Launching a brand-new restaurant is such an exciting event! Here in Perth, being a small cozy city, the vibe is old school and homey.

Most people in the industry know each other, and although realistically, each restaurant is a direct competitor of another, there is a shared industry pride especially for businesses owners who do it because of passion for good food and dining.

Not only that, every business is a source of employment, chefs and service staff, so overall it does good for a community! Having multiple businesses all striving to be unique, innovative, and better can result in a healthy marketplace and well-served consumers.

So, after you have your space furnished and stocked, your menu created, your chef and service staff drilled and primed for battle so to speak, what do you do next to get your restaurant up and running?

Before opening your doors officially to the public, consider hosting a series of soft openings/launches to test run your whole operation. A soft opening or soft launch is when you open your business for a limited number of people to test its services and make improvements before opening.

Although this is not a requirement for every restaurant about to open, it is beneficial for getting essential feedback ranging from food, drinks, service and overall ambience. It could help you analyse and reconsider the logistics of your venue –

Do you have enough seating capacity?

Does your floor plan allow for a smooth flow of movement, both in your kitchen and dining area?

Is your point of sale system programmed accordingly?

Is your kitchen equipment functioning?

Are your staff skilled and knowledgeable with the menu and proper table service?

Is staff service consistent?

It is crucial that you host the soft opening with the grand opening date in mind. If you pick a date that is too long after the soft launch, your customers may forget or lose interest. If that happens, you will not be able to maximise the hype and anticipation to your advantage. At the same time, quick and eager competitors who learn of what you have in store will get a chance to offer what you intend to provide before you even open!

A soft opening can help build anticipation for future customers, and while this is a good thing, this anticipation can also set you up for high expectations from the public and more pressure for you and your staff.

Therefore, before hosting this test run, check out these tips for a successful restaurant soft opening:

1. Who You Invite

Please remember, even though this is technically a trial before your official launch, how you perform on this day will provide your customers with an idea and feel of what you offer. Not all people will understand that this is your business sort of “testing the waters”, whatever unfavourable experience they might takeaway can be permanent and worse, spread around.

Therefore, most establishments recommend only inviting friends and family to your soft opening before fully opening your location to the public. People you know tend to give the constructive criticism that you need while being mindful that it is trial.

They will be easier to contact as well if you need to follow up with them for feedback. And best of all, they can provide free advertising by sharing with other people in the spirit of support.

2. Your Menu

Serve signature dishes that will provide your guests something to talk about. They help create the branding of your businesses so make sure that they do represent the overall feel you want to achieve.

Ideally, you would have hired a chef who has created a personalised menu for your restaurant, or if the recipes and dishes are already in place, you have hired a chef who is skilled in executing that signature dish to perfection.

Another option is if you created a theme for the launch, pick dishes that match it. You can also choose to display only a few dishes but let your customers know that more additions to the menu are coming. This can be an incentive for them to go back after your grand opening to try more food options!

3. Your Time Frame

The usual time frame ranges from 3 days up to two weeks. Setting a period will help you figure out how many events you can do and what to serve on those days. If you have several signature dishes, this will be an excellent chance to showcase them in separate days, in order to rotate your menu.

4. Your Pricing

For soft openings, some restaurants offer a discounted menu or a meal selection limited to just a few full-priced options. If you plan on charging full price, you can provide samples of some of your dishes as an excellent way to have customers try a variety of menu items that they may not have selected to purchase with their meal. These selections can include an appetiser or dessert sampler platter, or your signature cocktail free of charge.

Now it is certainly up to you if you decide to do a complimentary event where the meals are free, but remember to be conscious of your budget, so it doesn’t end up hurting you rather than helping.

5. Timing and Capacity

To truly practice and prepare your team for a realistic restaurant customer service, staggering your guests is a good idea. Say you plan to invite 100 people, invite them by batches to come at different time slots.

For example, have the first 25 people arrive at a certain hour, and the next 25 about 30 mins later, and so on. Your staff gets to practice serving different stages of a meal at once. Doing this will also get you an idea if your space and staff can accommodate walk-in crowds at a given time when you are already operating officially.

6. Your Soft Opening Invitation

How you present your invitation somehow also sets up the expectation for the experience. For a more casual feel, you can email your invite or send a mail an actual invitation if you prefer it be on an upscale feel.

There are various options for a design that will create impact but the more important factor to consider is the details. Make sure that the invitation mentions the following: Date / Time /Address / Pricing (Free, Flat Rate, or Menu Pricing) / RSVP/ Dress Code

7. Collect Feedback

Make sure that the feedback you get from this event is done in writing. Verbal feedback is immediate and if positive can be gratifying for sure but they can be forgotten!

Create easy to accomplish feedback forms or cards. There are many templates available you can get online but make sure that they are easy to understand and fill up.

A checkbox format is good and add a space where your guests can freely write down any comment or kudos. Hand this out together with the check at the end of the meal. As an incentive for providing completed forms, you can offer coupons on their next visit!

Any feedback you collect from guests during your soft launch when taken seriously and thoughtfully considered can help you make improvements before you open to the public and make sure that your grand opening is a success.

Restaurant owners may feel that soft openings are additional worries but the feedback and the practice that your chef and the rest of the team needs can prepare you before opening your establishment to the public.

Be mindful that anything can happen on the actual day of your grand opening but being able to tackle issues beforehand improves your chance of creating an incredible impact and success!

Ciao for now,
Thomas


 


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