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How to open a pop up restaurant

A new trend has inspired restaurant owners, operators and chefs alike: The pop up restaurant.

Otherwise known as a pop up kitchen or mobile kitchen, the concept takes the location and menu flexibility of a food truck and transforms it into better work conditions — no more asking staff to work out of the confines of a relatively small vehicle.

Basically, it levels the playing field of the restaurant industry since it doesn’t have the high cost associated with opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Up-and-coming restaurants can get their names out to new customers, while established chefs may choose to use it to test the culinary waters and put forth new menu dishes.

What is a pop up restaurant?

A pop up restaurant can basically be located in any open space, such as in theaters, bars or a food tent in a local outdoor market. The idea is that a temporary restaurant is established in a new, (usually) smaller location to test out a neighborhood, create new dishes, build buzz with customers or a combination of those reasons.

A pop up restaurant can also be a great way to attract investors. If you’re successful with a temporary restaurant, it can prove the value of your restaurant’s full model. It can also help new restauranteurs foster relationships and partnerships with the local community and businesses.

How to set up a pop up restaurant for success

Before you jump into the kitchen, you need to set up your pop up kitchen. To create a foundation for success, you’ll need five main elements to get you started:

1. Concept

Why are you opening a pop up restaurant? Are you testing new food? Looking for a different location? Attracting more customers to your main restaurant? Or perhaps all of the above?

Your culinary reputation will be affected by this project, so it’s vital that you understand not only what you’re doing, but why. Once you’ve determined your main purpose and goals, you can begin to build out the concept to include a detailed business plan to achieve your goals, including a service and marketing plan for your pop up restaurant’s opening.

2. Location

Where will customers be able to find you? A great location for beginners is a restaurant that’s willing to rent space when it’s closed or a location that’s already hosted a pop up restaurant. Explore your area and see if there are any markets that regularly rotate pop up restaurants. They’ll be able to guide you through the process and offer support where needed.

Otherwise, you might choose your location based on the local community. Is there a fun bar or venue that might be open to hosting a pop up? You can also choose a location based on your restaurant’s concept or style. If there’s a specific demographic you’re looking for, you can pinpoint your search to certain neighborhoods. Similarly, if you want a rustic or elegant “feel,” you can use that to guide your location search.

3. Equipment

Your pop up restaurant can’t exist without a kitchen to create from. If you’re working out of an existing restaurant during its off-hours, then you’re in luck. However, that’s not the case for most pop ups.

Your mobile kitchen space will need to be coordinated with the location space you’ve selected. Determine how much space you have and what the electricity and water situation is before purchasing or renting any equipment.

If you’re just starting out and can’t afford a full restaurant equipment rental, consider induction burners, deep pots instead of deep fryers and pre-prepared items where possible.

4. Promotion

It’s critical that every pop up restaurant forms a detailed promotion plan. Since you’re in a temporary location with a potentially temporary food menu, you need to get that information out to customers — how else will they know?

Social media is a great way to advertise to new and existing customers. Post exciting update announcements before, during and after your pop up to create a public timeline. Make sure to also update your restaurant website with these new announcements. 

It’s essential to have an online presence — and that’s where Grubhub can help. If you don’t have social media or a website, it’s time to create them. Grubhub Direct is a free-to-use, customizable online ordering site where restaurants can receive commission-free online orders. Use this website to stay in contact with your customers.

5. Permits, insurance and licenses

Before you open, apply for the legally necessary permits, insurance and licenses that your pop up requires. It’s always best practice to have any potential problem addressed sooner rather than later — especially when legality is involved. Check with local or state authorities to inquire about the types of temporary permits you may need.

Top reasons to test out a pop up restaurant

Pop up restaurants form for a variety of reasons and each one has its own story. Below are some of the top advantages when you try out a new pop up kitchen:

Proof of success

Starting a restaurant is expensive, and you may need evidence to back up your concept for investors. A successful pop up restaurant proves that there’s a customer base for what you’re offering. It also confirms whether your business plan and service model can drive growth.

Culinary flexibility

One of the best parts of a pop up restaurant is that it gives your chef the opportunity to workshop new recipes and create dishes they can test before adding to a permanent menu.

Get to know the community

A pop up kitchen allows you to relocate into the heart of a community. You can get to know different neighborhoods and areas, while also introducing your restaurant to a wider customer base.

Grubhub can help you connect you directly with our built-in customer base of 33+ million diners. Try a risk-free trial and join Grubhub today.

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