In the hospitality industry, surprises are just part of the business. However, when you host a restaurant soft opening, you give your team a chance to put their skills to the test and identify processes that can be improved.
It’s a win-win for all involved – but how do you ensure your soft opening runs smoothly and you get the feedback you need to help your restaurant succeed? Here’s our comprehensive guide to help you plan and launch your restaurant soft opening.
A soft opening is like a trial run, but with real people in seats eating real food as you run the restaurant the same way you would on a regular night. While a grand opening indicates that you’re open to the public and ready to receive guests, a soft open is a pre-launch function that occurs a couple of weeks before all the glitz, glam, and fanfare that accompanies a grand opening.
During a soft opening, you’ll likely welcome friends and family who will be honest about any kinks you need to work out, but who will also be understanding of any gaps in service or operational details that aren’t quite up to par. You’re not opening for critics; you’re testing your steps of service to ensure you’re at your best on the big day.
Soft openings for restaurants can offer many benefits.
You want your grand opening to be a huge event. You also want the weeks following that grand opening to bring in tons of guests, so you can start to cover expenses and maybe even turn a profit. One of the best ways to draw traffic is to build excitement. A soft opening introduces the public to an actual, working restaurant. It’s no longer just signage and some buzz on the internet; it’s a reality, and people will start talking about what they’ve seen, heard, and tasted.
While no amount of staff training can exactly replicate a busy night on the floor, you can have your servers role-play different scenarios and instruct your bartenders to create new drink recipes to help them prepare for opening day.
Soft openings aren’t so much about figuring out what works, as they are an opportunity to identify pain points. Your floor plan may look good on paper, but at your soft opening, you might realize that everything bottlenecks next to the POS station. Maybe you think you can produce 20 soufflés an hour, but then guests order 40 soufflés in 30 minutes – time to rethink that offering.
The knowledge you gain during a soft opening can be invaluable. As you evaluate your internal processes, guests can figure out what they do and don’t like. Listen to every comment and make a list of potential changes. You don’t have to cater to every whim, but if there are processes or dishes you can modify to meet customer consensus, that can help put you at a greater advantage in the future.
You can also use your soft open to observe which dishes sell the most, which are confusing or poorly received, and whether your menu seems balanced. Remember, what looks good on paper may not work as well for your target demographic as you thought, and this could be the perfect time to pivot.
Guests who attend a soft opening feel special. They’re more likely to feel invested in your future, and that means they’re more likely to be loyal to your brand. You can use the soft open to foster good will by doing table visits, handing out your business card, and offering promotional opportunities for repeat guests – such as an invitation for the grand opening, a chance to sign up for the rewards program, a free appetizer, etc.
Here are some restaurant soft opening ideas to consider during your planning process, as well as a to-do list to help guide your way.
Your main focus during your soft opening should be customer engagement and feedback. You already know how things are supposed to run; now it’s time to shake hands, ask questions, answer queries, and take notes. Positive feedback can help you identify which systems are working. Poor feedback can help you understand what can be improved. You may be able to make some changes on the fly, while others may require a brainstorming session and even budgetary shifts before you can find the right fix.
A restaurant soft opening can look like a party, but it’s really a chance to interact with a focus group that wants to help make your business the best it can be. By planning properly and going into the event with an open mind, you can prep your business to be a success.
As you fine-tune operations, check in with Clover. We offer a wide range of restaurant POS and business management solutions designed specifically to help FSRs and QSRs run more smoothly. Connect with a Clover Business Consultant today to explore your options.CONTACT SALES