requires a tactical promotion strategy. When laying out the framework, it’s important to first define your goals.

For a first-time event let’s say, you might be looking to build your brand and establish a presence. Chefs who’ve been in the business for a while may instead want to test a new concept with a captive audience. Whatever your goals, make them the anchor of your promotional strategy.

Once you’ve established a clear goal, define your target audience (the people you want to come to your pop-up) and messaging (how you want them to perceive your brand and what you want them to know). Then, pick out the ways you want to deliver those messages to that audience.

The best tactics include:

  • Establishing a social media presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
  • Printing and posting flyers around the neighbourhood
  • Engaging in email marketing to alert customers online
  • Contacting reporters and bloggers to get press coverage

Whether you’re new to the industry or a seasoned expert, pop-up restaurants provide a unique and exciting opportunity to grow your reputation and achieve your culinary dreams. Whatever your goals, designing a setup that works with you is crucial. Think outside the box, and play to the strengths of the pop-up experience with a flexible, mobile approach that makes customers come back for more.

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