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The Ultimate Guide to a Restaurant Soft Opening

A soft opening has fast become the most popular way to launch a restaurant. Prepare your staff, take on feedback and make the night a success with our guide.

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You’ve bought your location, the staff are hired, the menu has been perfected and all that’s left to do is open your restaurant.

But where do you start?

Whether you want a local buzz around the opening or to open quietly, a soft opening is a great way to test out and tweak your processes before throwing your doors open to the world.

Here’s everything you need to know to promote your restaurant’s soft opening and make it a success.

What is a Soft Opening?

A soft opening, or a soft launch, is the low-key opening of a new service, product or place. Openings are typically associated with a fanfare around opening night, but a soft opening is the opening of your restaurant without all of the attention.

Soft openings are becoming increasingly popular with restaurateurs as a way to get feedback, prepare staff and even build anticipation for the grand opening, which will likely come later.

Everybody wants their grand opening to be a success, so a quieter opening ahead of time is a great way to trial the menu and ensure the staff are trained and ready to go. 

By inviting the right people and hosting a great night, your soft opening will generate more buzz and attention for your restaurant than an immediate grand opening.

What You Can Learn From a Soft Opening

The soft opening of each restaurant will depend on its location, clientele and menu setup. A five-star restaurant will differ considerably to a diner, but both can benefit from having a soft opening.

We recommend you keep a close eye on the following during the soft opening to ensure your business will be a success.

Service

Every restaurant owner knows that staff are at the heart of a successful business. How many times have you tipped a server despite problems with the kitchen? Obviously, we aren’t excusing poor food, but if your staff are friendly, efficient and attentive there’s still a chance your customers will return.

Use your soft opening to ensure everyone is on the same page, pulling their weight and understanding their role. This is your time to improve your service and create a smooth process from start to finish for waiters and kitchen staff.

Branding

In the harsh light of day, branding and artistic decisions sometimes need to be changed. Your branding is a huge part of your restaurant’s identity, so getting feedback from customers on it is vital.

While a full upholstery re-model is likely out of the question, things like ensuring your menus are easy to read and your staff uniforms are appropriate and breathable (restaurant work can get very warm) are easy to solve and just as important.

Menu

Naturally, your restaurant’s menu matters for keeping customers coming back. Now is your chance to make sure their expectations are met, food timings are realistic and that flavor combinations and dishes taste great.

Unhappy customers are part and parcel of the hospitality industry. However, for your soft opening, it’s a great idea to get feedback from all of your customers to ensure the majority are happy and satisfied by the end of their meal.

Logistics

Maybe there’s a table interrupting the flow of servers, or perhaps the most popular dish takes 70 minutes to prepare. 

This is your chance to take a look at the overall running of your restaurant and recognize what needs changing immediately, what needs monitoring, and what’s running smoothly. 

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3 Ways to Invite People To Your Soft Opening

Of course, the most important part of preparing for your soft opening having guests in attendance. Here’s how we suggest inviting your guests to ensure they don’t miss the invite.

Email

Email marketing is always most successful when you have a direct goal and a warm audience. If you’re inviting local businesses or media outlets who you can’t reach by SMS or phone, using their email (which is almost always public) is the best way to connect.

To ensure it reaches the right person, make sure you send your emails directly, rather than to a general inbox where it could get overlooked. For example, [email protected] is a direct line of communication, rather than [email protected]

The less it looks like a marketing promotion, the better. We’d recommend sending a personalized email with the details included, and then attach a more general invitation.

You’ve bought your location, the staff are hired, the menu has been perfected and all that’s left to do is open your restaurant.

But where do you start?

Whether you want a local buzz around the opening or to open quietly, a soft opening is a great way to test out and tweak your processes before throwing your doors open to the world.

Here’s everything you need to know to promote your restaurant’s soft opening and make it a success.

What is a Soft Opening?

A soft opening, or a soft launch, is the low-key opening of a new service, product or place. Openings are typically associated with a fanfare around opening night, but a soft opening is the opening of your restaurant without all of the attention.

Soft openings are becoming increasingly popular with restaurateurs as a way to get feedback, prepare staff and even build anticipation for the grand opening, which will likely come later.

Everybody wants their grand opening to be a success, so a quieter opening ahead of time is a great way to trial the menu and ensure the staff are trained and ready to go. 

By inviting the right people and hosting a great night, your soft opening will generate more buzz and attention for your restaurant than an immediate grand opening.

What You Can Learn From a Soft Opening

The soft opening of each restaurant will depend on its location, clientele and menu setup. A five-star restaurant will differ considerably to a diner, but both can benefit from having a soft opening.

We recommend you keep a close eye on the following during the soft opening to ensure your business will be a success.

Service

Every restaurant owner knows that staff are at the heart of a successful business. How many times have you tipped a server despite problems with the kitchen? Obviously, we aren’t excusing poor food, but if your staff are friendly, efficient and attentive there’s still a chance your customers will return.

Use your soft opening to ensure everyone is on the same page, pulling their weight and understanding their role. This is your time to improve your service and create a smooth process from start to finish for waiters and kitchen staff.

Branding

In the harsh light of day, branding and artistic decisions sometimes need to be changed. Your branding is a huge part of your restaurant’s identity, so getting feedback from customers on it is vital.

While a full upholstery re-model is likely out of the question, things like ensuring your menus are easy to read and your staff uniforms are appropriate and breathable (restaurant work can get very warm) are easy to solve and just as important.

Menu

Naturally, your restaurant’s menu matters for keeping customers coming back. Now is your chance to make sure their expectations are met, food timings are realistic and that flavor combinations and dishes taste great.

Unhappy customers are part and parcel of the hospitality industry. However, for your soft opening, it’s a great idea to get feedback from all of your customers to ensure the majority are happy and satisfied by the end of their meal.

Logistics

Maybe there’s a table interrupting the flow of servers, or perhaps the most popular dish takes 70 minutes to prepare. 

This is your chance to take a look at the overall running of your restaurant and recognize what needs changing immediately, what needs monitoring, and what’s running smoothly. 

Try Text Marketing for Free

Send your first message in minutes. Try SimpleTexting free for 14 days.

No credit card required

3 Ways to Invite People To Your Soft Opening

Of course, the most important part of preparing for your soft opening having guests in attendance. Here’s how we suggest inviting your guests to ensure they don’t miss the invite.

Email

Email marketing is always most successful when you have a direct goal and a warm audience. If you’re inviting local businesses or media outlets who you can’t reach by SMS or phone, using their email (which is almost always public) is the best way to connect.

To ensure it reaches the right person, make sure you send your emails directly, rather than to a general inbox where it could get overlooked. For example, [email protected] is a direct line of communication, rather than [email protected]

The less it looks like a marketing promotion, the better. We’d recommend sending a personalized email with the details included, and then attach a more general invitation.

soft opening email invite

Text Message

With a 98% open rate, a text message invite will almost certainly be read.

If you use a business texting platform, not only can you send out multiple text message invites and personalize them, but you can also attach PDFs, images and links. Your invite can be opened anytime, anywhere from your phone and the recipient will still get the whole experience.

As with an email, always include the vital information in the body of your message, even if you attach an additional invite to open.

Today 3:30 PM
We’d love to invite you to the opening of our new ST restaurant on 5/22 at 7PM. Please reply YES to confirm your table!

Even better, if you’ve collected phone numbers and decided to use this method, you can also follow-up with your invitees for feedback quickly and easily.

Direct Mail

Sometimes an e-vite just won’t cut it. For friends and family you may prefer to send out a direct invite via snail mail.

Not only is this a more personal approach to inviting people to your restaurant launch, it also shows how much you care about your brand. You’ll likely stand out from the sea of email invites and social media invites, and, ultimately, everyone loves to put an invitation on the fridge! 

Who to Invite to Your Soft Opening

The customers at your soft opening will have a direct impact on the success of your restaurant. Those first impressions matter more than ever – not just to spread the word and bring in more customers, but to make sure they come back again themselves.

For this reason, your soft opening should be an invite only event. That way you’re more in control of the reputation of your restaurant while making a good name for yourself locally.

The top three groups of people you should have on your invite list are:

  1. Friends and Family

We’re fairly confident that if you don’t invite your friends and family to your restaurant opening (whether soft or grand) you’ll hear about it. 

Those nearest to you are the most likely to share the rave reviews and spread the word, so they deserve a first-hand experience. 

  1. Local Business Owners

We recommend leaving direct competition off the invite list. However, it’s always useful to have local contacts and make alliances.

Invite local business owners, particularly those who are likely to recommend your new restaurant to others. Hoteliers, owners of busy local businesses and even tradespeople and service providers all make great guests.

  1. Media & Influencers

Towards the end of your soft launch, you may want to start considering invitees who have more reach. Local influencers, your local paper and local food blogs are all great to add to the list.

Inviting them during a soft opening rather than a grand opening or on a busy Saturday night means you can give these customers the attention they require. Going above and beyond will go a long way in receiving positive reviews.

Incorporate a Soft Opening Into Your Grand Opening

You don’t need to choose between a soft opening and a grand opening—you should be incorporating both into your restaurant launch strategy. With a successful soft opening under your belt, you’ll be more prepared and confident than ever to open to the general public.

Text messaging is one of the most effective ways to both send out mass invites and reminders for those who want to attend a soft opening. If you’re a restaurant owner ready to start sending out invites via text message, sign up for a two-week free trial at SimpleTexting. 

Alice Dodd
Alice Dodd

Alice is a copywriter at SimpleTexting. When not teaching the world about the benefits of business texting, you can find her feeding family, friends and strangers with her latest baking experiment.

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