You’ve spent months, or even years, planning your restaurant.
How you launch your restaurant can make or break your business in its crucial first months. A successful grand opening will put your restaurant on the map and generate revenue, while a poorly executed grand opening (or lack thereof) could lead to a dangerous amount of time in the red.
We want your restaurant to be a success story, which is why we’re sharing our top strategies for executing a restaurant grand opening that will create buzz and attract customers.
Here’s how to throw a successful restaurant grand opening:
- Kick off with a soft opening
- Create a curated guest list
- Give freebies to attendees
- Be social
- Create photo ops
- Have a separate grand opening for VIPs
1. Kick off with a soft opening
Open the doors to your restaurant discreetly with a soft opening before the grand opening. To ensure that the majority of media and social media buzz goes towards your grand opening, don’t publicize the soft opening heavily.
A soft opening gives you the chance to beta test your menu and lets staff practice what they’ve learned from their employee handbook and training. Maximize your soft opening by giving out samples, getting customer feedback, and incorporating the feedback into the menu, decor, and service style before the big day.
Don’t forget to use the soft opening as an opportunity to let customers know about the grand opening. Hand out invitations to soft opening customers, put up posters around the restaurant and on your windows, and get the word out via Facebook and Instagram to promote the big event.
How far ahead of the grand opening should you soft open?
Two weeks is the perfect amount of time to get customer feedback, implement that feedback, and promote the grand opening.
What should you do for your restaurant soft opening?
- Give out samples from your menu
- Ask for feedback from attendees
- Promote the soft opening with posters and social media coverage
2. Create a guest list for your restaurant’s grand opening
It’s crucial to be strategic about your guest list as you plan for your grand opening. Beyond inviting the public to the event, you should invite several key groups of VIPs to the event.
First, invite the media and your mayor (or another ranking official from your town) to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony at your restaurant’s grand opening. Second, invite friends, family, and investors—any cheerleaders and supporters who made the restaurant possible. Third, invite influencers, local social media celebrities who can create buzz and draw a crowd, to your grand opening.
Invite media and influencers to the grand opening to create buzz for your restaurant, and invite friends and family to express your gratitude for their support.
Who should you include in your grand opening guest list?
- Local media
- Government officials
- Friends and family
- Investors and partners
- Local influencers and bloggers
- Chefs, food critics, and other local industry personalities
3. Give freebies to attendees
Run a crazy giveaway on your restaurant’s opening day. Take a cue from Philadelphia-based Rita’s Water Ice, which has been giving away free Italian ice on the first day of spring for the last 20 years. The giveaway draws crowds and media attention.
Think of giveaways as a marketing investment. Customer acquisition is a pricey, but important, expense for a new restaurant. Set a budget for how much you’re willing to spend to acquire customers on your first day of business.
If you’re opening a personal pizza parlor, for example, you might set a budget of $1,000 for your grand opening giveaway, which might be equivalent to 100 pizzas.
Maximize the freebie by giving grand opening customers a virtual loyalty punch card or a coupon for a discounted item to use when they return so that they make a habit of coming to your restaurant instead of just coming once for free food.
What kind of freebies should you give away at your grand opening?
- Branded merchandise
- Coupons for free or discounted meals
- Gift bags with non-perishable products
- Points through your loyalty program
4. Be social
Alternatively, or in conjunction with the giveaway, you could give prizes to customers who attend your grand opening and spread the word about it by using your restaurant’s branded hashtag in their social media posts.
Make sure that grand opening attendees are aware of the contest
You can do this by making an announcement at the event and/or placing flyers around the restaurant. Make the hashtag unique (ex: #johnnyspizzagrandopening) and encourage people to share photos using the hashtag so that they create a buzz that extends beyond the physical grand opening.
You can give prizes away at the event or afterward. A social media contest will expand your restaurant’s reach beyond its walls and attract new customers who weren’t able to attend your restaurant’s grand opening.
How do you run a social media contest?
- Create a hashtag unique to your establishment
- Add a location to your Facebook Business profile so attendees can geotag their posts
- Publicize the contest on your social accounts and at the grand opening
- Encourage participants to share their grand opening content, tagging your restaurant’s location and using your hashtag
5. Create photo ops at your grand opening
Another way to spread the word about your restaurant to people who aren’t at your grand opening is to create Instagrammable experiences. To attract social media buzz from the general public, set up photo opportunities that beg to be shared. You could set up a funky mural or neon sign like Chicago restaurant The Hampton Social.
Rosé all day indeed.
Encourage anyone you see taking photos at the grand opening to tag your restaurant. Their friends, who may not have been at the grand opening, will see the photos and will want to check out your restaurant and use your space to create content for their own feed.
How do you create photo ops in your restaurant?
- Create an ambiance that aligns with your restaurant theme and target consumer
- Have a main draw (plants, great furniture, neon signs)
6. Have a separate grand opening for VIPs
No one says you can only have one grand opening! In fact, it could be beneficial to have separate openings for the general public and VIPs. Media and influencers will be more likely to attend an event if they have an exclusive invitation where they can schmooze with the who’s who of the local restaurant scene.
Host a press tasting (otherwise known as a media dinner) or an influencer night as a VIP event. Equip these VIPs with press kits that contain information about your grand opening, as well as your restaurant’s mission and core values (you know, the same one you have in your employee handbook) so that they can reference it when writing a story or Instagram post. Also, include a press release that tells your restaurant’s story and contains information about the menu.
What should your press kit include?
- Your restaurant’s story: Share the story of how your restaurant started. Tell people about yourself and your motivations for opening your restaurant.
- Restaurant facts: What’s the inspiration behind your menu? Where do you source your food and wine? What’s the history behind your restaurant’s location?
- High-resolution images of your logo, interior design, and menu items: Make it as easy as possible for the people you invite to share your branding, photos of your dishes and your establishment’s interior design. Remember, your goal is to get these people to create content to help promote your restaurant. Make sure you’re providing them with visual assets that compel people to make a reservation.
- Your team and their bios: From your head chef and sommelier to your business partners and investors, share their story, history, credentials, and why they became a part of your team.
- Additional press: If your restaurant has already been featured in articles or the press, including only the best snippets. This gives the media attending your grand opening something to base their coverage on.
- Contact information: Include the contact information of whoever is the best touchpoint for journalists, media, and influencers to refer to—whether it’s to fact-check something or have their content reviewed before it’s published. Include your restaurant’s Facebook and Instagram account name and any branded hashtags you want them to use.
The public grand opening can be less formal. Share samples of your food and focus on making sure that attendees are enjoying themselves so that they’ll want to come back.
Restaurant grand opening cheat sheet
Opening the doors to your restaurant for the first time is thrilling. Maximize your restaurant grand opening by implementing these tips:
- Get customer feedback during a soft opening
- Be strategic with your guest list
- Give away free food on your first day to generate buzz
- Use social media to run a parallel giveaway
- Create photo opportunities to reach customers beyond your four walls
- Host two restaurant grand openings – one for VIPs and one for the public
Congratulations on making it this far and best of luck with your restaurant’s grand opening!