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You happened upon this crazy-looking restaurant with a unique menu by your office and stopped by after work. You made it a point to come back with some friends on your day-off three days later, but when you get there, the space where it used to be is empty. You likely just experienced the limited run of a pop-up restaurant. A pop-up bar, which is the subject of this article, works the same way.

As you may have guessed by the name, a pop-up bar is an establishment that sets up shop for a limited amount of time to sell and serve beer, wine, cocktails, or liquor. It is a relatively new spin to the pop-up restaurant, but the industry has already been steadily thriving. 

Pop-up bars provide a way for business owners to test-drive their business idea, sample markets, build on opening buzz, take advantage of a seasonal location, or get the attention of investors. 

There is no set limit on how long a pop-up bar can operate. It can last as short as just a few hours, a week, or a month depending on the purpose, demand, and the availability of the location. 

A pop-up bar can be many things, but its basic premise is experiential retail, promising customers with experience beyond the traditional. In this day and age where Instagram and social media in general are prevalent and there is immense craving for novel experiences, it is easy to see how this concept blew up.

What Makes a Pop-Up Bar Work?

The Perfect Idea

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It is safe to say that a pop-up bar relies so much on the creativity and timeliness of its concept as it does on its actual offerings. One could say that these factors will drive the service and products you will offer.

Seasonal and holiday-inspired pop-up bars marked the beginning of this giant industry. One of the very first pop-up bars was Christmas-themed, which has done so well that it expanded internationally.

Not long after, entrepreneurs realized the highly lucrative potential of a pop-up bar. And so, pop culture-themed pop-up bars, well, popped up. You may have heard of those pop-up bars inspired from television shows like Game of Thrones or the cult classic Wayne’s World. There’s a pop-up bar made entirely of LEGO bricks and another based around Pokemon.

The huge following that came with each and every one of these worldwide phenomena paved the way for free press and built-in customer appeal as fans want to be in on the fun and share the experience on social media while news outlets and influencers scrambled to feature them and get the word out.

Pop-up bars have also found success in inspiring nostalgia in people. Customers just want to be taken back to a time they wish they’d experience or want to experience again. And what better way to do that by drinking their heart out in a recreation of, say, a vintage pub. 

The Right Location

The other side of the story is location. Oftentimes, finding the perfect site for your pop-up bar can be much harder than developing your concept. However, a pop-up bar affords you just a tad bit more flexibility compared to its brick-and-mortar counterpart. 

A pop-up bar can be situated in a wide variety of places specific to your concept. Malls, gardens, warehouses, rooftops, galleries, and many more are all on the table, as long as they meet zoning and food safety requirements.

A pop-up bar also can be transferred from one place to another, allowing you to capture a new crowd and reach as many people as possible.

Choosing the right location is crucial to the success of your pop-up bar. This is discussed further later in the article. For now, it seems like the perfect time to talk about how awesome a pop-up bar is and what it can do for you.

What Benefits Can A Pop-Up Bar Provide To Business Owners Like You?

Reduce Risks

Opening a business comes with daunting financial risks. However, a pop-up bar offers better control over these risks. 

According to research, a pop-up costs up to 80% less than a full-time bar. With this significantly smaller price tag compared to setting up a permanent bar, you get the chance to test whether or not your idea has the potential to bring success without having to shell out a huge amount of money from the get-go. You can save a lot on leases, overhead costs, and labor expenses among many others.

Additionally, a lot of pop-up bars can operate in an existing bar or restaurant, which helps you save on expensive leases and other expenses and still be able to deliver excellent service and get the job done.

Increase Sales

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Restaurant and bar owners have reported considerable increase in sales by hosting a pop-up bar during their sluggish months or days of the week. A restaurant’s standard menu items sometimes won’t be as profitable during a specific day or season, so a pop-up bar gives customers a reason to come through the door by offering more interesting options they will actually be in the mood for.

Generate Interest For A New Bar

One of the very first pop-up bars, Miracle Pop-up Bar, was used to capitalize on the holiday rush. It was made as an effort to promote an upcoming bar prior to its official launch. It was so successful that it gave birth to a yearly moneymaker of a tradition and a phenomenon that has spread worldwide. 

A pop-up bar gives you plenty of leeway to improve or build on your business idea while providing customers a preview of the experience.

Create A Sense of Urgency

Because they are only around for a limited amount of time, pop-up bars create the sense of urgency for customers to pay a visit for fear of missing out. It’s that “be there or be square” type of thing. Especially if you are making a lot of noise online, people would want to get to you before you pack it all up.

Determine What Works

A pop-up bar is the perfect avenue for trial and error for both startups and established bars. If you are still fine-tuning your service or trying to determine if this is an idea that will work, it’s the less expensive and safer way to find that out.

If you are looking to expand to a completely new place, you can test the waters with a pop-up bar and explore the demand to see if you can truly get business there. If you have a new drink idea for your existing restaurant or a unique combination that you aren’t sure if people will respond to, a pop-up bar will give you the answer. 

A pop-up bar is also a great way to, for example, try out some potential changes to your beverage program or create a rotation of different menu items. In the latter, you get the chance to compel customers to try it out before it goes away while being able to attract a different type of customer for every rotation.

Offer a Unique Experience

A pop-up bar has the innate advantage of facilitating a different kind of experience for customers that permanent setups otherwise wouldn’t allow them to do. This is where the likes of a traveling bar get their appeal. 

Make The Most Of a Trend

Not all trends last. The most popular TV show today might not be as big a deal the next day. With a pop-up bar, you can strike while the iron is hot. You can cash in on the trend instead of opening a permanent new bar based around a concept that may get old.

Breathe New Life To Local Places and Spaces

Pop-up bars can be used to generate interest and new business in a community, which helps increase the awareness of the area and ultimately enhance its image and charm. With the right concept, you can contribute to your hometown by offering unique experiences that residents and visitors won’t find anywhere else. You can cater to events that develop its tourism, entertainment, tourism, or hospitality potential.

Build Connections

Local events are attended by many business personalities and enthusiasts. By bringing your pop-up bar there, you can show off the potential of your business and meet people who can offer you assistance with the financing and management, impart knowledge that you can use in your career, or be open to future collaborations.

How To Start a Pop-Up Bar

1. Develop Your Concept

Due to the temporary nature of pop-up bars, your concept has to be an instant hit to get your brand out as fast as possible. You only have a limited window to pull people in. When choosing your concept, tap into your passion and interests or create a new take on current trends. 

Pop-up bars can be super niche. There is a bar designed to look like the moving lab from Breaking Bad, another that brings together hot tubs, cinema, and booze, and one that allows customers to hang out with owls and take part in a good cause at the same time.

2. Select The Right Location

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There are a number of factors in deciding the right location for your pop-up bar. 

First and most important is to set up at a venue where you can reach an ideal number of your target customers. Use the Quick Facts tool by U.S. Census Bureau to find the area with the highest density of your target market. Determine the habits and personality of the surrounding foot traffic.

Second, the space should also cover the basics, which include access to water, electricity, and sewage. Third is whether or not you are even allowed to serve your products in the area. Keep in mind that you can’t operate near a school or a church with alcohol as your main product. 

Another helpful piece of information for your search is whether or not a location has successfully hosted a pop-up in the past. Be in the know of the activities in the neighborhood you are eyeing. Check to see if parking is available or if there are public transports close to your would-be setup.

Landlords will either charge you a fixed monthly rate or a percentage of your gross sales plus the standard rent fee. Remember that if you are looking to make fundamental changes to the place to suit your pop-up bar vision, they may only allow you to make small changes or none at all. It will be extra difficult to convince them to shoulder the costs for that considering that most of these concept-specific renovations tend to be for one-time use only.

An enticing and less expensive option is setting up at an existing restaurant or bar, which will give you built-in marketing and customer access. Note that while your chosen establishment will cover expenses on water, electricity, and more, you will have to split profits with them. For a smoother process, partner with a company that you will get along with.

3. Prepare Yourself Financially

How much does it cost to open a pop-up bar? Depending on the size and the concept, you are looking at tens of thousands of dollars. Apart from the lease, equipment, licenses and permits, insurance, and payroll, you will also consider the fixtures and decorations you will need, especially if you have a crazy, elaborate concept.

There are several options to obtain funding for your pop-up bar. You can apply for a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan that comes with lower interest rates and long-term repayments. Equipment financing can help you secure expensive equipment to make the bar operational. 

Industry experience and good financial history are typically required for these loans. If you believe you won’t qualify, you can turn to your family and friends or investors for financial assistance. Crowdfunding is also a great option especially if your concept is based on something with a fan base. 

Another excellent alternative is a business credit card, which is best for buying ingredients and supply. It basically works as your pop-up bar’s very own credit card. You can unlock perks and rewards and get cash back and credit. Entrepreneurs with a credit score of 600 have a good chance.

4. Register Your Business And Obtain Necessary Permits

Pop-up bars require the same set of licenses and permits as traditional brick-and-mortar bars. This means you also need to register your business with the local government so you  can legally open your pop-up bar to the public. Make sure to visit your local health department for a health permit. A zoning permit is also typically required.

5. Obtain A Liquor License

You need a liquor license to operate a pop-up bar. Your license will depend on the type of drinks you sell, the duration of your operation, and your trading hours. Each state has a different set of requirements and some are easier to apply to than others. Head to your Alcoholic Beverage Control to find out more information and get the application process started.

Temporary liquor licenses are shorter to process, typically no longer than two to three weeks. If you already have a liquor license for your existing business, you might only need to obtain a permit to sell on separate premises if you are setting up somewhere else.

6. Purchase Equipment

A challenge in running a pop-up bar is having to work with limited resources. This is why it is important that every piece of equipment that takes up your space has a functionality vital to the operation.

Make sure that you seek out the best commercial ice machine brands in the industry such as a Maxx cold ice machine for your ice production and excellent undercounter refrigerators and beer systems for keeping your products fresh.

7. Set Up Your Pop-Up Bar

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This is the biggest challenge in opening a pop-up bar. You have to make sure it has the right capacity and that it is built to enable consistently high-quality service to customers. It should be physically and financially manageable to bring it to the standards of your operation and your customers. Some use shipping containers or mobile trucks while others keep it simple with a tent and a shiny portable bar.

Keep in mind that pop-up bars limit the space for your equipment and resources. This also means you should always stock up on enough inventory to make sure you get through your trading hours and serve each and everyone that stops by to grab a drink. Typically, this is managed by a pre-fixed menu or a pre-sale of a limited number of tickets.

In setting up, pay extra attention as to how you will protect your equipment, cash register, and your supply. You should have a flexible security system that you can just install and remove especially if you’ll be moving around. Surveillance cameras and point-of-sale monitors will be valuable in protecting your bar. Rolling security gates or glass break monitors should help discourage break-ins.

Also take into account the weather. Make sure that your setup is weather-proof or at least know when to operate if you have a dedicated eating area with no shade.

8. Hire Staff

Depending on the set-up, pop-up bars have a relatively small staff. It is important to hire the right people for the job, considering that they will essentially be the face of your brand. They will communicate the business and the products to customers, so it is crucial that they are knowledgeable and personable. If you are going with pop culture themes or Halloween, your employees should also be comfortable wearing costumes or doing performances.

9. Advertise Your Pop-Up Bar

Social media is word of mouth amplified. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are going to be your friends. You’d be surprised how a cool picture of your bar or drink can do. However, don’t neglect tapping into the power of press releases, which can help you snag media attention for a greater reach.

When marketing and promoting your bar, embrace the uniqueness of your concept to really speak to your target customers.

Wrapping Up

Brands big and small are using pop-up bars all over the world to advance their businesses. It is predicted that this industry is just going to grow, and so even though pop-up bars operate temporarily, they sure look like they are here to stay.

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