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Should I Try a Pop-up Restaurant? The Pros and Cons

  • Pop-Ups

Pop-up restaurants are staying true to their name and are popping up everywhere. From boutiques, craft stalls and restaurants, all ventures are branching out into the pop-up market. A brief look on Google Trends shows the term “pop up restaurant” wasn’t really searched before 2009. It was in May 2014 that saw the trend explode. Since then we have seen restaurants, both new and established, taking the plunge and opening a pop-up in some trendy area with a high footfall.  The pop-up restaurant market recently saw 82% year-over-year growth, indicating that this trend seems to be here to stay.

Often, there is an amount of marketing and PR-generated buzz created in the lead up to the opening and the whole event can be a great success for both customers and the business.

But what really are the pros and cons of pop-up restaurants?

 

The pros of pop-ups

Pop-ups are a relatively inexpensive way for a chef to get their name out to the public or help establish the restaurant brand in a new area. Established restaurants can benefit from pop-ups by trialling a new concept.

Ludo Lefebvre, founder of the extremely successful LudoBites says “I think the pop-up model can work great for quick service,” Lefebvre says. “It is a really great avenue to test-market a new concept. It can also help give a little energy to a quick-service restaurant that might be stale or boring. Instead of testing or launching a single product, think about a concept within a concept.”

Pop-ups allow for experimentation with new menu items.

One of the great things about pop-ups is that they give chefs the chance to test their new dishes on the actual public. This is especially applicable to younger chefs with low amounts of capital who aren’t able to use kitchen facilities without risking bankruptcy.

Chefs from different restaurants can cook together to create something truly unique that gets a real buzz going whilst sharing knowledge between peers.

Recently celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey was among a host of Michelin-starred chefs to cook with only food waste at a new pop-up restaurant wastED London on the roof of Selfridges department store. The pop-up is already creating a huge amount of publicity for both the chefs, the department store and the food waste movement.

Pop-up restaurants have lower costs than a standard start-up, including overheads and labour.

With pop-ups you can test the water of your brand model, menu and locations at a cost far cheaper than as an outright standard start-up.

One success story example of this is Ceru, Levantine-inspired London pop-ups restaurants. founded by husband and wife team Barry and Patricia Hilton in 2014, they have recently opened a permanent restaurant in South Kensington off the back of the success of their pop-ups.

Barry Hilton says: “In the last two years, we have hosted pop-ups and catered at a variety of music and sporting events. The pop-ups gave us the opportunity to trial a variety of different trading formats across central London, whilst the outside catering required us to devise new ways of serving our food ‘on the go’.

“This was an invaluable experience that helped us create the DNA of the Ceru menu and now having spent two years ‘on the road’ – and having received enthusiastic feedback from our customers – we feel that the time is right to establish a permanent home”.

Different pricing methods such as flat ticket or prix fixe menus.

A benefit of pop-ups is that they allow you to be flexible with pricing to a certain extent. You can experiment with flat tickets, prix fixe menus (which is the favoured pricing for most pop-ups). Unlike a la carte menu pricing, prix fix allows you to charge a set amount per head.

Flexibility in location, allowing you to move from city, to city, potentially taking your brand nationally.

Aaron Cohen, one of the partners of Eat Boston, a high-end pop-up that ventures around Beantown, says a regional brand can test the waters in a new city by popping up for a few weeks in a shopping centre’s storefront. If people turn out in good numbers, then maybe expanding to that city is a good idea. If they don’t, the brand will still get “a ton of national press just for trying it out,” Cohen says.

Pop-up restaurants allow you to be more creative in the location you chose. From an indoor market in a disused factory through to shopping centres, there are a wealth of options to consider when looking for the prime location of your restaurant venture.

End of lease is certainly something to think about. You don’t want to be limited by the amount of time you have with your pop-up restaurant if it is a roaring success. Perhaps somewhere that offers flexibility in the leasing of the space would be a wise move, giving you flexibility on the timeframe you have.

 

The cons of pop-ups

Not a great moneymaking operation

Even if successful, the cost will be offset by the need to have a full staff to make a good impression and to avoid long queues due to lack of staff.

Founder of Ceru, Barry Hilton says “Pop ups generally are loss making ventures unless you get the opportunity to stay in one place for a decent length of time – what they do allow you to do is to test market an area or a concept before committing many tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds in opening a permanent site”.

These ventures are heavily reliant on PR, social media and marketing.

Most pop-up restaurants reply on social media to get the word out on their eatery. This is followed closely by advertising locally in the press, shop windows etc. of the area your restaurant will be. A clearly defined social media and marketing strategy is key to the success of your venture, so this is something to keep in the forefront of your mind.

Pop-up restaurants make it hard to create repeat customers

If your pop-up venture is not going to be open frequently it’s hard to gain and retain repeat customers.

You need licenses, insurance and permits

A license from the local council is needed and you’ll also need another if wanting to sell alcohol. You’ll have to contact your local council to clarify the licensing laws in your area, as they often differ from council to council. You’ll also need public liability insurance.

Long hours are likely

Long hours with early starts and late finishes are generally required to have the best chance of success.

Pop-ups limit how many patrons you can have

The spacing of a pop-up can put a cap on how many customers you can get, with interest often exceeding the space.

 

Could they be right for you?

Pop-up restaurants are equal parts fun and hard work. The best way to tackle them is perhaps to see them as a promotional exercise for your brand rather than a great money-maker. Location, menu, marketing and enthusiasm are the key areas to making your pop-up restaurant a great success. If you would like to speak to a member of our friendly team, our Restaurant Property advisors are experts in expanding a restaurant’s offering. Get in touch today on 020 7935 2222 or online, and we’ll do our best to help.

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