QSR restaurants

Your Go-to Guide to Open a Pop-Up Restaurant

Diksha Adhikari
February 21, 2024
1 mins

Table of Content

The restaurant industry is highly driven by convenience, changing lifestyles, and affordability. The traditional dining scene, once dominated by brick-and-mortar establishments and food trucks, now shares the spotlight with pop-up restaurants. 

These temporary restaurants are gaining traction for a reason. With 68% of 2,600 diners valuing food quality above all (location, customer service, etc.), pop-up restaurants cater to this demand by providing unique, quality dining experiences that leave a lasting impression.  

If you are a chef, starting a new business, trying out a new cuisine, or a culinary visionary - you must consider a pop-up restaurant.

Wondering how to begin? You're in the perfect spot with this guide. It covers all you need to know about pop-up restaurants—from getting yours off the ground to making it a flourishing venture. Let's get into it!

What Is a Pop-up Restaurant?

Pop-up restaurants represent an innovative dining concept that emerges in unique locations to offer a temporary culinary experience. These ventures allow you to present your culinary skills without the significant investment required for a permanent space.

In the last nine years, pop-restaurants started gaining traction. Their origin can be traced back to the desire for chefs to create intimate, unique dining experiences outside the constraints of regular restaurant settings.

These ventures pop up in shared spaces —art galleries, rooftops, and even in buzzy markets and well-established restaurants on their off days. The allure of pop-up restaurants lies in their ability to create a sense of occasion and exclusivity. They draw diners eager for unique experiences not found in permanent locations.

Pop-up restaurants provide a safe space for culinary experimentation. It allows you to tweak your menu, grasp diner likes and dislikes, and test the potential of a restaurant idea without the commitment of a fixed location.

What to Consider Before Opening a Pop-Up Restaurant

Starting a pop-up restaurant? Great! However, weighing several important considerations before diving into the pop-up restaurant scene is essential. 

Pros of Opening a Pop-Up Restaurant

  1. A pop-up provides a platform to test your concept, menu innovations, and culinary ideas with significantly less risk than launching a full-scale, permanent venue.
  1. It eliminates the financial burdens of a brick-and-mortar location by lowering the overhead costs.
  1. The mobility allows for easy relocation if a concept doesn't succeed in one location. The portability also presents the opportunity to introduce your dining concept to various regions.
  1. Enhances growth opportunities and lowers financial risks for culinary professionals. 
  1. Introduces appealing menu ideas while attracting customers to spend on exceptional culinary experiences. 
  1. You get to benefit from the built-in clientele of your selected venue or create a buzz through uniqueness and exclusivity. 
  1. You can experiment with diverse revenue models, from ticketed events to set menus, enhancing your profit potential. 
  1. It allows for lower prices on typically high-end foods. 

Cons of Opening a Pop-Up Restaurant

  1. Launching a pop-up restaurant requires adaptability to work with limited resources and in environments not initially intended for dining services.
  1. Controlling food and labor costs can be challenging, which may impact profitability.
  1. Creating a loyal or repeat customer base and building repeat business with infrequent pop-ups might be tricky.
  1. Pop-up restaurant success relies heavily on effective social media, PR, and community engagement to attract customers. This marketing spend might be a challenge. 

Top 4 Monetization Strategy of Pop-Up Restaurants You Can Try

Pop-up restaurants turn the traditional dining model on its head and get you multiple unique revenue opportunities. Let's break down how you can make your pop-up profitable:

1. Menu Sales

The bread and butter of any restaurant, pop-up or permanent, comes from selling food. You must design an irresistible menu with a suitable pricing strategy. Your pop-up also has the advantage of creating a buzz with limited-time menus that can command higher prices. You can consider exclusive dishes that make diners happy to pay a premium for the experience.

Hosting your pop-up on special dates or seasons can draw more customers. Try a fixed-price menu and change it every few days to keep things exciting throughout your pop-up- your choice.

2. Catering and Private Events

Expanding into catering and private events opens another revenue stream. Your pop-up becomes the go-to for businesses and individuals looking for a unique dining experience at their events. Tailor your offerings to the event's theme, and you have a recipe for success. This strategy broadens your customer base and lets you flex your creativity. 

Hosting these private events can elevate your brand's presence. It can lead to potential long-term collaborations with event planners or businesses. It's a chance to leave a lasting impression, making your pop-up the talk of the town, even during slower seasons. Plus, these events are great for networking. They open doors to new opportunities and partnerships.

3. Ticketed Events

Ticketed events elevate the dining experience by adding a touch of exclusivity and anticipation, effectively driving demand. This strategy allows you to plan for the exact number of guests. It ensures optimal food preparation and minimizes waste. Selling tickets ahead of time secures upfront revenue and reduces financial uncertainties. It lets you showcase your innovative menus or collaborations in an exciting environment.

These events also promote a sense of community among attendees. They encourage connections in a more intimate setting. Leveraging ticket sales and social media boosts event promotion, while the limited availability instills urgency and excitement. It prompts guests to book early, and you get a defined revenue- a win-win!

4. Partnerships and Collaborations

You can partner with local businesses or brands to boost your visibility and bottom line. Think of a pop-up in a boutique store or a collaboration with a local brewery. These partnerships draw in their loyal customers to you. Shared marketing efforts mean you reach more potential customers without bearing the total cost.

For example, In New York, a pop-up bar inspired by the "Breaking Bad" series offers fans an immersive experience. Here, customers can mix their drinks using advanced mixology methods, similar to the show's chemistry. The setting includes an RV, similar to the one used in "Breaking Bad," and staff wear the recognizable yellow jumpsuits. This pop-up exemplifies how partnerships and thematic collaborations can create unique dining and entertainment experiences.

The key to monetizing your pop-up restaurant lies in knowing your audience, playing to your strengths, and being open to innovating. When monetized smartly, your temporary eatery can lead to substantial growth.

How to Start a Pop-Up Restaurant: A Step-by-Step Checklist

You now have a fair idea of how a pop-up restaurant works. Let's get to the tough grind and have a look at how to kick-start your pop-up restaurant and make it exciting and profitable:

1. Choose a Concept

Choosing your pop-up restaurant's concept requires careful thought. Your concept is the identity of your venture. It should align with your culinary strengths and interests while filling a niche or meeting demand in your target market. To select a concept:

  • Start by researching current food trends and local market gaps. Are diners in your area looking for vegan options, ethnic cuisines, or interactive dining experiences? 
  • Next, assess your strengths and resources. Can you source the necessary ingredients locally? Do you have access to the right venue for your concept? Can you innovate under this theme?
  • Consider your concept's scalability and adaptability. Will it allow you to adjust the menu or setup based on customer feedback and logistical challenges? 

A flexible, well-thought-out concept appeals to interested diners and solidifies your pop-up's operational strategy.

2. Create a Business Plan

You now know what you want; it's time to map your concept in a business plan. A business plan will guide you from idea to launch. It acts as a strategy to attract guests, plan your menu, and nail your marketing. A thoughtful plan increases profitability chances by offering clear financial and operational direction. To create an effective business plan;

  • Start with market research. Know your competition and what makes you stand out.  
  • Present your concept clearly, including your unique selling points.
  • Next, draft a budget and describe your idea. It will clarify your startup costs and operational expenses.
  • Create a detailed marketing plan to get more visibility. 

A robust plan will help you stay on track, even during busy times. Always stay open to refining your strategy as you gain insights and feedback. 

3. Decide on a Location

The success of your pop-up largely depends on your location. High foot traffic areas are goldmines. They bring in more potential customers. Yet, consider the vibe of the neighbourhood. Does it match your restaurant's theme? 

Visibility matters a lot. You want people to find and access your pop-up quickly and easily. Think about it: How will your customers discover you if you're tucked away behind other restaurants? 

Here are quick tips for selecting a location:

  • Research foot traffic patterns. Busy streets mean more eyes on your pop-up.
  • Check accessibility for both customers and deliveries.
  • Evaluate local competition to avoid saturated markets.
  • Match the location with your theme. A hip café vibe goes well in artsy districts.
  • Look into the logistics of the space. Can it support your kitchen and dining setup?

Your choice of location can make or break your pop-up. Take your time and research thoroughly. The right spot draws in more customers and enhances their dining experience.

Take a cue from the Araxi Longtable series in Whistler, BC, hosting their Longtable series amid Mount Currie's North Arm Farm. 

Dine al fresco amidst stunning scenery, enjoying Chef James Walt's farm-to-table delights. This annual event, led by Executive Chef James Walt, features farm-to-table dishes. It showcases the importance of ambiance and location in creating memorable dining experiences.

4. Look Into the Legalities

Addressing legal requirements will secure your operation's integrity and future. Begin by understanding the specific permits and licenses your city mandates. This includes food service licenses, health department approvals, and temporary event authorizations.

Consider these legal steps:

  • Research local regulations. Every area has unique rules for pop-up businesses.
  • Secure permits early. Processing times can vary, so start this step as soon as possible.
  • Understand health and safety codes. These are non-negotiable when serving food to the public.
  • Look into insurance. Secure appropriate insurance and protect your business against liabilities and unforeseen damages.
  • Seek advice from legal professionals. They can offer tailored guidance to navigate complex regulations.

Cutting corners on legalities can lead to serious issues. Meeting compliance protects you and also builds trust with your customers. Make sure to take this step seriously.

5. Purchase Equipment

Choosing the right equipment sets your pop-up for smooth operations. It impacts everything from menu execution to customer satisfaction. The equipment you choose must align with your menu requirements and operational needs. 

Here's how to approach equipment buying:

  • List what you need. What are your necessities? Can you add some nice-to-haves?
  • Opt for versatility. Equipment that serves multiple purposes will save space and money.
  • Consider the quality and durability of the equipment. Reliable equipment reduces downtime and repair costs.
  • Explore some leasing options. This can be cost-effective for high-quality or temporary needs.
  • Always plan for efficiency. Energy-efficient models cut costs and support sustainability.

Be thoughtful while investing in equipment. Quality tools will enhance your kitchen's capabilities and ensure you can deliver exceptional dining experiences.

6. Invest in the Right Software 

From managing reservations to processing payments, the software you choose integrates every aspect of your operation. Here are essential software investments:

  • Online reservation systems: Ensures guests can easily find you and book a table online. This system streamlines seating arrangements and reduces wait times, which is helpful for limited-space venues.
  • Order ahead apps: Let customers order in advance. This boosts efficiency and minimizes crowding.
  • Versatile POS systems: Select a user-friendly, reliable POS system that accepts diverse payment methods. Compatibility with handheld devices, cloud-based storage, and real-time analytics are key features. 
  • Digital menu solutions: Incorporate flexible, easily updated menus accessible via QR codes. 70% of diners who've used QR Codes for ordering and payment enjoyed their experience.

Your tech choices should streamline operations and make dining seamless for your guests. Choose software that improves customer interactions and backend operations.

7. Plan Your Menu

Craft a standout menu for your pop-up restaurant to captivate new diners. Consider food and prime costs for profit, whether you're setting fixed prices or charging per item. It could be a full-course meal, tapas-style bites, or a daily changing selection. 

Here's a guide to help you plan your menu:

  • Start with your concept. What culinary experience do you offer? Align your dishes with this vision.
  • Examine your competitors' offerings. Identify gaps you can fill or trends you can capitalize on.
  • Pay attention to costs. Consider food and prime expenses carefully. 
  • Seasonality matters. Incorporate seasonal ingredients for freshness and cost-effectiveness.
  • Test your menu with potential guests. Their feedback on flavors, presentation, and variety is invaluable for refining your offerings.

You can directly engage with your target audience, small business, and restaurant owners to get insights. It will help you elevate the experience and make your pop-up the talk of the town.

8. Create a Marketing Plan

Pop-up restaurants largely depend on marketing for their success. Effective marketing is key to bringing customers through the door. Your unique pop-up concept needs standout branding. This includes logos, website design, menu appearance, and social media vibe.

Here's how to build your plan:

  • Define your offering: Nail down what you're offering and who you're targeting. Clarify what makes your pop-up stand out. This will guide your branding across all platforms.
  • Identify your audience: Know who your ideal customers are. Understanding their habits and preferences shapes your marketing efforts.
  • Choose your channels: Pick social media and online platforms where your target audience spends time. Tailor your content to these channels for maximum impact.
  • Budget and plan: Allocate resources wisely. Consider marketing expenses, itineraries, and other necessities, etc. 
  • Leverage social media: Use it to showcase your dishes and pop-up atmosphere. Engaging content can turn viewers into visitors.
  • Plan for the launch: Make your grand opening memorable. Use it to generate buzz and draw in a crowd.

Adapt and respond to what your audience loves. Keep trying new tactics to keep the momentum going. Here’s a great example of marketing done right. Gourmet Gallery merged art sales with gourmet dining to navigate permit restrictions. They started offering meals with art purchases. Their unique concept gained them rapid attention. The lesson: innovative marketing approaches and a hint of exclusivity can significantly elevate a pop-up restaurant's appeal.

9. Figure Out Finances and Expenses

Getting a handle on finances and expenses is like setting the GPS for your pop-up restaurant's journey. It ensures you know where you're headed financially and how to get there. 

First up, consider startup costs. These one-time investments cover equipment, initial inventory, and renovations necessary for launching. Following this, focus on operating expenses, the ongoing costs essential for daily operations such as rent, utilities, ingredients, and staff wages. Monitoring these expenses is crucial, as they significantly impact profit margins.

Revenue projections come next. Assess your pricing strategy and anticipated sales to forecast incoming revenue. Approach this step with a realistic mindset. Concluding with the break-even analysis, pinpoint when your revenues align with expenses. 

10. Hire Your Team

Hiring your team is where your pop-up restaurant starts to feel real. Start with defining the roles you need. Hire the required team and keep nurturing them with appropriate training. Even experienced hires need to understand your specific way of doing things. This will help them convey your concept to customers more effectively. Your team is your biggest asset. Choose wisely, train thoroughly, and treat them well.

Pricing Guide to Opening a Pop-up Restaurant

To navigate the financial side of launching a pop-up restaurant, you need a clear understanding of costs and cash management. Here's a guide to help you budget effectively:

Initial Investment

Your first step involves calculating startup costs. These include rental fees for space, equipment, and initial inventory. Depending on location and concept, costs vary widely.

Operating Costs

Running a pop-up involves several ongoing expenses. Ingredient costs top the list, typically consuming 30-40% of sales. Labor is another significant expense, even if you're starting small. Don't forget utilities, permits, and insurance. Itemize these costs to predict monthly spending.

Marketing and Promotion

Digital advertising, social media, and local partnerships are cost-effective strategies. Allocate around 20% of your initial budget to marketing. 

Pricing Your Menu

Pricing dishes right is a balancing act. You must cover costs and make a profit while offering value to your customers. Consider food costs, competitive pricing, and your target audience's spending habits. Aim for a food cost percentage of 28-35% of the selling price. 

Adjust and Adapt

Monitor your finances closely. Adjust prices and costs as needed. Adapting to market conditions and flexibility changes will help you go a long way.

Restaurant Concept Examples to Take Inspiration From

Looking for a dash of inspiration for your next restaurant venture? We've gathered some great restaurant examples that left a mark with their pop-up. 


FoMu in Boston leverages the pop-up model to explore new territories. They opened a vegan ice cream pop-up near Fenway Park for the summer to test the potential of a new location. With four permanent locations, this strategy allows them to gauge new areas with minimal risk.

Pro Tip: Use pop-ups to test new markets. This low-risk approach helps understand customer demand before making a big move.

Smallman Galley

Smallman Galley in Pittsburgh provides a unique platform for aspiring chefs. It hosts rotating pop-up restaurants, giving chefs control over operations for a limited period. This experience helps them build their careers by managing the kitchen and the dining area.

Pro Tip: Offering real-world experience aids in career growth. Create opportunities for aspiring talents to learn and shine.

Breaking Bad-Inspired Pop-up Bar 

A Breaking Bad-inspired pop-up bar in New York captivates fans with a unique theme. Customers mix their cocktails and mimic molecular mixology inside an RV setup. The staff's yellow jumpsuits and "Heisenberg" references immerse guests in Walter White's world.

Pro Tip: A strong theme can set your pop-up apart. Getting into popular culture attracts fans and creates a buzz.

Ready to Start Your Pop-Up Restaurant?

Launching a pop-up restaurant is a journey filled with excitement and challenges. This guide aims to arm you with the knowledge to navigate the process from concept to operation. Success in pop-ups lies in thorough planning, understanding your audience, and delivering unique dining experiences. 

OneHubPOS simplifies launching a pop-up restaurant by providing an all-in-one POS system that streamlines orders, payments, and inventory management. Its customizable and user-friendly platform ensures smooth operations. With OneHubPOS, you can focus on creating unique dining experiences while efficiently handling the business side of your pop-up venture. Pay just $1 and get a POS with OneHubPOS

Diksha Adhikari
Content Marketer - OneHubPOS

Diksha, a seasoned content marketer, brings hands-on experience in website management, social media marketing, and branding. Her expertise drives efffective and results-driven digital strategies.

Read more