Originating in London, the pop-up restaurant trend has taken the states by storm. Pop-up restaurants are essentially temporary restaurants that are set up in creative locations for limited runs where they generally offer several courses for a flat fee.
The pop-up is a great business model for chefs of all experience levels. Seasoned chefs can use them as a means to to experiment with new menus or an overall restaurant concept. Newly minted chefs have found success using pop-up restaurants as a creative way to generate buzz and to get their names out there. They can stay open for one night, a weekend or an entire month in some cases.
Here are five reasons why you might want to try your hand at a pop-up restaurant.
Pop-ups can be opened for relatively small sums of money, especially when compared to the extravagant costs of opening a new restaurant. The total cost of opening a new restaurant is on average around $500,000. Compare that to the relatively low cost of running a pop-up for $2,000 to $2,500 a week. This low cost means that chefs can take their big ideas and start applying them right away with minimal financial risk.
Testing, Caution & Baby-Steps
Pop-ups are an excellent way for established restaurants to test out new markets before making the costly decision to open a second restaurant. New chefs trying to get their name out to the world can use a pop-up concept to start generating buzz, building a fan base and testing out new dishes that might one day end up on the menu at their future restaurant.Wise Son’s Deli of San Francisco started as a small pop-up concept that slowly made its way to becoming a full blown restaurant. The pop-concept let them test their concept and hone in on what customers were responding to, eventually leading them to fixed menu and a fixed location.
Pop-up restaurants provide the opportunity to constantly reinvent oneself and catering equipment is the best weapon for taking the show. For customers, the most appealing part of pop-up restaurants is eating their meal somewhere new and exciting.
One great example of using the flexibility of location for a pop-up restaurant is found in Finnish chef Timo Linnamaki’s operation that opened 260 feet underground. Muru Pop Down was created within the empty space of an old mine. Chef Linnamaki married this unique location with an equally unique menu to create a large buzz in his dining community. In fact, so much buzz was created that the restaurant was fully booked for the entirety of its existence.
Part of the allure of pop-up restaurants is their underground, exclusive vibe. When information is passed on from peer to peer, it creates a feeling of being “in the know.” To increase exclusivity and curiosity, some pop-ups go so far as to only reveal the location of the event several hours before it happens. To do this, chefs use Twitter and Facebook to generate hype and utilize free website programs like Wix to create a temporary website for their concept.
Pop-up restaurants allow chefs to be more creative. The temporary model frees operators from a set menu and allows for mobility in location and concept. Customers who visit pop-up restaurants expect to find something adventurous and creative, especially if the restaurant is located somewhere zany like a steel mill or on a raft. Because the limits of a pop-up restaurant are only held to the operator’s imagination, this business model offers the perfect theater to let creativity take over.