You’ve raised the money, hired the staff, and planned the menu. You’ve spent months of your life and thousands of dollars working towards this moment: it’s time to launch your restaurant. You’re bound to be nervous—you’re about to find out if all your hard work is going to pay off. But the right launch strategy can help set you up for long-lasting success. Here are 5 tips for launching your restaurant right:
Your launch strategy actually starts well before your launch. If you haven’t already written a mission statement for your restaurant or come up with a clear idea of your brand identity, make this part of your pre-launch planning. If you’ve already got your space set up and your menu planned, jot down some key words and phrases that describe the look and feel of your restaurant—and then make sure that your website, your social media accounts, and your promotional materials are all telling the same story.
Learn from the best—look at how successful restaurants and chains design their online and social media presence as an extension of the story they’re telling IRL. Sweetgreen, for example, has created an iconic brand by focusing on core values like sustainability. Take a look at their Instagram feed to see how they translate that clean, positive aesthetic into social content:
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When they tell you there's other fish in the sea, what they’re really talking about are the thousands of other species of fish not at risk for extinction due to overfishing. Break-up with the big four and give steelhead a try. Find it in the Fish Taco Bowl or add it to your #custom.
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Speaking of social media, start getting social early. Invite your audience along for the journey as you get ready for your launch. Share images of the decor as the space comes together, share images of the recipes you’re testing or the menu design you’re working on—give people a chance to get to know you before you even open your doors. Instagram is great for sharing images that give people a glimpse behind the scenes, and creating a Facebook page is a great way to get the basic info on your restaurant out there and answer questions from potential customers.
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Going over some final details for our upcoming spring menu starting April 10th, the communication between the kitchen and the dinning room is so crucial, it’s one team and there are no walls. We’re making the decisions what’s best for the restaurant and not what’s best for the kitchen or the dinning room. #makeitnice #elevenmadisonpark
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Make sure you have a mobile-optimized website for your restaurant well in advance of your launch, and make sure you’re listed on places like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and OpenTable so potential customers will find you when they’re looking for a place to eat nearby.
A grand opening can be a great way to get press attention and draw in potential customers with a special event that makes them feel like insiders. But a soft launch, where you invite a gradually expanding group of friends and neighbors to dine with you over the course of a few days, has a lot of advantages, too.
You can start with a fixed, limited menu and a few trusted friends. Offer the food for free and ask for feedback. A second or third event might invite some neighbors, or front-of-house staff’s friends and families, and offer meals at a discount or on a pay-what-you-wish system. Send out invitations to make these meals feel like special occasions.
Cast a broad net when you’re inviting folks to come to your soft opening or grand opening events. You’ll want to invite local media, of course, but don’t forget local politicians, bloggers, and online influencers. Inviting your vendors is a great way to thank them for all their help getting the restaurant ready—and enlist them to help build positive word of mouth.
Make sure you reach out to your neighbors. If you’re in a mixed or residential area, those people could become your new regulars, so make sure you identify them as VIPs to staff. If you’re in a business district, reach out to the office managers at nearby firms, the owners and managers of retail stores, or the concierge at a nearby hotel. Recommendations from people in the area can drive a lot of foot traffic your way.
Consider donating part of your profits to charity on your opening day or at your grand or soft opening events. Don’t forget branding here, either—choose a charity that helps you tell the story you want to tell, whether that’s about sustainability and organic food, a warm family atmosphere, or giving back to your community.
Gulf of Mexico Shrimp Cocktail with chayote, cucumber, tomato, avocado and saltines. Every dollar of your purchase goes…
At your opening events, give out coupons that are good for just a month or two, to encourage your (hopefully) happy new customers to come back again soon. A bounce back promotion could offer something like a free appetizer, a discount or a free drink at happy hour, or even a buy-one-get-one deal. Ideally, it should expire fairly quickly, to create a sense of urgency that encourages the customer to follow through and come back.
One creative idea is to create a kind of mystery gift—give guests a sealed envelope, so they don’t know what their reward will be until they come back. Or tie the promotion to a holiday, like this restaurant that created red envelopes containing discount offers for a Chinese New Year promotion.
Whether you choose to do a soft opening over several days or a big, splashy grand opening event, launching your restaurant is a make-or-break moment, so you want to make sure you get all the details right—including the design. Make sure all your promotional materials, invitations, and social media posts are telling the same story. Hopefully, it’s a story your customers will want to be a part of.