Opening a Pop-Up Restaurant – The Complete Guide

The food industry is constantly undergoing changes. Fresh new concepts in this field come up every now and then and, in turn, bring sweeping differences to the industry altogether. Recently, pop-up restaurants have been the talk of the town. They’ve left a strong impression on the traditional dining culture and are seen as a novel concept in the food business. 

There are multiples perks that come along with pop-up restaurants. Chefs get to experiment. Customers are highly impressed by the new and exciting feel of these restaurants and owners/ managers get tons of learning experience along the way. However, given that this field is relatively new, it can be a tad bit scary to open your own pop-up restaurant. But we’re here to help you out!

Now, first things first- what exactly is a pop-up restaurant? 

A pop-up restaurant is kind of an event unveiling exemplary culinary skills! The term “pop-up” suggests showing up out of the blue in an unexpected and unconventional location.  It is set in a location that is not permanent and lasts only for a certain amount of time- this could be a night, a week or even a couple of months. Generally, the primary target audience is people who’re fond of food and are always open to trying new things that are unique and refreshing. As unconventional and creative pop-up restaurants can be, they do offer the same benefits that you’d get from traditional full-scale restaurants.

popup restaurant pictureSo, if you’d like to open a pop-up restaurant, here’s what you have to do.

First, pick a menu. Then, choose a location that is suitable and offers what you need. Set up a mobile kitchen. Promote your pop-up restaurant on social media platforms to reach the audience that you have in mind. Once you’re done with all of this, you can focus on providing quality service and ensuring customer satisfaction.

Why Should you open a Pop-Up Restaurant?

  1. Pop-up restaurants are fun and innovative. They offer numerous advantages that traditional restaurants just don’t!
  2. Investors are drawn to pop-up restaurants. As long as they like the concept, see that your restaurant is running well and customers are satisfied,  you don’t have to do much to convince them to fund your vision. 
  3. Pop-ups don’t require as much investment or commitment as building an entire restaurant would. You don’t have to borrow an enormous amount of money or look for every funding option under the sun just to be able to make your dream restaurant a reality. 
  4. It is a great way to build a reputation. When you offer something new that is highly innovative, word spreads quickly. So if you’re new to town or even new to the food industry in general, a pop-up restaurant would do wonders in building an amazing reputation for you. This, in turn, will let you open up a full-fledged restaurant in the future and you wouldn’t have to work too much to market it to the public.
  5. If you’re a professional chef looking to really learn the art of the trade then a pop-up restaurant is the best way to experiment more with the culinary arts. You’d be able to offer much more to customers on your own terms and attain job satisfaction as well. 
  6. If you’re unsure about expanding your current food business to an entirely new location, you could first put it to the test by establishing a pop-up. This way, you could ascertain if the location is suitable and if you’d be able to reach your target customers- all without taking too much risk.
  7. It is a much more feasible way to open up a restaurant. Traditional restaurants require a large sum of fixed investment. Funding can get extremely difficult and there is a very high risk involved. A pop-up restaurant offers many alternative options, such as a short term lease, renting furniture and appliances, fewer ingredients for a limited menu and so on. All in all, it is more affordable than a full-scale restaurant. 

Steps to Open a Pop-Up restaurant 

So, you’ve decided you want to go ahead and open your own pop-up restaurant. What next? 

Follow these seven simple steps:

  1. Figure out the main reason why you want to start a pop-up restaurant. Is it a trial for something bigger that you plan to do in the future? Are you a chef who wants to experiment with gourmet food and build your reputation? Is it a simple one-time fundraiser for a good cause? Once you know your reasons behind wanting to open a pop-up restaurant, you can handle things according to these objectives. 
  2. Now that you’re aware of the reasons for opening a pop-up, go ahead and pick a suitable locationThe best part about pop-up restaurants is that they can be set up in any nook and corner. All you need to ensure is that the place can be equipped with everything that would be required to run a kitchen. You will also need a designated space to accommodate customers. Is there a power supply? Access to clean water? No constant pestering sound of traffic? Keep all these things in mind while picking a spot, but don’t be afraid to get creative. A rustic, abandoned warehouse, a rooftop garden, an existing restaurant space- customers would love anything that is out of the ordinary. 
  3. Make sure you don’t forget to apply for all the necessary restaurant licenses. You need to meet the health and safety standards required in your area too. Feel free to check with the local authority about any legal issues you should know of, in order to avoid any future roadblocks. Each license has its own costs. An eating house license, for instance, is valid for 3 years and costs Rs.300 while you’d have to pay Rs. 5000 when you submit an application for a Liquor License.
  4. Get creative with the menu. If you want your pop-up restaurant to be a success, you need to have a killer menu! Something that screams adventure and uniqueness is exactly what you should aim for- tempting and new at first glance! But keep in mind that you have limited scope when it comes to cooking and storage, depending on your location. 
  5. Once the menu is sorted out, get started with building your mobile kitchen. You need to be absolutely certain about all the essentials required in the kitchen to make the dishes on your menu. Depending on your location, you might have to opt for feasible options like induction burners. However, if you plan to rent an existing restaurant, you might not have to make arrangements for commercial kitchen equipment
  6. You’ve handled everything that goes on behind the scenes. Now, set up your dining space. Depending on the size as well as the duration of your pop-up restaurant, you need to decide if you want to purchase or rent the required furniture and décor items like curtains and fixtures. Don’t go all out with the seating capacity, rather make it roomy and comfortable so that your customers can have a good time. 
  7. When it comes to pop-up restaurants, you have the liberty of choosing whether you want to make it open or closed to the general public. If you keep it closed, only certain people that you invite can visit the restaurant. If not, anyone who wants to come and try something different can visit! Primarily, social media is the best means of advertising and building up the excitement. You could post weekly specials, different desserts offered and so on.  

Costs of opening a Pop-up restaurant

The costs of opening a pop-up restaurant vary with the scale of operations. The costs can be split into the following buckets:

  1. Stall rental costs
  2. Utensils, cooking vessels, kitchen equipment costs
  3. Marketing and promotions costs (online and offline)
  4. License and registration costs (covered above)
  5. Staff costs

For a detailed guide into the costs associated with each of the above, do give this blog a read – Costs of Opening a Restaurant: The Complete Guide

The Legality of Popup restaurants

When it comes to pop-up restaurants, they’re managed quite differently as compared to traditional full-scale restaurants. A lot of times, certain pop-up restaurants choose to remain essentially “underground”. These underground pop-up restaurants don’t bother applying for any sort of licenses, permits or insurance that they might need. Given that they are around only for a limited amount of time, it might seem tempting to not have to worry about the paperwork. However, there’s a good chance that this might not always work in your favor! 

popup restaurant image

On the other hand, regular pop-up restaurants still go about their work the standard way- by ensuring that all food and business laws are followed. If you want to open a regular pop-up restaurant, it is best that you have all the documentation you might need and that you apply on time for any kind of permit required in your area. After all, the law states that any and every commercial business absolutely needs to have all the requisite licenses to be able to sell food to customers.  

Check your state website and make a note of all the legal work that has to be done prior to opening a restaurant. Often, it takes time for applications to be approved so make sure you arrange for everything in advance. This way, you won’t have to end up paying heavy fines or have your pop-up restaurant get shut down.

When it comes to licenses and permits, here’s what you need to keep in mind.

  1. You’ll have to apply for an FSSAI License Registration which ensures that the food served at your restaurant is of high quality and meets the stipulated safety regulations laid down the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India. 
  2. Next, if you plan to serve any kind of alcohol to your customers, you’ll need to acquire a Liquor License. There are different kinds of Liquor Licenses, depending on your restaurant and what kind of alcohol you plan to sell.
  3. You will also need a Health/ Trade License issued by the state health department or Municipal Corporation.
  4. An Eating House License issued by the Licensing Police Commissioner of your city is a must, as is a Shop and Establishment License.
  5. For safety, you’ll need a Fire Safety License and Lift Clearance, to ensure the well-being of your customers.
  6. If you would like music to be played in your restaurant, a music license is something you’ll have to arrange for.
  7. If you plan any advertising through posters, paintings, and any other printed material, you will have to get a Signage License granted by the municipal corporation of the city or the respective local authority.
  8. To prove that your restaurant does not harm the environment in any way whatsoever, a Certificate of Environmental Clearance will be needed.

While applying for these licenses, you’ll have to submit all the documentation needed. This will include everything from stating your own business experience in the past, employees’ medical certificates, kitchen layout plans, power and water bills, proof of property and much more. It might seem a bit overwhelming at first. But if you take once license at a time, compile all the paperwork and submit it at the earliest, you’re good to go.

Also, you need to remember that some permits might take longer to get issued as compared to others. For instance, when it comes to a Liquor License, getting the application approved can be a long and arduous process. But with a Health/ Trade License, it takes 60 days to be issued after submission. So make sure you’re prepared well in advance for the whole process.

What Makes a Pop-Up Restaurant Successful?

If you want to make sure that your food business does well and impresses everyone, there are four factors you need to focus on.

The Concept

If you want to experiment with your business a little, a pop-up restaurant is the best shot you have. Whether you want to focus on a particular kind of item such as bubble tea or a particular sort of cuisine such as Korean food, you can test the waters first. Make sure that you pick something that you know is lacking in your location and would seem tempting to the customers. Once your concept finds a loyal client base, you can think about settling down with the business and making it permanent.

popup restaurant
The Location

With pop-up restaurants, there are many possibilities that we can consider while picking a location. Almost anything and everything around you could be an option- whether it’s an existing eatery’s kitchen you’re using in their off-hours or the terrace of an apartment building, just make sure that it is inviting. However, you need to ensure that this space meets health requirements as well as safety regulations. The owners of the established eatery will receive a percent of your profits to cover utility expenses such as water and electricity. They’d also be open to your idea because it might lead to more customers for them!

Kitchen Equipment and Technology

The success of your restaurant operations is largely influenced by the kind of technology you’re equipped with. Once you know what dishes you aim to provide, jot down a list of all the kitchen equipment you’re going to need. When it comes to payments, make sure all payment options are open to customers. To handle sales, logistics, and inventory management, you need to invest in a good restaurant POS software that makes managing your pop-up restaurant much easier and quicker.

Marketing and Promotions

You need to have a solid strategy when it comes to restaurant promotions. Once you have your goals in place, you need to figure out who your prime target audience is. Then, pick the ways you can best reach them- social media, posters, e-mail marketing and so on. If you’re experimenting with a kind of food that is quite unconventional, make sure you create excitement among prospective customers to come try it. 

All in all, pop-up restaurants can be super fun to create as well as manage. You get to be as creative as you like and offer a fresh experience to customers, unlike any other!


Sakshi Trehan

Sakshi Trehan

Sakshi Trehan is a content writer at LimeTray. She loves reading a good book while sipping equally good coffee. She can often be found listening to music by Norah Jones or A.R. Rahman