When you launch your new restaurant, should you have a quiet opening or a big grand opening splash? Both have their own advantages. With an unobtrusive opening, the staff has an opportunity to “work out the bugs” before critics dine with you. After all, everything is new: cooks, waitstaff, recipes and equipment. Seasoned restaurant owners advise it takes about 2 weeks to work out small issues.
On the other hand, a pre-opening media build up can create interest and buzz, ensuring free advertising and immediate sales in the early weeks after opening. With the significant cash outlay to launch a new establishment, this immediate revenue is certainly desirable.
Many restaurants use a soft opening to work out any issues under real operating conditions before a big public grand opening event. One approach is to have 1 or 2 days of “pre-opening” (a “sneak peak” or preview) for friends and family. You can either send out specific invitations to your best supporters and other VIPs, or use social media to invite your Facebook or Twitter followers to reward them for supporting you. The meals are often free to the patrons as a way to let the staff “practice” under real conditions. This can be a significant expense on a start-up, so many restaurants are moving away from these traditional soft openings or charging a small fee to at least cover costs.
There are very diverse opinions about soft openings and grand openings. I think a restaurant owner will need to assess whether the staff is seasoned enough to launch to without any soft opening in advance. If the staff can pass a “stress test” with full capacity, you may skip the expense of the soft opening and instead, put on extra staff for the evening.
However you decide to open, expect that things will not be perfect in these early days. Use the opportunity to teach staff how to improve to give the best food and service possible. Good Luck!