How To Ensure Your Restaurant Has A Successful Grand Opening
QUESTION FROM: JC in SC
”Any tips on how to guarantee a successful grand opening?”
The best PR and Loyalty Program is how you handle guests inside the four walls.
That being said, I’d lay the groundwork for a successful Grand Opening 3-6months before you plan on opening by getting some small amount of exposure and initial feedback.
Offer your food (tent or table) at local events and offer a portion of your sales (if any) to a local charity whose mission is aligned with your own.
Select a project within the community (e.g., a theatre that needs restoration or a group that addresses food insecurity in the region) and create a strategic alliance to benefit them through either sales, volunteering or both. Helping the community you intend to serve is always a good way to get to know your neighbors and be a positive force of ‘service’ in the community.
When attending events (as a vendor or guest) be sure to bring plenty of “free appetizer” or “BOGO” cards to hand out - even a handwritten offer on the back of a traditional business card for one free “something” on a specific day(s) is enough to incentivize most people to stop in and check out your new restaurant.
Don’t have a date yet? Get their email or phone# and tell them you’ll let them know when you’re open and send them an invitation to your soft “friends n family” opening. (This isn’t as effective, but if it’s a truely unique concept, they’ll bite).
Free Samples are my other favorite promotion for both outside the front door and for delivery to local businesses. So set up a table out front on the day of (or on slow days that follow) your big opening and walk the local area to make a list of which businesses exist so that you can schedule/plan lunch drops with menus to promote your grand opening and catering / delivery. (More info on that here: Develop A Catering Program)
Walk 5-10mins in every possible direction from your front door and take note of the names and addresses of every: store, business or organization then stop in to introduce yourself (bring samples) or hand write them a letter (include a hand-written coupon for a free lunch) telling them that you’re rolling out (or trying to build) a new place for eat-in or delivery / catering. Tell them that you’re looking to evaluate your menu, service and delivery to ensure exceptional food & service on and off-site and that you’d like to offer them a complimentary bfast - lunch - or dinner in exchange for some honest and PRIVATE feedback / reviews.
Take a look at what the nationals (like Chick-Fil-A, Cowboy Chicken, Chipotle and Texas Roadhouse) are doing as well.
Have you joined the local Chamber of Commerce? They’re always helpful in creating buzz / pres about your business and the opening date.
Be sure to arrange a soft opening for “friends & family” 2-3 weeks before your Grand Opening (preferably 2 or 3 times). This not only gives you a chance to see at what speed the wheels come off, but allows you to fine tune food and service without enduring the most critical guests…or at least endure critique with the understanding that “this is a practice round” and “you’re helping us get ready”.
A soft opening definitely helps to identify and work out the kinks….and if the kinks are BIG - remember, it’s more important to open when you’re ready than to hold fast and firm onto a Grand Opening Date…even if it’s been published*.
*NB- If you DO want to publish your Grand Opening, most magazines usually require a 30day lead for event specific press-releases.
While I wouldn’t charge guests on friends & family nights, I would pay my staff a generous hourly wage AND strongly / explicitly encourage tipping.
Invite some people you know including other industry folks and neighboring businesses and hotel concierges for a VIP Pre-Opening Night (or happy hour) with free food and drinks. I know it sounds like giving away a lot of $$$$ here but this is money that is more than well spent considering it facilitates the best advertising available (word-of-mouth), serves as an introduction to your community and provides your staff with the opportunity to make mistakes in the most forgiving scenarios.
Trust me, it’s better to make adjustments before paying customers start flooding in because, as a friend of mine always says:
A lot of operators like to stagger their F&F nights to ensure the source of critique is varied yet consistent. i.e., 1st night: friends and family. 2nd night: neighbors. 3rd night: industry.
Just be sure, if you have high food cost items, to remove them from the menu and/or offering unless they’re all high food cost items:)
In addition to providing every guest with comment cards or tablets (to be collected later); be sure to have your every member of the management team present to ensure EVERY SINGLE TABLE & EVERY SINGLE GUEST is touched and greeted with open-ended questions . After all, these are practice rounds for management as well.
Take a day or two and discuss / evaluate all of your observations and guest feedback. Discuss with your management team and make the adjustments needed for your VIP Pre-Opening Night/Day.
Keep it clean, comfortable, fun and have every single member of staff make eye contact and smile or say hello.
You’re going to make a shit-ton of mistakes. Smile through every one of them and be sure to remind your staff not to hide from the errors or, most importantly, fail to report them to you.
It’s a hell of a lot easier for a guest to forgive a mistake from a kind, polite, present and apologetic staff member than it is to forgive a rude, absent or dismissive attitude from someone who’s getting everything else right.