Running your restaurant at an offsite venue presents its own set of challenges. The overall experience is unique for the diner and requires advanced planning from the restaurant team. Mobile operations, such as food trucks, pop-ups, and food and wine festivals, are a great way to build exposure and get to know your customers up-close and personal beyond a more structured restaurant operation.
Mobile operations are a great way for up-and-coming chefs to gain exposure and showcase their talents to a new and budding audience. But as with any business, it’s critical to do your homework beforehand.
Experienced chefs use pop-ups or food festivals to experiment with new concepts or dishes and to gather customer responses in real-time. Launching a food truck requires more advanced planning and startup capital. It should only happen after you’ve researched the market and looked at what might be a good fit based on the region and location. If there are already two taco trucks in your region, you might want to consider a different approach or format.
Food trucks and pop-ups allow you to try new concepts and gain exposure with less financial risk than a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Opening a new restaurant carries a hefty price tag, averaging around half-a-million dollars. Pop-ups, however, require minimal startup capital. A pop-up may only cost $2,500 (or greater, depending on the location) to operate for a week, if you have a venue that is allowing you to use the space at a discount.
Food trucks are also less expensive than traditional restaurants and can begin around $30,000 to $50,000, based on the complexity of the truck or if you’re able to buy a used truck in good condition. These costs compared to a full-service restaurant are greatly reduced and can be used as a test market for your concept. If the business is setup correctly, you have the potential for good profit margins if you keep things simple and easily executable in these offsite mobile food operations.
Think about how you’ll transport your ingredients. This is affected by whether you are renting a temporary or commissary kitchen or prepping at another off-site location or facility.
Don’t plan a menu or put together programming without knowing what ingredients are available. It’s all about planning, organization and knowing what’s accessible at your off-site event or food festival.
Many of these mobile operations don’t support the same storage space as a regular storefront restaurant. Alternative venues are inherently prone to being much smaller operations with fewer available ingredients. As such, be flexible, and offer a limited menu, which will allow you to travel lean and better utilize the resources at hand. This creates an opportunity for you to showcase balanced flavors with seasonal and sustainable ingredients.
Choose the Right Technology
In the hectic world of running a food-related business, having the right tools to handle transactions while integrating and managing all of your accounting needs is critical. Each business model is unique and will range from external catering and events, consulting clients, running pop-up dinners or selling products online.
Mobile food startups should use a POS system that is a complete business and accounting solution. For example, QuickBooks Point of Sale tracks transactions and inventory while fully integrating with QuickBooks accounting software. This allows you to manage your business from a single software solution, helping you avoid errors and oversights.
Get the Word Out
Each of these concepts relies heavily on social media for promotion and exposure. These temporary events require a very strong social media push to get the word out in an abbreviated amount of time. Engage your audience, and create buzz.
Blogs and traditional media are also very relevant when building the necessary exposure to create a successful venture. Much of the allure behind pop-ups and events is the exclusivity. Leveraging the exclusivity of pop-ups and food trucks provokes the fear of missing out for diners and foodies, so use that to your advantage.
Think you’re ready to launch your own food truck or pop-up? Then check out our financial checklist for restaurants to ensure you get started on the right foot.