How to Open a Pop-Up Restaurant

7-Step Guide to Launching a Pop-Up Restaurant

Unoccupied table in restaurant.
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A pop up restaurant offers many of the same benefits as a traditional brick and mortar restaurant, without the high cost of opening. Many chefs use pop ups as a way to expand their culinary careers, while others use pop ups as a way to level the dining field, offering gourmet food at affordable prices.

Decide on a Purpose for Your Pop Up Restaurant

There are several different reasons for opening a pop up restaurant. Some professional chefs open their own pop ups to build their culinary reputation, since the short-term nature of a pop up allows chefs total freedom and creativity in the kitchen. Others open a pop up restaurant to test out a restaurant concept, using it as an avenue to entice investors as well as the public to try it out. On a more philosophical note, other people use pop up restaurants as a way to offer gourmet dining at reduced prices, so everyone can enjoy it.

Lastly, pop ups are sometimes used as a vehicle for fundraising by civic and community groups.

Choose a Location for Your Pop Up Restaurant

A pop up restaurant location can be anywhere, so long as it’s safe for cooking and serving food. Famous pop ups include What Happens When, housed in a former restaurant space in New York City. When looking for locations consider the size, the logistics of setting up a mobile kitchen and temporary dining room. Will it have access to electricity, sewer and running water? If not, how are you going to work around these issues?

Another option for a pop up restaurant is an already existing restaurant space. For example, renting a diner that serves only breakfast and lunch. The owners of the diner receive a percent of the profits to cover water, sewer, electricity gas and any other associated expenses. The benefit of hosting pop up restaurant in your own restaurant is the novelty that brings in extra customers.

Apply for Insurance, Permits and Licenses

Truly underground pop-up restaurants don’t usually bother with licenses or insurance. However, you need both to be legal and avoid any potential legal trouble if problems should arise. Check with your local town or state authorities about what types of temporary permits you’ll need before you open.

Write and Price a Pop-Up Menu

Most people who go to a pop up restaurant are looking for a food adventure- something new, unique, and creative. Something that is different from the local restaurant scene. Add to this a limited amount of space for storage and cooking and most pop-up restaurants feature a prix fixe menu of some sort. Instead of a la carte menu, providing a prix fixe menu allows you to charge a set amount per person. Read more about pricing restaurant menus.

Set Up a Mobile Kitchen

At the heart of your pop up restaurant is the kitchen. Your mobile restaurant kitchen design will depend on the space and if there is electricity and water available. Of course, if you are renting an existing restaurant, then you won’t have to worry about logistics- it’s already set up! Much like catering, a pop up restaurant offers you a chance to learn the skills of knowing when and where to prepare and serve the food. It is a great way to see if you truly enjoy the hospitality industry enough to take the leap of opening your own restaurant.

Set up a Temporary Dining Room

Depending on how long your pop up restaurant is going to run, you can rent tables, chairs and linens. If your pop up is small enough you may be able to purchase used seating relatively inexpensively. The design of a pop-up restaurant should be a balance between a welcoming ambience and comfortable seating capacity. Unlike in a typical restaurant, where you try to pack in enough customers to keep busy and turn a profit, you can be a little more relaxed. There is also room to play with different dining concepts, such as customer self-service.

Advertise Your Pop-Up

​Decide if your pop-up will be open or closed to the public. Closed simply means your restaurant is open to only those people you personally invite. Like food trucks, many pop up restaurant s use social media as their primary means of advertising. Nightly specials are posted on sites like Facebook and Twitter. If you have the time, you can create a free website for your pop up at sites like Yola.