Lesson 7: Pop-Ups

A pop-up restaurant isn’t necessarily the next logical step to opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but it can also be a great way to test and refine a concept, even if it’s for a food truck or other venture.




Starting a Pop-Up

Whether you’re moving from a food booth or food truck or jumping right in with a pop-up, the steps are virtually the same.

  1. Develop the concept

A well-designed concept is essential for success. You need to come up with an unforgettable experience that others will remember long after the last course is served. It needs to be fresh, enticing and something no one wants to miss. Do some research on what’s trendy at the moment, but if your ultimate goal is to move on to a full-fledged restaurant, be sure that you represent it at the pop-up. You want to build an audience, not have them disappointed down the road because your restaurant was nothing like the pop-up.

  1. Find the right location

As you think about a location, make sure it matches the concept. See if a local restaurant can fill the bill. This is a great option since they have everything you need, ready to go, from seating front-of-house to commercial equipment in the kitchen. That’s not to say that an empty storefront won’t work. It is, after all, a blank canvas. While you must figure out food preparation and service, you can make the décor and ambiance yours exclusively. If you want something in-between, consider a restaurant that recently went out of business and still has the things you need for service. You may get a great deal on a short-term rental since it will generate some revenue for the landlord or building owner.

  1. Make sure the space works

While it’s easy to fall in love with a space or an affordable deal, you need to make sure that it will actually meet your needs. Is the layout suitable? Does the kitchen have the equipment you need? What kind of things will you need to deliver on your promise of an amazing experience? If you need to provide additional equipment, utensils, linens or place settings, what will these cost to rent or buy?


  1. Create a mini-business plan

The plan doesn’t have to be as comprehensive as a food truck or brick-and-mortar plan, but you do want to map out your goals, the type of guests you want to attract, what the menu is, how you will market the pop-up and what kind of financial performance you want at the end of the day. This will help you understand who your competition may be, what unique value proposition you offer customers, and how you will manage food and labor costs and maximize profits. If you are seeking some investors or crowdfunding for your pop-up, this will help you raise capital.

  1. Get the proper permits and licenses

You don’t want to do all the work of creating a pop-up only to find that your host restaurant’s liquor license doesn’t cover your beverage service or that a separate health inspection was necessary for your temporary restaurant. You want to make sure that you are operating legally and following all health and safety regulations guiding a pop-up operation. This is particularly important if you are doing a pop-up in a city other than your hometown. Rules vary by jurisdiction, and the permits and licenses you have in one may not be valid in another.

  1. Invest in the right tools

Tech can streamline a lot of the things you used to have to do manually, from ordering ingredients to managing reservations or ticket sales. Customer expectations have shifted since the pandemic, and they are more comfortable with online transactions. Whether it’s a tabletop order and payment system like Red Robin has or a handheld POS device that they can tap or slide their card into and add gratuities on the spot, the dining experience can be further enhanced by the adoption of technologies and services designed specifically for the food industry. Deliberate use of technologies with reporting capabilities built-in will help you make informed decisions about the performance of your pop-up.

  1. Market like crazy

As you plan your pop-up, make sure that marketing doesn’t become an afterthought. You don’t have to have everything ready in the beginning to build a buzz with your target audience. Tease about the event on your social media platform and website. Get people to provide their email addresses so they can be among the first to be notified and so you get a great guest list for future activities. Encourage people to share the news of your pop-up with friends, family and their social media followers.

  1. Gather feedback

As the evening progresses, encourage patrons to provide feedback on the overall experience, the service, and, of course, the menu. Encourage them to share reviews with others, including photos of the food that can be linked back to you. Create a special #hashtag for the event so everything tracks back. Use the feedback to make adjustments in the future. Don’t take a negative review poorly. You are running a pop-up to refine your concept. Use any less-than-stellar reviews as a learning experience.

  1. Menu

Last but certainly not least, make sure your menu is perfectly crafted. It should help reinforce your intended brand, create lots of buzz in the dining world, attract the right guests and maximize profitability without compromising on the experience. Dishes should be well-balanced and well-executed. In developing a menu, think in terms of what’s seasonally fresh and available at the moment, what selections will best showcase the vision you and your chef have for the evening and make sure you test your menu before a bunch of people show up at the door. You don’t want any unpleasant surprises that will turn into negative reviews that go viral.

What’s next?

A pop-up isn’t a permanent solution. A typical pop-up may last just a single day or one day a month during the summer. It depends upon your goals for the pop-up. While a longer run may be tempting, especially if you have a waiting list for reservations, you eventually need to make a longer-term decision.

After perfecting your concept, menu and brand, you can take the big leap into a brick-and-mortar restaurant or stay on the food truck circuit, incorporating lessons learned from your pop-up.

For the moment, let’s assume that your food truck or pop-up has been a rousing success. You want to build on all that brand value you’ve built, further refine your vision and grow an audience for the food you love so much.

It may be time for a restaurant.


Food Biz Academy

Main Office


Academy Staff