We earn commissions if you shop through the links below. Read more

How to Start a Pop-Up Restaurant

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Start a Pop-Up Restaurant

Fast Facts

Investment range

$7,400 - $31,500

Revenue potential

$150,000 - $520,000 p.a.

Time to build

1 – 3 months

Profit potential

$45,000 - $156,000 p.a.

Industry trend




How to Start a Pop-Up Restaurant

Pop-up restaurants have popped up big time, often used by new chefs to generate interest and build their brand. The trend has taken hold in cities like New York City and San Francisco, where younger eaters line up for these temporary establishments. 

But a pop-up restaurant doesn’t have to be just a brand builder – you could actually start a business using the pop-up concept. If you’re an aspiring chef, it’s a great way to get into the $200 billion restaurant industry for less money than a brick-and-mortar establishment.

But before you hit the kitchen, you’ll need some business savvy. Luckily, this step-by-step guide has all the business insights you need to start popping up a profit. 

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Pros and cons


  • Get in on a growing trend
  • Showcase your food and have fun
  • Relatively low startup costs


  • Profit margins can be slim
  • Can be difficult to find suitable locations
  • Hard to find and retain staff

Pop-Up Industry Trends

Industry size and growth

While there are no industry statistics for pop-up restaurants, they fall under the single location full-service restaurant category.

  • Industry size and past growth – The U.S. single location full-service restaurant industry is worth $209 billion in 2023 after expanding .4% annually the last five years.((https://www.ibisworld.com/united-states/market-research-reports/single-location-full-service-restaurants-industry/))
  • Growth forecast – The U.S. single location full-service restaurant industry is projected to expand 1.1% in 2023.
  • Number of businesses – In 2023, 177,308 single location full-service restaurants are operating in the U.S. 
  • Number of people employed – In 2023, the U.S. single location full-service restaurant industry employs 3,566,586 people. 
Pop-Up Restaurant industry size and growth

Trends and challenges


  • Pop-up restaurants are marketing themselves as dining experiences, rather than marketing the food itself.
  • Many pop-up restaurants partner with existing establishments to use their kitchen and dining spaces. These partners are often diners that only serve breakfast and lunch, so the space is available for evening dinners. Other options include coffee shops or supper clubs. 


  • It can be difficult to hire staff for a pop-up restaurant since work hours will be sporadic.
  • Rising food prices may make it more difficult to achieve profit margin goals. 
Pop-Up Restaurant Trends and Challenges

Consumer spending

Pop-Up Restaurant consumer spending

Demand hotspots

  • Most popular states – The most popular states for chefs are Nevada, Texas, and New Jersey.((https://www.zippia.com/chef-jobs/best-states/))
  • Least popular states – The least popular states for chefs are South Dakota, Iowa, and Michigan.
Pop-Up Restaurant demand hotspots

What kind of people work in pop-up restaurants?

  • Gender – 25% of chefs are female, while 75% are male.((https://www.zippia.com/chef-jobs/demographics/))
  • Average level of education – The average chef has an associate’s degree.
  • Average age The average chef in the US is 42 years old.
Pop-Up Restaurant industry demographics

How much does it cost to start a pop-up restaurant business?

You’ve got two options when starting a pop-up restaurant. You can partner with existing restaurants to use their space when they’re closed, which means you won’t have to invest in equipment. In that case, startup costs will be about $7,500, most of which is for an initial operating budget to pay for the space and to pay your staff.

The other option is to purchase portable kitchen equipment and put your pop-up restaurant in any space that meets health and safety standards. This might cost $30,000.

You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your pop-up restaurant business if you opt to buy kitchen equipment, including: 

  • Grill
  • Deep fryer
  • Portable stove top
  • Pans, etc.
  • Cooler
  • Cutting tables
  • Truck to transport equipment
Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corporation$100 - $500$300
Business licenses and permits$1,000 - $3,000$2,000
Initial Marketing Budget$200 - $500$350
Initial Operating Budget$5,000 - $10,000$7,500
Ingredients for first pop up$1,000 - $2,000$1,500
Portable kitchen equipment$0 - $10,000$5,000
Truck to transport equipment - down payment$0 - $5,000$2,500
Total$7,400 - $31,500$19,450

How much can you earn from a pop-up restaurant business?

Most pop-up restaurants offer a limited, prix fixe menu and charge a flat fee. If you’re serving higher end food, you could probably charge about $100 per person. Your profit margin after food, the space, and staff costs, should be about 30%.

In your first year or two, you might open your pop-up restaurant 15 times per year and serve 100 people each time, bringing in $150,000 in revenue. This would mean $45,000 in profit, assuming that 30% margin. 

As you gain traction, you might open your pop-up once per week. With annual revenue of $520,000, you’d make a tidy profit of $156,000.

Pop-Up Restaurant earning forecast

What barriers to entry are there?

There are a few barriers to entry for a pop-up restaurant. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • Funding the startup costs, particularly if you purchase equipment
  • Finding staff 

Related Business Ideas

If you’re still not sure whether this business idea is the right choice for you, here are some related business opportunities to help you on your path to entrepreneurial success.
How to Start a Pop-Up Restaurant

How to Open a Pizza Shop

How to Start a Pop-Up Restaurant

How to Start a Food Truck Business

How to Start a Pop-Up Restaurant

How to Start a Hot Dog Cart

Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting a pop-up restaurant, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market. 

Market research could give you the upper hand even if you’ve got the perfect product. Conducting robust market research is crucial, as it will help you better understand your customers, your competitors, and the broader business landscape.

Why? Identify an opportunity

Research pop-up restaurants in your area to examine their menus, price points, and customer reviews. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing a French fine dining pop-up, or a steakhouse pop-up.

You might consider targeting a niche, such as fine dining or casual American dining.

This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away. 

Analyze your competitors 

Analyze competitors to gain a better understanding of the market and identify opportunities.

  • Make a list of pop-up restaurants that offer similar products. 
  • Review your competitors’ menus – their features, pricing, and quality – and marketing strategies
  • Check out their online reviews and ratings on Google, Yelp, and Facebook to get an idea of what their customers like and dislike.
  • Identify your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. 

This should identify areas where you can strengthen your business and gain a competitive edge to make better business decisions.

What? Determine your products or services

Your main product is your food. You could also serve alcohol, but you’d probably need a temporary liquor license. As mentioned, it’s most common to offer a prix fixe menu, so you’ll have to select what dishes to offer. 

How much should you charge at your pop-up restaurant?

Since people are paying for a prix fixe menu and the culinary experience, if you’re offering fine dining you should be able to charge $100 to $150 per person. After your costs of the space, food, and staffing, you should aim for a profit margin of about 30%.

Once you know your costs, use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

Your target market will depend on the location where you’re popping up. If you’re in a more affluent area, you’ll likely find your target customers on Instagram or Facebook. If you’re aiming for a younger, trendy area, you’ll want to add TikTok to the mix.

Social media is going to be the main way that you’ll notify people of your pop-up, so be prepared to aggressively promote your restaurant each time you open. 

Where? Choose your pop-up restaurant location

In the early stages, you may want to run your business from home to keep costs low. But as your business grows, you may need to rent out an office with a space for your equipment. You can find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.

When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:

  • Central location accessible via public transport
  • Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
  • Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
  • Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
Pop-Up Restaurant idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Pop-Up Restaurant Name

Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better 
  • Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “pop-up restaurant” or “pop-up fine dining”, boosts SEO
  • Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “Culinary Fusion Pop-Up” over “Seafood Delights Pop-Up”
  • Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
  • Use online tools like the Step by Step Business Name Generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead and reserve your business name with your state, start the trademark registration process, and complete your domain registration and social media account creation. 

Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick a name, reserve it and start with the branding, it’s hard to switch to a new name. So be sure to carefully consider your choice before moving forward. 

Step 4: Create a Pop-Up Restaurant Business Plan

Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:

  • Executive Summary: Brief overview of the entire business plan; should be written after the plan is complete.
  • Business Overview: Overview of the company, vision, mission, ownership, and corporate goals.
  • Product and Services: Describe your offerings in detail.
  • Market Analysis: Assess market trends such as variations in demand and prospects for growth, and do a SWOT analysis.
  • Competitive Analysis: Analyze main competitors, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and create a list of the advantages of your services.
  • Sales and Marketing: Examine your companies’ unique selling propositions (USPs) and develop sales, marketing, and promotional strategies.
  • Management Team: Overview of management team, detailing their roles and professional background, along with a corporate hierarchy.
  • Operations Plan: Your company’s operational plan includes procurement, office location, key assets and equipment, and other logistical details.
  • Financial Plan: Three years of financial planning, including startup costs, break-even analysis, profit and loss estimates, cash flow, and balance sheet.
  • Appendix: Include any additional financial or business-related documents.
what to include in a business plan

If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.

Make Logos, Business Cards, Social Designs and More!
Visit BrandCrowd
Trusted Partner

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business! 

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you are planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to pop-up restaurants. 

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state. 

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your pop-up restaurant will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely. 

Here are the main options:

  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.  Here’s how to form an LLC.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation. Read how to start a corporation here.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
types of business structures

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have. 

Form Your LLC

Choose Your State

We recommend ZenBusiness as the Best LLC Service for 2023

starts at $0, plus state fees


starts at $0, plus state fees
Visit ZenBusiness

Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN. 

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you are completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

  • Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.

Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding a pop-up restaurant business. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept and menu. 

types of business financing

Step 8: Apply for Pop-up Restaurant Business Licenses and Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

Starting a pop-up restaurant business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits. 

Food service and health permit requirements will vary depending on where you open your restaurant, so check with your state and locality. You also will likely need liquor licenses if you serve alcohol. 

You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more. 

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.

Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your pop-up restaurant business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account. 

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked, yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.
types of business insurance

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

Launching a Business

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business. 

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.  

You may want to use industry-specific software, such as Restaurant 365 or RSVP, to manage your bookings, food inventory, recipe costing, and reporting. 


  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.

Create a website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism. You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

Your customers are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. SEO will help your website appear closer to the top in relevant search results, a crucial element for increasing sales. 

Make sure that you optimize calls to action on your website. Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Book Table Now”.  This can sharply increase purchases. 

Online Marketing

Some of your business will come from the casual passerby or online visitors, but you should still invest in digital marketing! Getting the word out is especially important for new businesses, as it’ll boost customer and brand awareness. 

Here are some powerful digital marketing strategies for small businesses: 

  • Social media is a great tool for promoting your business because you can create engaging posts that advertise your products:
    • Facebook: Great platform for paid advertising, allows you to target specific demographics, like men under age 50 in the Cleveland area. 
    • Instagram: Same benefits as Facebook but with different target audiences. It’s a very good platform for creative businesses. 
    • Tik-Tok: This social media platform has over 1 billion monthly active users and it is used primarily by a younger demographic.
    • Linkedin: the most effective place for B2B marketers.
  • Google and Yelp: For businesses that rely on local clientele, getting listed on Yelp and Google My Business can be crucial to generating awareness and customers.
  • Email marketing/newsletter – Send regular emails to customers and prospects. Make them personal. 
  • Start a blog – Start a blog and post regularly. Change up your content and share on multiple sites.
  • Paid ads on social media – Choose sites that will reach your target market and do targeted ads.
  • Payper-click marketing – Use Google AdWords to perform better in searches. Research your keywords first.
  • Influencer marketing – Pay people with large social media followings to promote your pop-up restaurant. You can find micro-influencers with smaller followings and lower rates.
  • Post a video – Post a video about your pop-up restaurant. Use humor and maybe it will go viral!

Take advantage of your website, social media presence and real-life activities to increase awareness of your offerings and build your brand. 

Traditional Marketing

Traditional marketing is any form of marketing that uses offline media to reach an audience. Some options that might work for a popup restaurant business include: 

  • Signage – Put up eye-catching signage at your pop-up and website 
  • Limited edition – Offer a one-time version of your menu.
  • Press releases – Do press releases about your pop-up and menu offerings.

Focus on USPs

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your pop-up restaurant meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire. 

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your pop-up restaurant business could be:

  • The hottest restaurant in town! 
  • The finest culinary experience of your life.
  • French cuisine you’ll never forget.
unique selling proposition


You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a pop-up restaurant business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in pop-up restaurants for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections. 

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in pop-up restaurants. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership. 

Step 12: Build Your Team

Building a Team for a New Business

If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a pop-up restaurant business include:

  • Servers – serve meals
  • Bartenders – make and serve drinks
  • Waitstaff – take orders, customer service
  • Sous Chefs – assist with food preparation

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need. 

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent. 

Step 13: Run a Pop-up Restaurant – Start Making Money!

Running a Business

Pop-up restaurants are all the rage, offering unique culinary experiences to the hip and trendy. It’s a great way for an aspiring chef to get into the food game, build a name and save up to open brick-and-mortar restaurant. 

Now that you’ve got some business knowledge under your belt, it’s time to pull out your culinary drawing board and become a successful pop-up restauranteur!

Pop-up Business FAQs

Is a pop-up restaurant business profitable?

A pop-up restaurant can be profitable, but it generally requires that you have a prix fixe menu. That means that you offer a limited menu and charge a flat price per customer.

What is the growth potential of a pop-up restaurant business?

pop-up restaurants have limited growth potential because they are generally dependent on the skills of the chef who starts them.

Can you start a pop-up restaurant on the side?

It would be challenging to start a pop-up restaurant on the side because it would be difficult to find staff willing to work only occasionally. It’s better to make a full-time commitment.

How can I make my home a pop-up restaurant?

To make your home a pop-up restaurant, you’ll likely need various health and food service permits, as well as a zoning permit. You’ll also be limited by your space in terms of how many customers you can serve at a time.