Ready to open a restaurant but want to test the waters first? Buying a food truck or creating a pop-up restaurant might be an easier way to enter the industry without the larger capital expense of buying or building a larger store.
Buying a food truck allows you to bring your culinary creations streetside to the masses while a pop-up restaurant is a short term or temporary location where you can showcase your food without a long term investment.
Why would you consider these options over the traditional path of buying a restaurant? Purchasing an existing restaurant for sale allows you to buy an open and operating location but you take on the full financial and operational challenges that come with traditional brick-and-mortar locations.
Buying a food truck or creating a pop-up restaurant eliminates some of this overhead, requires a smaller investment and lowers your overall risk. Food trucks and pop-up restaurants are unique concepts that offer a variety of advantages for the would-be restaurant entrepreneurs at a lower initial investment than a brick-and-mortar store.
Food trucks are not a new concept. Many successful restaurant owners started as a food truck concept that grew to a full time location while others are extensions of existing businesses. Here are a few reasons why restaurant owners can opt for buying a food truck concept:
- Mobility: You can take on the open road when buying a food truck since it offers you the freedom to roam. You can test your concept across different neighborhoods, events, and markets. This mobility is perfect for entrepreneurs who want to take their cuisine to the streets and be where the action is. Cities and communities that embrace food truck culture have created public events and festivals to celebrate this style of cuisine that are accessible for food trucks, too.
- Lower Overhead: Buying a food truck typically involves lower upfront as well as overhead costs compared to traditional restaurants. You'll save on expenses such as rent, utilities, and property maintenance. This financial advantage can be a game-changer for those looking to start small.
- Direct Customer Interaction: Buying a food truck provides a unique opportunity for direct customer interaction. You are face-to-face with your patrons, getting immediate feedback, building relationships, and cultivating a loyal customer base.
- Creativity on Wheels: The limited space in a food truck encourages culinary creativity. You can experiment with unique menus, fusion cuisines, and trendy food items, allowing you to stand out in a competitive market.
- Testing Ground: Buying a food truck means you have your own test kitchen with a built in focus group. Food trucks serve as excellent testing grounds for restaurant concepts. You can gauge the demand for your cuisine, refine your offerings based on customer feedback, and adapt to changing trends quickly.
When researching the opportunities for buying a food truck, it is important to consider the climate of where you want to operate. Consider the social climate – Do these locations allow food trucks? Is the community interested in the food truck experience? Be sure to also consider the actual climate – Will there be seasonal fluctuations in what customers will order? Will snow or other extreme weather affect my ability to open the truck and serve customers?
A pop-up restaurant is different from buying a food truck since it is a temporary dining establishment that operates for a limited period, often ranging from a single night to several weeks or months. Pop-up restaurants are characterized by their temporary nature and are designed to create unique and memorable dining experiences.
- Innovative Dining Experiences: Pop-up restaurants are known for offering innovative and unique dining experiences. Themes, décor, and menus can change frequently, creating a sense of excitement and anticipation for customers.
- Lower Risk Testing: because they are designed to be temporary, pop-ups provide an ideal platform for testing new restaurant concepts and menu items. This minimizes financial risk and allows you to experiment and refine your offerings.
- Building a Following: Successful pop-ups can build a dedicated following of fans who eagerly await their next appearance which is different from buying a food truck which visits the same area or market frequently. Social media plays a significant role in promoting pop-up restaurant events and engaging with customers. The draw of a limited-time-only dining experience can increase demand and build anticipation for your concept.
- Community Engagement: Pop-up restaurants frequently participate in local events, food festivals, and charitable initiatives. If your goal is to create a connection with your community through your food business, then a pop-up restaurant may be one way to make a connection to the community.
Which One is Right for You?
The decision between buying a food truck and launching a pop-up restaurant ultimately depends on your goals, preferences, and the type of culinary experience you want to offer. These are both innovative concepts with lower cost of entry, but consider these key differences before deciding which is right for you:
- Concept Structure
Pop-up restaurants are known for their flexibility and ability to embrace different concepts and themes. Each pop-up event can have a unique concept, menu, or theme, allowing for a wide range of dining experiences. Moreover, the pop-up can change the menu depending on the event. Food trucks, in a similar way, also have more freedom when it comes to changing the menu. However, they typically stick to an established menu to maintain consistency as a concept.
Buying a food truck means you will be operating on more traditional hours and operate continuously, often on a regular schedule, whether daily or weekly. They can be a year-round or seasonal business, while Pop-up restaurants tend to have a specific start and end date, operating for a limited period, which can range from a single night to several weeks or months. The duration of a pop-up’s operations may depend on the event, weather, and location.
- Customer Interaction
Both food trucks and pop-up restaurants offer more personal customer interactions. Owners and staff have direct interaction with customers as they take orders, prepare food, and serve customers through the truck's window. This personal touch can lead to stronger customer relationships. Similarly, pop-up restaurants provide this personal touch as customers visit the pop-up’s designated area to order, hangout, and receive their orders.
When it comes to location, buying a food truck generally offers greater freedom to change locations daily or throughout the day, catering to different neighborhoods, events, or markets. Their mobility allows them to adapt to customer demand. On the other hand, pop-up restaurants choose specific locations for each event, often seeking out unconventional or unique spaces that align with their theme or concept. They must rely on social media marketing, ticket sales, and more to create buzz and anticipation for the limited-time dining experience.
Whether you choose to move forward with buying a food truck or operating a pop-up restaurant, you will need to acquire the proper permits and licensures to operate. Some common permits and licenses include:
- Business License
- Food Service Permit
- Mobile Food Vendor License
- Vehicle Permit
- Commissary Agreement
- Fire Department Clearance
- Propane or Gas Permits
- Alcohol License (if applicable)
- Parking and Location Permits
In conclusion, both buying a food truck or establishing a pop-up restaurant offer unique opportunities to start your food business at a fraction of the build-out cost for a brick-and-mortar store. Additionally, they can be a tool for testing your concept and menu items.
Ready to make your dream a reality? Browse food trucks for sale now.
Robin Gagnon, Certified Restaurant Broker®, MBA, CBI, CFE, is the co-founder of We Sell Restaurants, a brand that has carved an unparalleled niche in the industry as the nation's leading and only business broker franchise focused on restaurants. Under Robin’s leadership, We Sell Restaurants has grown to 45 states where it dominates the restaurant for sale marketplace, including franchise resales, delivering on the founder’s vision to Sell More Restaurants Than Anyone Else. We Sell Restaurants was named one of the most influential suppliers and vendors in the country by Nation’s Restaurant News and has earned a position on INC 5000’s list of fastest growing privately held companies. Franchisees of We Sell Restaurants surveyed by Franchise Business Review placed it 25th in the nation in franchisee satisfaction.
Robin is the Chair of the Women’s Franchise Committee of IFA and is a member of the IFA Board of Directors. She is also an MBA and Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) and has her CBI (Certified Business Intermediary) designation from the International Business Brokers Association. She co-authored Appetite for Acquisition, a small business book award winner in 2012 and contributes frequently to industry press appearing in Forbes, QSR, Modern Restaurant Management, Franchise Update, and others. She has appeared on The TODAY Show as a restaurant expert and Entrepreneur Magazine has named her to their list of the “Top Influential Women in Franchising.”