Looking for the next big idea for your local restaurant scene? These five inventive ideas have taken off over the past few years and show promising staying-power among local and national trends.
Inspiration: Ludo Bites
Definition: A pop-up restaurant is a temporary restaurant that is open for business for a limited amount of time.
Benefit: The largest benefit of starting a pop-up restaurant is that entrepreneurs can gain experience without the full risk of opening a fixed and permanent location.
Who should try this: Pop-up restaurants are ideal for a variety of business-minded people. Often, pop-ups are utilized by those looking to try new restaurant concepts. The temporary business model allows operators to test the overall demand for a product and allows for sufficient customer feedback before sinking a lot of money into a venture. This business model is also fantastic for those looking to open a restaurant for the first time as it allows operators to get a taste for what running a restaurant will include. Caterers, pastry chefs, bakers and online food delivery businesses can also seek opportunities through the pop-up model as it allows for a small amount of goods to be marketed directly to a particular demographic.
How to get started: Begin with a clear goal of what you want the pop-up restaurant to achieve and keep it in the main focus of your business plan. Next, find a location that is in the middle of your target audience’s path. The key is to remember that your venture has a small window of opportunity. Successful pop-up restaurants need to reach a large number of interested customers in a short amount of time. Because of this, it is imperative to find the right neighborhood. However, finding a space within the right area can be challenging. To assist in this challenge, websites such as PopUpInsider.com offer help in finding available locations. Another way to locate a workable space is to approach landlords of vacant spaces or to negotiate a shared space contract with restaurant kitchens that are closed for a part of the day or week. If your venture does not need a kitchen on-site, then consider asking another area business to allow you to rent a portion of their space for a limited time. Make sure you have all the necessary licenses and permits to cover your temporary venture. This will include following the local health code standards as well as applying for and receiving a food handler’s permit.
Related Learning: How to Obtain a Food Handler's Permit
Inspiration: Bon Me Truck
Definition: A vehicle that is equipped for cooking and selling food.
Benefit: The business is mobile and can move to where the customers are. Food trucks have lower start-up costs compared to traditional brick and mortar restaurants and the menu can change with a little more frequency if needed.
Who should try this: Business-minded individuals with a good grip on how to use social media for marketing purposes will have a greater chance of food truck success. Although it appears as a much smaller venture than opening a full-sized restaurant, food trucks require a large amount of organization to set up, stay legal and keep going. Vendors with specialty items are typically fan favorites. Finding and winning over a specific niche is key to food truck success. Think authentic Colombian arepas, amazing Cajun staples or mini meat pies rather than serving up an entire menu of different dishes.
How to get started: Begin with some research and development around area food trucks. If your city hasn’t caught on to the food truck-mania, visit neighboring towns and seek out the trucks with the longest lines. See what is bringing in the crowds and take good notes. There are several steps that are similar for starting a successful food truck business or street food business, with the most important being sourcing the proper financing to acquire the equipment you need and applying for and receiving all the proper licenses and permits to run your business.
Inspiration: Colorado Catering
Definition: A food and beverage business that provides hot or cold food that is prepared either on-site at an event or prepared in a commissary and then transported to an event’s location.
Benefit: The start-up costs are typically lower than a fixed restaurant location and with the proper restaurant equipment, supplies and licenses the business can be run from a personal residence. Caterers can start small and build their business over time while gaining experience and capturing a larger client list.
Who should try this: Individuals who work well under pressure and within demanding time limits will excel in the catering business. Successful caterers are willing and able to put in long hours on the days leading to an event and throughout the entire duration of the event. Caterers are expected to wear many hats and must be aggressive and diplomatic at the same time.
How to get started: To truly understand your business idea’s full potential, a prospective caterer must first look at how catering businesses is set up, this includes: preparation and purchasing, equipment and supplies, food production costs, labor and customer service. Learn more about How to Start a Catering Business in our detailed article.
Inspiration: Chef’s Table at Victoria & Albert’s
Definition: A table placed either in or very near the kitchen, where customers watch the head chef prepare their special, multi-course meal.
Benefit: Customers get a bird’s eye view on how your chef prepares each masterful dish. It also provides an entertaining quality not unlike popular food television networks. Chef’s table reservations are popular among date night revelers and groups of friends or coworkers looking for a fun and new dining experience.
Who should try this: Established restaurants with a large following of devoted customers, kitchens with well-known chefs or family-style restaurants that encourage family-style eating are all great candidates for hosting chef’s tables in their business.
How to get started: Designate an area in the kitchen where a table can fit without being bumped or blocked by other employees. If this is not available, consider setting up a table near the pass-through window of your kitchen. Make the table accommodating for a variety of group sizes, but not exceeding 10 people, to minimize crowding in busy kitchen or service areas. Select a prix fix menu of items and provide wine pairing or beer pairing along with the dishes. Advertising should include the price per seat, menu selection and available days.
Farm and Table Collaboration
Inspiration: Green Dirt Farm
Definition: Often advertised as a “feast for all the senses,” farm table dinners are hosted on location at a local farm. Each dish has either one or several ingredients that were sourced directly from the location’s farm.
Benefit: Customers are intimately connected to food and are able to garner a larger awareness of local farming businesses. The food is as fresh as possible and the concept appeals to locavores, foodies and customers looking to try something new.
Who should try this: Experienced chefs who have sourced local farms within at least 30 miles driving distance from major urban or suburban neighborhoods. These dinners are a collaborative effort and require a lot of organization. Successful farm dinners are typically offered one weekend out of the month and many times involve a new chef each month. Because of this, individuals with a network of culinary colleagues, or a strong and positive reputation in the local restaurant scene will find faster success in luring customers out of urban and suburban centers and out into the rural areas surrounding their city.
How to get started: Regulations for food safety must take precedence before setting up for guests to arrive. In a 2011 Las Vegas Sun article, “Farm-to-table event turns sour when health inspector crashes party,” the issue of not adhering to restaurant health code mandates closed a dinner on its inaugural night. When seeking out a location, work with the farmer, health inspector and any other licensing office to assure a smooth set up.
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