restaurant soft opening

Soft Opening - Tips for a Successful Restaurant Launch

Maria Ortega
23 Oct 2023

Hey there foodies and restaurant enthusiasts! Are you ready to embark on a culinary journey like no other? Well, get ready because we've got something exciting to share with you! Today, we're thrilled to take you behind the scenes of a remarkable event – a restaurant soft opening.

Now, you might be wondering, what exactly are soft opening events? It's like a sneak peek, a prelude to the official opening of a restaurant, where lucky guests invited to the soft opening are treated to an exclusive preview of what's to come. Think of it as the tantalizing aroma that wafts from the kitchen, beckoning you to come closer and experience the flavors that await.

In this blog post, we're going to spill all the delicious details about a successful soft opening. From the meticulous preparations and mouthwatering menu creations to the carefully curated ambiance, we'll uncover the magic that goes into bringing a dining establishment to life, before your official opening. Trust us, it's a story you won't want to miss!

What is a soft opening and why does it matter? 

Unlike your grand opening, which is the official opening date when you officially open up your doors to the excited public, a soft opening happens prior in a smaller, more controlled way.

During a soft opening, restaurant owners open their doors to a select group of guests and local businesses, giving them the chance to experience the establishment in its early stages. The length of a soft opening varies depending on the size of your business, complexity of the menu, and goals of the soft opening. Typically, the trial period can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, and you may:

  • Limit invitations to select people, such as friends and family, industry professionals, local influencers or loyal customers. Remember - this is about setting a controlled environment for feedback and assessing the overall experience.
  • Reduce operating hours. The aim is for staff to deliver a high-quality experience without being overwhelmed by a full day’s service.
  • Test your menu. The kitchen needs to use this time to practice and refine their techniques and speed of service. Guests need to give you feedback on the taste, presentation and overall satisfaction of the dishes.
  • Use it to train service and staff training, to help your staff become familiar with the operations and flow. This is a good time to see how communication works from the front of house to the back of house, as well as the physical layout of the restaurant.
  • Refine your operations - such as changing your menu, addressing service issues, adjusting portion sizes, or even reevaluating your restaurant design or ambiance.

The most important element (that will determine how long your soft opening lasts) is that it's a way for you, the restaurant manager or owner, to fine-tune your operations, test the waters, and gather valuable feedback from those in the know, before opening to the general public

How to get ready for a soft opening

Now, let's take a peek behind the scenes and explore the whirlwind of preparations that go into making a soft opening a truly unforgettable experience. 

Picture this: a bustling kitchen filled with talented chefs, the aroma of spices filling the air, and a team of dedicated restaurant staff working hard to ensure every detail is perfected so that your VIP guests have a great experience.

Menu planning for your event 🤤

You will need to set masterminds behind the kitchen for the difficult task of crafting a limited menu that will dazzle your taste buds. From brainstorming creative dishes to sourcing the finest ingredients, every element is carefully curated to deliver a successful introduction to your restaurant.

Some top tips are:

  1. Keep to your menu’s theme.
  2. Create a balanced variety of appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts that showcase your culinary vision.
  3. Remember you’ll be catering to a selection of guests, to consider dietary restrictions, allergies and vegetarian and vegan options.
  4. Work out how your kitchen needs to flow to cook food well, prepare the perfect presentation, and communicate with front-of-house staff.


Setting the scene for your soft opening 🖼️

And speaking of ambiance, your interior design needs to create a space that not only looks stunning but also complements the restaurant's concept. You need to carefully select the furniture, lighting, and decor to set the stage for an unforgettable dining adventure.

Whether it's a cozy and intimate atmosphere or a trendy and vibrant vibe, you should strive to strike the perfect balance between comfort and aesthetics. Not to mention that everything should be carefully cleaned from top to bottom - first impressions really count here!

Soft openings are a way to smooth over any hiccups. They also give you the chance as the business owner or manager to review the runnings of the business and manage them in time for the grand opening.   

Prepare your staff 👨‍🍳

The restaurant staff must be diligently trained as part of their duties, to ensure impeccable customer service. From the welcoming smiles at the door to the attentive waitstaff who anticipate your every need, their goal is to make your audience feel like a VIP guest from the moment they step foot in the establishment.

Top tip: Read more about how many staff is required in a restaurant to ensure you're not short-staffed during your soft opening, and are prepared when you go public!

Review running operations ⚙️

A soft opening is like a trial run and will allow you time to change operations if they don’t run smoothly in a live environment. Things like kitchen efficiency, menu knowledge, table layout etc. can be reviewed and fixed prior to the grand opening.  

Build hype around your venue 🥳

Oh, and let's not forget about the marketing frenzy. The restaurant's team should be busy creating buzz around the soft opening, teasing the public with glimpses of what's to come.

Social media campaigns, tantalizing food photography, and strategic partnerships are all part of the game plan to create hype, generate excitement and ensure a full house on that special day.

Our top tips on creating a memorable soft opening

Open to friendly faces 🤗

To ensure a successful event, it's recommended to invite friends and family members first. This kind of event allows your staff to become comfortable with the workplace, and workflows without the pressure of the grand opening day. It drastically reduces the risk of potential mistakes spoiling a customers' first impression of your venue because your friends will be more forgiving.  

Additionally, a family and friends night is also a great way to help build your client base quickly. If they have a great experience with your service and food, they are more likely to recommend you to others when your restaurant makes the official launch. 

Schedule extra staff 📋

Keeping guest wait times down to a minimum during the opening period is crucial to ensuring a solid first impression. Even if you have an amazing venue and an incredible menu, customers will be turned away if the wait time is too long. Allow extra cooks, servers, bar staff, so that things run quickly and smoothly.  

Top tip: Learn more about efficient employees scheduling and improve it even more with our restaurant POS system which includes smart reporting for operational efficiency!

Limit the number of tables ✋

During the soft opening period for your venue, you should limit the number of tables available. This will help your staff familiarise themselves with the menu, the location, and the demographic drawn to your venue - you can then gradually build up your table numbers as customer demand grows. 

Top tip: Make sure your staff is trained fully in delivering exceptional table service and knows how to serve food correctly. If you want to upgrade your table service to the next level, check our innovative Kitchen Display System to improve staff efficiency or integrate Epos Now Order & Pay for a smooth contactless dining experience!

Yes, initially labor costs will be higher because you will be operating on limited availability, but it will help to have well-prepared and relaxed staff, making for a better experience for your customers. But don't worry, here is a guide on how to reduce labor costs in a restaurant, to ensure your bottom line is safe.

How to get constructive feedback from your soft opening 💬

Alright, restaurant owners, let's dive into the crucial aspect of an effective soft opening experience—customer feedback and initial reactions. This is where you get to hear firsthand what your guests loved, what made their taste buds sing, and how you can further elevate their dining experience.

Step 1: Notice their first reactions

Picture this: your guests walk through the doors, their eyes widening in anticipation of the culinary delights that await. From the moment they take that first bite, you can see their faces light up with delight. It's a moment of pure satisfaction, and it's music to your ears. Their initial reactions, whether it's an enthusiastic nod, a heartfelt compliment, or that silent moment of savoring flavors, speak volumes about the success of your dishes.

Prep your staff to engage with customers during their meals and ask about their experience. Train your staff to be attentive and approachable to get this valuable real-time feedback.

Step 2: Ask for their thoughts after the meal

Your guests' feedback goes beyond those initial reactions. It's a chance for them to share their thoughts, constructive criticisms, and suggestions. It's an opportunity for you, as a restaurant owner, to listen attentively and gather valuable insights that will shape the future of your establishment.

Maybe someone will rave about the delectable flavor combinations in a particular dish, while another guest might suggest a slight tweak to enhance the overall experience. These insights help you understand what resonates with your audience and guide you in fine-tuning your offerings.

Provide guests with comment cards or feedback forms on their table, or at the host stand for guests to fill out after their meal. Provide specific questions or prompts to guide their feedback, such rating the food, service, ambiance, or suggestions for improvement. Make sure to give the option for these to be anonymous!

Step 3: Now ask them again a few hours later

It’s easy for people to give positive feedback to you when they’re face to face. So be brave, and send surveys to the guests who attended after they’ve eaten too. They may have some additional thoughts for you to use and refine.

In your follow-up email, express your appreciation for the guest visiting, and ask them for feedback using online survey tools. If possible, personally reach out to a select group of guests (whose feedback you’ll likely find most valuable), and ask for their feedback through phone calls or personal emails. This will show your genuine interest in their experience and allow for in-depth discussions about their observations.

Top tip: Regardless of the method you choose, make sure to thank guests for their feedback, and collect feedback throughout your soft opening period to capture a variety of responses.

Remember, customer feedback is like a gift—a precious resource that allows you to grow and exceed expectations. It's a testament to your dedication and passion for delivering exceptional dining experiences. By actively seeking and valuing feedback, you demonstrate your commitment to continuously improving and providing the best possible service. 


Final thoughts on a restaurant soft opening

As we come to the end of our journey to a restaurant's soft opening, one thing is abundantly clear – it's a truly remarkable experience. From the meticulous preparations behind the scenes to the tantalizing flavors that grace the plates, every aspect is a testament to the passion and dedication of the restaurant's team.

Thank you for joining us on this exploration of the enchanting world of a restaurant's soft opening. May it inspire you to seek out new dining experiences, celebrate local establishments, and appreciate the passion and artistry that goes into every plate. Until our next culinary adventure, bon appétit!


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