From Seattle to Kansas City to New York, temporary restaurants are popping up all over the U.S., and the trend — unlike the eateries — appears to be here to stay.
Although the proliferation of pop-up restaurants is relatively new, the concept is not: Chefs have long strutted their stuff on special occasions, offering seasonal or limited-time-only menus or appearing as a featured guest in someone else’s kitchen. But pop-up eateries, with their lower overhead, give budding chefs an opportunity to test menus or concepts for a fraction of the cost of opening a full-fledged business. They also give restaurant owners a chance to rent out their kitchens on slow nights. Indeed, some developers and landlords actively seek temporary tenants as a way to generate revenue while looking to fill vacant storefronts with long-term retailers or small businesses.
Pop-up restaurants typically cost less to run than food trucks — the other hot restaurant trend — because the latter requires investing in a vehicle. Startup costs for pop-ups range from a modest $2,000 a week to $50,000 in larger cities and prime locations. Food trucks range from $50,000 to $200,000, depending upon their size and condition, according to The Food Truck Handbook.
The pop-up restaurant trend started in 2007 when well-known Los Angeles chef Ludo Lefebvre opened Ludo Bites at the Breadbar and the Bon Appétit Supper Club and Café opened in New York City for a two-week stint to highlight several chefs. The trend caught on in San Francisco and other culinary hotspots and ultimately spread across the country. Most pop-ups are run by well-known chefs with devoted followers, which makes it much easier to attract diners. A few, however, have been created by unknowns, such as 19-year-old Jeff Lefko, who started Concept One in Kansas City as a way to determine whether he wanted to be a restaurateur. After testing his ideas, he opened a catering company instead.
Tips for Running a Successful Pop-Up Restaurant
Opening a pop-up requires a few different skills from those needed to run a food truck or a permanent restaurant. Here are a few tips:
- If you aren’t a well-known chef, partner with one. Chefs with a loyal following, excellent food, and a “brand name” can fill the seats for limited engagements.
- The public — especially foodies — love the exclusivity of pop-ups, so think in terms of limited-time engagements rather than months-long ventures.
- As in retail and real estate, location is of utmost importance for pop-up restaurants. Choose a place where your best customers will find you.
- Create a detailed profit-and-loss statement to determine how many dinners you need to sell to make a profit, suggests Alan Philips, a hospitality entrepreneur who’s created several pop-up restaurants in New York. Calculate and what your costs are for space, food, wine, and staffing. (Philips aims for a 10 to 20 percent profit, which can disappear quickly if you don’t pay attention to the bottom line.)
- Consider a site seeking publicity, such as a hotel or underutilized private meeting space, which can help keep costs low, Philips suggests.
- Be present on social media to build excitement and generate business. If you are too busy preparing food and handling other operational aspects to post and tweet, find someone to do it for you.
Get more info about pop-up restaurants in the following infographic: