Pop-up restaurants are springing up, creating a buzz and can lead to new market share and extra revenue. According to  the Association's 2018 "What's Hot" chef's survey, pop-up restaurants are the sixth most popular restaurant concept trend.

Pop-up restaurants are mini-restaurants that temporarily operate in parks, plazas, galleries, warehouses, event centers and larger restaurants. Pop-up restaurateurs and their followers use blogs, Twitter and other social networks to inform people about the pop-ups. Some announce dining events just hours before they take place, and they often sell out.

Like food trucks, pop-up restaurants allow restaurateurs and chefs to hone their skills or test new food ideas. The concepts particularly appeal to new chefs or operators because they can take advantage of underused spaces and kitchens to introduce concepts without great expense. Pop-ups can also attract investors who want to transform an idea into a full operation or another dining possibility.

Many pop-ups begin as ways to offer food and flavors unavailable in a locality. As they attract devoted fans, they create “underground” dining communities.

Most pop-ups have served edgier gourmet cuisine, suggesting that the model works well for this segment. At the same time, more quick-service restaurants are jumping on board, and many industry analysts believe the format can work well for any concept. Big brands like McDonald's and Starbucks have launched pop-ups for a variety of occasions. 

Here are some reasons why pop-ups are popular:

  • Guest appeal. The millennial generation likes the novelty and creativity. And those guests can spread the word to their baby boomer parents.
  • Variety. Pop-ups are opportunities for operators to offer quick-hit innovations with frequently changing menus. A chef can operate a new pop-up for a weekend, close and open another one the following weekend.
  • Affordability. As the name implies, pop-ups don’t require long-term investments. Operators pay rent only as long as they occupy the space. A restaurateur might spend only a few thousand dollars a week to maintain a mini-restaurant.
  • Higher check averages. Because pop-ups often are exclusive, and their food often is rare or unusual, customers will pay a premium for the experience.
  • Portability. A successful pop-up concept can move from city to city. If it’s equally popular there, it might stay. If not, it might still receive press for the brand.
  • Growth potential. If the concept continues to grow, it could grow to a stand-alone operation or one that distributes packaged food.
  • Small loss potential. If a concept fails in one spot, it can be packed up and closed as swiftly as it started.

If you’re interested in launching a pop-up restaurant, reference these six strategies:

  • Consider planning a limited-seating event in a designated area of your establishment. The event could feature your latest menu items or a special presentation by one of your chefs. Create new promotional material and signage.
  • Team with another restaurant for a neighborhood event that highlights both brands. Generate interest with blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Because exclusivity helps sell pop-up events, make people think they might miss something special.
  • Plan weekly or bi-weekly pop-ups in your restaurant. Let what’s available seasonally inspire creativity and spontaneity. Keeps guests guessing about what’s coming next.
  • Prepare a theatrical pop-up. Create an area or room in your restaurant unlike anything guests have ever seen. Take them to a different place and time, such as a foreign locale with exotic flavors.
  • Connect with a cause. For example, you may be interested in donating a portion of food sales to a local food bank.
  • Use your restaurant as a pop-up for others, especially when you’re closed. If your restaurant serves only lunch and dinner, you could offer it as a pop-up for breakfast.