The grand opening of your restaurant could be more important than you think, especially if it’s a relatively upscale operation. Most restaurateurs feel that they can correct problems as they go, and that’s true to some extent. However, if you publicize a grand opening event that’s disorganized, understaffed and disappointing, you might lose that critical benefit of making a good impression. If your opening is successful, you can capitalize on your success by attracting lots of referrals and repeat business.
The critical aspects of managing your restaurant’s opening are so important that most restaurants do a trial run with a soft opening. If your opening is so crowded that service is slow or the food isn’t up to par, many customers won’t give you a second chance. Tips for a successful grand opening include:
Scheduling Plenty of Staff
It’s not critical that you streamline payroll during your opening event. Schedule enough staff to provide redundancy. You might want to schedule several 'floaters' who are cross-trained to work in several key areas.
Training Your Employees
Your staff should know where everything is, be familiar with menu and experienced in using your POS system.
Encouraging a Strong Work Ethic
Owners and managers should be highly visible. Although it’s important to interact with the customers, managers should put in plenty of time behind the scenes to ensure that things run smoothly. Your future depends on how well you manage your first few days, so don’t get lazy.
Inviting Friends and Family
Inviting friends, family members and associates who wish you well before the official opening can provide valuable insights for the big day.
Soliciting Local Merchants
You can get a big promotional bang by soliciting local merchants to sample your menu or attend a meet-and-greet at your bar in the evening.
Advertising in Social Media
Use the social media to build interest in your restaurant by posting a series of articles. This promotional content might include explaining different cuisines, offering behind-the-scenes looks at the restaurant and promoting your staff’s experience.
Staging a Soft Opening of Your Restaurant
The soft opening can prevent being overwhelmed with more business than your staff members are prepared to handle. During the week or two before the grand opening, your staff can work out operational problems while transitioning to full capacity. During this time, you can fine-tune your kitchen operation, see if your stations need retooling, update your menu using menu-engineering principles and refine workflow patterns to relieve congestion. Other soft opening benefits include:
- Making final decisions about décor and table settings
- Familiarizing staff servers, bartenders and kitchen staff with the menu, cooking times, mise en place tactics, plating techniques and food-holding strategy
- Training staff in how to manage customers, make suggestive selling suggestions and operate your POS system
- Getting everyone familiar with where everything is located such as plates, silverware, condiments, etc.
Soft openings are an ideal time to invite special guests including social influencers, local celebrities, food reviewers, reporters and restaurant stakeholders. If you’re nervous, invite people whom you know to solicit constructive criticism.
Your Grand Opening Can Become a Publicity Magnet
Staging a formal grand opening brings your restaurant or bar to the attention of the local news and media outlets by generating publicity, igniting curiosity and branding your restaurant’s concept in the minds of potential customers. The publicity that you receive extends beyond the date or dates of your grand opening specials - invited guests will feel privileged to be included, and people who like your culinary profile will make plans to visit in the near future even if they don’t attend the opening. Satisfied customers will return.
Grand Opening Promotional Ideas
Promotional ideas for your grand opening might include special decorations, sampler platters, bounce-back incentives, live entertainment and collaboration with other local merchants or city festivals. If you’re in an artsy area, you might invite local artists and photographers to display their work. If there is a local festival, you can set up an outdoor booth to offer some of your menu items. You could also partner with a local charity during your grand opening and donate some of the proceeds. You can hand out samples in front of your restaurant to entice customers. Outdoor signs, digital signs and banners can also generate lots of publicity.
Regardless of your promotional strategy, remember that food and service should be the your most important considerations. Instagram offers a free app to add photos and videos to your website and social media pages. Take lots of photos during the grand opening to use in multiple promotional campaigns, and encourage the customers to share their photos and comments.
Marketing Your Grand Opening Event
Grand openings require a good deal of marketing even if it’s done simply. You might target people in the neighborhood with flyers or direct mail, but if your restaurant has drawing power, you’ll want to market to a wider audience in the city or even beyond. Joining local business groups - such as the local Chamber of Commerce, Business Networking International, rotary clubs and entrepreneurs’ organizations can help your restaurant build strategic relationships with potential customers through networking.
Planning a Timetable for Your Opening
It’s important to organize your opening so that it meshes with your concept and targeted audience. You can open quietly before your grand opening event to work out the operational kinks that affect every restaurant. During this time, you might stage private wine and food tasting events, distribute sample menus, post your menu online and distribute flyers at nearby retail outlets. Your timetable might include these pre-launch activities:
- Invite friends for a very preliminary and informal tasting in the kitchen.
- Research local influencers, social media platforms used by your targeted audience and business groups in your area.
- Build your website, and link to respected and authoritative sites.
- Design your logo, choose company colors and design any graphics you plan to use.
- Design professional press kits with sample menus, culinary information, chef biographies and other details.
- Choose an opening date that allows time to obtain all necessary permits, finish construction and hold a soft opening.
Technology and Staffing Considerations
Building a technology infrastructure for your restaurant is essential in today’s competitive hospitality industry. You can’t afford to ignore today’s restaurant management and marketing realities. Your orders shouldn’t be written manually by harried servers, and you probably shouldn’t schedule employees on a whiteboard or sheet of graph paper. Inventory shouldn’t be tracked on paper. Software applications greatly simplify daily management activities and provide insights that streamline your restaurant and prevent theft and waste.
Getting a POS system can simplify ordering, transmitting orders to the proper stations, taking credit card payments and tracking sales. You’ll always have a copy of every order and sale to compare with the day’s receipts. You’ll also be able to track sales by time of day, type of foods and other criteria, which are valuable business intelligence.
About 80 percent of today’s restaurant now use technology applications such as CRM and ERP software, and many also employ online ordering and reservation-making systems. Around 49 percent of all restaurants offer mobile payment options, so a POS system is essential if you don’t want to lose business from the majority of customers who use plastic.
Try to enlist your employees in your opening’s success by encouraging their pride with pictures, biographies and competitions. Be sure to train them thoroughly, give them the tools they need to succeed and praise them well when they do a good work.
People expect something special at restaurant grand openings, so try to exceed their expectations. If you succeed, you’ll be well on your way to building a customer base, encouraging word-of-mouth advertising and generating favorable local media and Internet buzz.