Are you ready to showcase your new restaurant to the world? After all of the effort that you’ve put into creating your menu, sourcing your equipment, and hiring top-notch staff, you want to ensure that things go smoothly for your grand opening. A soft open, which occurs either days or weeks before a restaurant is set to open its doors to the public, can serve as a great trial-run and buzz generator for your restaurant’s opening night.
While soft openings aren’t required, many restaurants find them to be beneficial. These small, invite-only gatherings allow restaurateurs to expose a limited number of guests to their space, staff, and menu in exchange for word-of-mouth reviews and valuable feedback.
Soft opens can consist of one or more events, so long as there is a proper amount of time between events and the grand opening. Managers and staff need enough time to make recommended changes, but there shouldn’t be so much time between the two events that the buzz surrounding the concept dies down.
Many restaurants have found soft openings to be a great way to generate some hype surrounding their business. Word of mouth spreads fast — especially in New York City — and a positive review or recommendation from the right person can be enough to create major hype surrounding a business. That said, whether or not a soft opening is able to generate adequate feedback and hype depends largely on who is invited.
Many restaurateurs invite their family and friends because they tend to be more forgiving and likely to be advocates for their business. However, gathering feedback from those close to you is not always easy, and many may be hesitant to make honest recommendations for fear of hurt feelings.
There is great value in asking influencers to attend a soft open, as long as their brand aligns with your concept. However, influencers tend to be harsh critics, so staff will need to ensure they bring their A-game. Luckily, when influencers are impressed with a business they tend to give rave reviews that generate buzz among their following.
There is also value in inviting local businesses to attend a soft opening. This builds a sense of community between a restaurant and its new neighbors and can open the door for future co-marketing campaigns. As an added bonus, individuals who work nearby are great potential customers: their commute to the restaurant is short, and they’re often around during lunchtime!
Hosting a soft opening can also be a great way to build a loyal customer base before your business formally opens, something that is especially true for restaurants offering free or discounted meals to soft open attendees. However, while generosity may build goodwill among visitors, it can also be costly. Restaurants should always consider their budget when pricing for a soft opening and plan accordingly.
Overall, a soft opening can work well for a restaurant that’s looking to perfect its dishes and fine-tune its day-to-day operations. Because soft openings must generate feedback in order to serve this purpose, it’s important that restaurants have a system in place to ensure that guest feedback is collected in a timely manner — whether that’s through checking in with guests throughout the night or sending a follow-up survey via email. Timely feedback allows staff enough time to make changes before the grand opening.
While a soft opening isn’t right for every restaurant, many businesses have found success hosting this kind of event. If you’re looking to build customers’ anticipation and give your staff a “trial run” before the grand opening, a soft opening could be just what you’re looking for.