Whether you’re an adventurous foodie, a keen sampler or just looking for a quick snack on the go, pop-up restaurants offer it all. Although the concept has been around for a while, first gaining widespread popularity in the early 2000s, they continue to capture the imagination of foodies around the world.

Pop-up restaurants are exciting not only because they offer a new food experience but because they have the added appeal of being around for a limited time and usually offer a specialist dish. The temporary nature of these pop-up restaurants gives restaurant owners the opportunity to trial different dishes and menus as well as providing a limitless opportunity for experimentation.

But could you open your own pop-up restaurant? The idea of starting your own pop-up food empire could feel a little daunting. Where do you start and what would be involved? What would the overheads look like? We’ll try to answer these questions and many more in our guide to pop-up restaurants for small businesses.

What is a pop-up restaurant?

What is a pop-up restaurant anyway? It’s a temporary restaurant that opens up in a location for a short period of time, possibly as part of a food festival or market, or within a space that has become available short-term.

Often the location is a major part of the appeal, particularly if it is in an ‘edgy’ or unexpected space that adds atmosphere or creates an experience. The added benefit of being located within an event means you get maximum exposure with minimal marketing on your part. If an event is popular, it creates a buzz around your restaurant without having to spend a fortune to promote it.

They are also often opened up by young up-and-coming chefs aiming to raise their profile, as well as attract potential investors to help them open their own permanent establishments. However, established chefs can also open pop-up restaurants to experiment with new styles or flavours, or to test a new location.

Occasionally, a pop-up can be just a case of convenient timing, like in 2012 when chef Rene Redzepi from legendary Danish restaurant Noma used its temporary closure for renovation to open up A Taste of Noma as a pop-up within Claridges in London during the Summer Olympics. It sold out its 3,400 sittings in less than three hours.

Benefits of starting a pop-up restaurant

The pros of starting up a pop-up restaurant include; fewer costs than a traditional restaurant, with smaller overheads and less investment required to get going. It’s also a great low-risk opportunity to experiment and push the boundaries in a way that would be potentially costly in a permanent location.

Being temporary means that you get the opportunity for trial and error because if a location or menu is not working, you can close up shop and move somewhere else to try again with some changes to whatever didn’t work out the first time.

Remember, starting a pop-up restaurant isn’t always easy

It is not all easy though, as it can be hard to turn a pop-up restaurant into a long-term profit-making establishment. Depending on the location it can also be more labour-intensive to try and build an audience, though if you open up somewhere popular and busy, it can work out the other way too with very little promotion required.

It can also be hard work to craft memorable and inventive cuisine in spaces that weren’t really designed for doing that, especially if the budgets mean limited resources and equipment. Plus, due to its nature, running a pop-up restaurant can mean that it’s hard to build lasting relationships with customers who know you will be moving on.

How do Pop Up Restaurants work?

So, what goes into opening up something like this? How do pop-up restaurants work?It starts with an idea. This could be a tried and tested idea that is guaranteed to entice your target audience or it could be an entirely new and fun food concept that brings something original to the pop-up restaurant scene. A pop up restaurant is likely to be about innovation, ambition or a particular theme or niche that you want to explore. After that, it is simply about brainstorming cool names and exciting locations that could work in your chosen space.

Then comes the less exciting but crucial part - drawing up a realistic business plan for making this happen. Pop-up restaurants don’t really just ‘pop up’, they take a lot of careful planning, which is especially important if funding is needed to make it possible.

Happily, after that, it is back to the fun part, creating branding around your cafe and restaurant’s theme and coming up with a menu to entice people to come and check you out, followed by trialling the food itself and starting to work on getting up and running. Will you offer a set menu of crowd-pleasing dishes or will you offer something unique each day to keep customers coming back for more?

Once you have all of the initial ideas around the type of pop-up restaurant you wish to open and a theme you are happy with, it’s time to consider a venue where your concept will flourish. Hone in on locations that complement your unique style and offering as well as your desired target market.

Then it is time to consider the equipment you will need in order to bring your pop-up vision to life. We’re talking about tables, chairs, décor and tableware and whether you should buy or hire these items. Lastly, spare a thought for accessibility and parking, two aspects that can be critical to your success, not to mention sourcing staff and implementing staff motivation strategies to keep morale high.

Marketing your pop-up restaurant

Pop-up restaurants rely largely on social media and word of mouth to spread awareness. TikTok has become an increasingly important platform for helping give a new restaurant the boost of coolness amongst the kind of clientele who flock to the latest new place to be seen.

If you want to generate brand awareness, you may also want to look into influencer marketing and reach out to some of the top local influencers in your industry to help spread the word. This could mean inviting key influencers to your launch party or throwing an exclusive influencer event prior to the launch to drum up excitement surrounding your menus. This is a clever tactic to get your business organically shared throughout social media.

Pop-up restaurant laws (UK)

Another area you need to look into before you can even think of opening up, is what pop-up restaurant laws in the UK you need to abide by. Certainly, there are legal considerations, for example, needing to secure a food hygiene rating from the Food Standards Agency, proving that your food safety and hygiene practices are correct.

You will also have to register with your local council’s Environmental Health Service at least 28 days before you open and document your food safety procedures based on a hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP). In addition to this, you will need to apply for relevant licences and insurance.

How much does it cost to open a Pop-Up Restaurant?

After all that, the next question you probably have is how much does a pop-up restaurant cost? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to this, because there are so many potential factors involved that could be radically different from one pop-up to another. The scope of your ambition will be a factor, as will be the location you choose and even the nature of the restaurant. Will it be a market tent? Or maybe a food truck?

Indicative costs can vary from just over £2,000 for the smallest scale pop-up to over £30,000 for something more adventurous. These costs are likely to be much lower than trying to open your own permanent restaurant though.

Pop-up restaurant payment technology

Finally, you need to consider the payment technology required to power your pop-up restaurant. It needs to be mobile and flexible to suit your needs and keep staff motivation high, but also safe and reliable in what can be a chaotic environment.

Pop-up restaurants attract a high footfall, so it goes without saying your payment technology has to be seamless to cash in on every sale opportunity. This means being able to accept both debit and credit cards to ensure that you never miss a sale. The Dojo Go offers all of this in an easy-to-use payment card reader that goes wherever you need it and takes payments quickly and efficiently, leaving you to focus on marketing campaigns and how to create a great offer to bring in customers straight to your restaurant.

Running a pop-up restaurant can be a rewarding and lucrative decision, bookmark this post to refer back to our top tips and tricks. Will 2023 be the year you capitalise on this modern foodie trend?