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Pop-Up Restaurants: Pro Tips For Starting Or Buying One

What is a pop-up restaurant and how can it be helpful in eventually buying a restaurant in a permanent location?

For starters, a pop-up restaurant is a short-lived dining experience in a temporary location, most found in abandoned factories or warehouses, rooftops, barns, or an already existing restaurant location, so basically anywhere done legally and safely. Pop-up restaurants can be in each location for a matter of days, or weeks, or a few months.

They are mostly invitation or appointment based, but other locations, especially in existing restaurant locations, can be first come, first served, and open to the public. Since pop-ups have a level of exclusivity, they make patrons feel that they are a part of something special, and all experiencing something exciting and personable together. I have even seen pop-restaurants held in grounded airplanes, with a 1960s theme, a la "Mad Men" which sold out in a few hours - you get the picture. In Los Angeles, in 2019, someone even converted a working restaurant into a Big Kahuna Burger in the spirit of the film “Pulp Fiction”, so the possibilities are boundless for a restaurateur who lets their imagination run wild.

Test A Pop-Up Restaurant Concept With Low Overhead Before Going Full Time Or Buying One

Before committing to a permanent location and concept or style of food, pop-up restaurants allow a restaurateur to experiment with dishes and see what works, and since patrons enjoy the trendy experience, they are more open to engage with the chef in an honest critique of the dining experience. I’ve worked with many clients, many who are immigrants, who have cherished family recipes and traditional dishes from their homeland that they want to bring to their new environment, one such client had unique Romanian dishes, specifically from the Transylvanian region (of course, they would serve Bloody Mary’s). Would a landlord be skeptical of allowing a concept that conjures up images of black capes and fangs (“Dracula’s Restaurant and Pub”)? Probably not, but if he could spend a few thousand dollars, and get creative, he could show the landlord that he was taking this concept seriously with actual Romanian dishes, and not pursuing a themed restaurant.

Attract Investors And Use Crowd-Funding To Attract Capital For Your Pop-Up Restaurant

To obtain start-up capital or an outside investment, a pop-up restaurant allows a potential owner of a future location to display their culinary skills and takes their business plans from off the page to on the dinner plate. For those who don’t know, “crowd-funding” is the ability to fund a project or venture from a sizable number of people by having them each contribute a small amount, these transactions are most commonly over the internet and fueled by interest in social media. The organizer of the crowd-funding event will often break off the levels of support in different groups, i.e., “Ultra Support”, “Super Support”, “Rock Star”. Etc. There are sites like Patreon.com that allow for easy and secure payment processing and allow members to see what type of benefits they receive from the creator for their contribution. Many people who support a cause through crowdfunding also love to share on social media, so not only is a restaurateur building capital, but also getting the word out for free on their latest endeavor.

Advertising Pope Restaurants: Social Media, Newspapers, Local TV

Pop-up restaurants are most promoted through social media, which allows a restaurateur to build buzz about their brand. The more creative pop-ups will be covered by local media, such as newspapers or local TV. Pop-ups are great for local media to cover, especially if the concept is unique. For a local newspaper or local TV crew these types of stories are fun for them to cover and create great visuals, it’s something they can easily put into their food and leisure section of their reporting. If a new restaurant opens in the area, the media, may or may not care, but if it’s a quirky concept, temporary, and is a bit exclusive, then it’s more likely to pique their interest. Don’t be shy, call the local reporter who works the restaurant beat, and share your concept and information.

Pop-Up Restaurant Licenses, Permits, And Patron Safety

The most important aspect of pop-up restaurants is that all appropriate licenses and permits are obtained for them to operate, especially if alcoholic beverages are involved. A pop-up restaurant can look like it was just thrown together, and that's kind of fun from the patron perspective, but that’s not an excuse for the restaurateur to sidestep precaution and safety. A creator should make sure that running water and electricity are available for an extended amount of time and that kitchen equipment and food prep and storage is in compliance, because the last thing you want is someone to get sick or bathrooms not to work, etc.

Prix Fixe Menus For Pop-Up Restaurants Are Popular

Many pop-up restaurants have prix fixe menus, which basically is the customer telling the chef to make the decision what they should eat, as opposed to ordering a la carte. With the prix fixe menu, the restaurateur is able to control food costs, because they know exactly what is going out the kitchen door. It also creates a sense of food adventure, akin to having someone ask, "Where are we going for dinner?" and the other person replying, "You'll find out, I think you'll love it."

In closing, pop-up restaurants can allow food creators to experiment with concepts, locations and appeal without risking going bankrupt because of relatively low start-up costs. For many the eventual goal is to find the right concept and possibly attract investors if needed and social media presence, and create a permanent location and established business.

Categories: BizBen Blog Contributor, Buying A Business, How To Buy A Business

Contributor:

Joe Ranieri
Areas Served: Orange, Los Angeles County Areas
Phone:  714-292-5448 Cell, 714-292-5448 Text
Having owned both retail and restaurant businesses for over 20 years, my interest turned to selling businesses rather than owning them. I specialize in Los Angeles & Orange County restaurants, fast food independents and chains, bars, gas stations, liquor stores. Call me at 714-292-5448 Cell/Text.




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