There’s never a second chance to make a first impression. When opening a restaurant, first impressions may be all critics and guests ever see. It takes passion to succeed, but it also takes a masterful plan and unparalleled execution.
Preparing for the Restaurant Opening
A grand opening is a big coming out party, and it’s crucial that every restaurant employee intimately understands the brand and how to convey that vision to guests. Staff members need to buy into everything they’re selling—and that includes the vibe and hospitality as well as food and drinks. Start by creating a mission statement and deciding on a brand identity. Be sure everyone is in the loop and clear on whether they’re throwing a sports bash every night or aiming to take modernist cuisine to the next echelon of deliciousness.
Next, it’s time to tease. There are subtle moves to get people excited about what’s to come without spoiling the main event. While keeping authenticity top of mind, start building relationships with individuals and other businesses throughout the community:
- Bring samples of key menu items to nearby offices.
- Approach other business owners with ideas for cooperative marketing.
- Put up social media pages and start dropping hints about what’s in store.
- Create a press kit that tells the restaurant’s story and paints a picture of what guests can expect when they walk through the door and sit down for a meal.
Feel free to take reservations, but consider keeping the books closed until after the soft opening when it’s clearer how many covers the kitchen and front of house staff can comfortably handle. It’s easier to take walk-ins than scramble to serve guests with reservations and nowhere to sit.
Lastly, be sure to over-plan the grand opening. It’s impossible to overthink this. Expect mishaps. Having not only a plan B but also plans C through Z could be what turns a major gaffe into a shining moment. Prepare the staff by conducting mock services, holding a friends and family night, and nitpicking until everything feels not just “OK” but downright seamless.
Hosting a Memorable Launch
Lights, cameras, action stations. It’s time for the grand opening—what now? With proper planning, there will be ample staff on hand and the restaurant will be seating for regular service, offering special passed apps and samplings of the signature cocktail, or some combination of both. The owner/manager’s job, however, is far from done.
It’s time to work the room. Touch every table, spend some time at the host stand, make loops through the kitchen, and check in with the bar. Remember: head on a swivel and ears open. What’s seen and heard today could inform business decisions for weeks or months to come.
Take the grand opening online, too. This is a good time to deputize an employee as social media manager for the night—or better yet, hire an expert who knows exactly what to capture and how to share it. The goal is to take the buzz global. Behind-the-scenes videos of the chefs plating entrees; photos of VIPs toasting during the ribbon cutting; countless candids of guests laughing, eating, drinking and having a blast. Make everyone understand that if they’re not on the premises, they’re missing an amazing experience.
Above all, take at least one minute to step back, breathe deep and enjoy it.
Turning Buzz Into a Loyal Following
Ready to collapse? Not quite. Not ever, really, in the hospitality industry. Even as the excitement of the grand opening fades into the background and the clatter of dishes and incessant vendor calls reality to the forefront.
Pour a huge cup of coffee and click on the top review sites. As much intel as was gathered during the party, reviewers will contribute the real highs and lows online. Search social media for hashtags and other mentions. Respond to everything, especially the negative, customer feedback is a free way to learn how to grow.
To keep people coming, keep the conversation going and put incentives in place:
Initiate a loyalty program. It doesn’t have to be a punch card (though it certainly can be). Swipe cards and app-based programs are both popular, but social media check-ins are a new twist on the traditional approach to consumer rewards.
Update followers via email and social media. Capture guest information during the grand opening and encourage people to sign up for a digital newsletter via the restaurant’s website.
Strengthen ties with the community. Give to get. That means exploring fundraising opportunities and sponsorships and making donations to worthwhile organizations. Tie charitable efforts into holiday events or make happy hour more meaningful by trading canned goods for appetizers. Drumming up goodwill is a win-win proposition. (The same type of partnership would make a major splash during the grand opening itself.)
Stay present. All the handshaking and bending over backward that took place during the grand opening shouldn’t ever stop. Every guest has the potential to be a regular. Every mistake is a chance to get better. Every connection is priceless.
When it comes to a restaurant grand opening, provide a great party, amazing food and memories. Use that same approach every day, and success could be inevitable.