After two decades as a restaurant operator, I know how important it is to make a great first impression. The grand opening of your restaurant can get your business off to a great start, so you must do it right.
It’s critical to make sure your grand opening is organized well to get your business off to a great start. Drawing in customers and achieving a stellar reputation from the get-go is a big step towards your restaurant’s ultimate sucess. While there is no guarantee of smooth sailing in any business venture, the tips you are going to learn from this article can at least put you on calmer seas.
This guide has been put together as your one-stop-shop to help you get ideas for YOUR grand opening. I have used many of these ideas in the past or have seen them used successfully by others. Some of the grand opening ideas are really outside the box, but can set your restaurant’s grand opening apart from the competition.
1. Ensure Your Staff is Ready
As the date of your grand opening is getting nearer, you need to make sure that your staff is hired, onboarded, trained, and ready to work.
Under hiring can be the kiss of death; DO NOT DO IT. Hire 150% of the staff you think you will need for the grand opening. If you project, you need 50 employees, hire 75.
Aside from accounting for the employees that don’t last until the opening, hiring heavy can also help avoid a last-minute disaster on your grand opening by having backups on standby. Ensure all your bases are covered, assume the best, but prepare for the worst.
2. Have a Friends & Family Night Before Opening to the Public
Before you schedule your official grand opening and start promoting it, you need to make sure that your staff is thoroughly trained and “ready for prime time.” Yes, that is a cheap Saturday Night Live joke, but your team not being able to handle the volume that a strong grand opening will hopefully bring is no laughing matter and could harm your restaurant that lasts for months or even years.
After you have trained your staff, the best way to give them a night of live service with “training wheels” is to hold a “friends and family” event. This is a 3-4 hour event that you structure in a way to simulate a typical night of service and schedule ALL new employees (or have two events).
Typically, each employee would be allowed to invite a party of 2-4 for a free meal. When I have held these in the past, I always partnered with a local charity to accept donations from the guests. They were getting a free meal out of it, so they were usually happy to oblige.
Each invitation would contain staggered arrival times as well as a curated menu to simulate a live night of service in a more controlled way. Craft the invitations to ensure all menu items are ordered (and thus practiced) multiple times, and all stations/positions are challenged appropriately.
The most important reason to have a friend and family night is to give your restaurant’s team a dry run to work out any operational kinks and get some practice with live guests before you invite in the general public. Friends and family voluntarily donating to a charity will be much more forgiving of long waits for food or service mishaps than paying customers.
3. Have a Soft Opening First
After friends and family night, you will begin to feel confident in your team’s ability to execute service. You probably have a “bring on the crowd” mentality, and your team is chomping at the bit for the challenge (and tips). Fight the urge to advertise and be busy from day one.
Be patient and have an unadvertised soft opening for the first two weeks (or more) if needed. Your staff will need that time to get as many “practice reps” in as humanly possible before the mob scene that will (hopefully) be your grand opening ensures.
If your soft opening is too soft, begin utilizing some of the tactics below to generate some early traffic. Just don’t go too crazy. I was part of an opening for a Bar & Grill back in 2004 that was a complete and utter disaster because our soft opening ended up being not so soft thanks to a highly visible location. Trust me; you don’t want that.
While a soft opening should help to build up hype and hopefully a positive reputation for the business, the most important outcome is that your team comes out of it confidently, energized, and prepared for the grand opening.
If you feel confident in your team’s ability to execute a soft opening, consider inviting some VIPs in the area or even the local press, as mentioned in more detail below.
4. Have Your Brand in Place
It is vital that before the grand opening, you KNOW the “brand” of your restaurant. Ask yourself, What does your brand stand for? What is your unique selling point? This could be a particular dish that you want to showcase as your signature item, or perhaps it is the atmosphere inside your place. My Dad always said that every restaurant has to have a personality, something that makes it stand out from the crowd. He was right.
Having seen many businesses fail over the years, many had one thing in common: they didn’t know their brand OR they didn’t showcase their brand in the right way. Once you know what you want your brand to portray, create business cards, a logo, and everything else around that.
5. Choose Your Day Wisely
Friday and Saturday are the busiest days of the week in most restaurants since that tends to be when most people are likely to eat out. On these high volume days, restaurants can have as much as four times as many customers as they do the rest of the week. Because of this, it is better if you have your grand opening on Friday or Saturday.
You should also look for what events are going on in the same day in your area and avoid clashing. Events in the Spring/Summer also tend to be a bigger hit than those that are in Winter/Autumn. It might only seem like a minor detail, but make sure that you choose the date of your grand opening wisely.
6. Advertise Your Grand Opening
I’m assuming at this point, your restaurant looks the part, the food is in place, and the staff is ready to go, but what use is a grand opening if nobody shows up?
You need to advertise this event using all the resources at your fingertips. For a one-time event like a grand opening, I prefer to go with an “all-in” approach to advertising. Do EVERYTHING you can afford. Here are some ideas:
- Traditional Print Advertising: Create flyers and post them anywhere and everywhere. Telephone poles, bus stops, and public bulletin boards (such as grocery stores, gyms, and libraries) are all great ideas as well. The lawn signs that adorn people’s yards every fall can be more than just political propaganda for upcoming elections. Lawn signs are relatively inexpensive and highly visible.
- Direct Mail: This is a super old school, but it is still useful. As more and more of our mail comes in digital form, mailboxes might even become more noticeable than our bloated email inboxes.
- Newspapers: Newspapers are dying, but if you use them as a one time way to get the few people who read them in the door then it might make sense for your grand opening.
- Movie Theaters: Theaters sell ads before movies. Contact your local theater to see if the pricing is within your budget.
- Billboards: They are expensive, but if you can find one that you can rent for one or two weeks that has a great location, it is worth the price.
- Social Media: This is a strategy onto itself. Much more on this below.
The passion that you are showing for the grand opening actually says a lot about the amount of effort you are putting into this venture. The general public will notice it. You might, at times, feel like you are being annoying with how much you are advertising the opening, but it’s going to be worth it.
7. Offer “Freebies”
For the day of your grand opening itself, the idea is not necessarily to make a big profit but to build a positive reputation for the business. In essence, you are planting the seeds with this experience that will grow to create positive word of mouth and regular customers. One great way to do that is with “freebies.”
People LOVE freebies, and if you are offering some incentive for your grand opening, then it is far more likely that people will choose to attend. What freebies you decide to give out is entirely up to you. It could be a free drink of their choice or perhaps a free appetizer. You could also provide them with a bounceback coupon that gives them a certain percentage off their next visit.
8. Give Away Swag
Selling merchandise in restaurants is something that is becoming more and more of a trend. People eat up things like t-shirts, hats, and mugs. It makes them feel involved. I am a big fan of merchandise sales as an extra revenue stream in restaurants. In addition to doing this, why not give a limited amount away just for the grand opening?
Creating merchandise that is ONLY available at your grand opening creates a sense of urgency in people. If they have a desire for the free swag (who doesn’t?), then they are more likely to circle the date of your grand opening on the calendar and make sure they don’t miss it.
9. Utilize Social Media
Let’s face it: people are glued to their phones. Because of that, social media can attract more eyeballs to your grand opening than anything else. When I first started in the restaurant industry, social media didn’t even exist (I am showing my age right now), but if it had, this would be my number one tool for a grand opening.
There are a ton of social media platforms, but I recommend focusing the bulk of your effort advertising your grand opening on Facebook and Instagram. Aside from just promoting your grand opening, social media should be a big part of your future marketing efforts. It is crucial that you brand your business and set up social media pages as appropriate.
Use hashtags, interact with locals, and generally try and be as active as possible. If you set up your social media and use them daily, starting about a month before the grand opening, you should have quite a following by that point.
Paid ads on Facebook and Instagram can have a broad reach and they are something you should make a part of your budget. You can also make quite an impact with some elbow grease by posting regularly on both your restaurant’s page as well as in all local Facebook “groups” you can join. As far as posts go, you can include progress updates and pictures, menu reveals, staff bios, a daily countdown, and much more!
Facebook & Instagram should be your bread and butter, but don’t sleep on some of the newer social media platforms that are quickly gaining a following. If I were planning a grand opening in the next few months, I would experiment with both Snapchat and Tik-Tok.
Finding the time to manage a social media campaign for your grand opening can be difficult or straight-up impossible considering all the other moving parts surrounding an opening. Social media marketing companies charge hundreds to thousands of dollars for a campaign like this. Fear not, there is a better option that does not involve you ripping your hair out: Have an employee set everything up for you.
Every time I have tried this, I had multiple volunteers who were happy to do it for hourly pay. Have them bring their laptop and set them up with a Buffer Account to manage the campaign, a Canva subscription to make beautiful graphics, and about 10-15 hours, and you have yourself an excellent Social Media Campaign for a fraction of the price!
10. Amplify Your Social Media Presence Through Your Employees
I promise this tip has nothing to do with tip #9! This tip is all about mobilizing the rest of your employees to share every single post that is part of your campaign.
Request that staff go on your pages and share all advertising for the restaurant to their feed. Your staffing doing this is something that, again, will help to get the word out there about the event, which will help enormously in terms of numbers for the big day.
In addition to sharing posts from the restaurant’s page, encourage them to post about the restaurant on their personal feeds with a hashtag like #mattsdinergrandopening. They can even take advantage of the aforementioned Tik Toc and create short videos. Plus, imagine how your employees will feel working in a place that allows them to use their phones!
Because of the liability risks of how your staff represents itself on social media, having a social media policy is a must. Before using the tips discussed anywhere in this article, I highly recommend you review the policy with all employees and have them sign off on it.
11. Invite Local Influencers
Another grand opening idea that goes hand in hand with the previous point of social media is to utilize local influencers. As I said, we live in a different world now and how you network does a lot. Inviting influencers, whether that be vloggers, other social media influencers, or even well-known performers to your opening, could be beneficial.
You might be wondering how this actually works? You will usually pay an influencer to eat at your restaurant, or even offer them free food if they are happy with that. In return, they leave a glowing review online and advertise you to their thousands or even millions of followers.
12. Partner with a Local Charity
Becoming a member of your local community is a huge part of establishing your presence as a new restaurant. A great way to accomplish this while also giving back to a deserving cause is to partner with a local charity for your grand opening.
Partnering with a charity doesn’t necessarily mean giving them the proceeds, though it absolutely can if you are in a position to do so. More commonly, it would involve working together to raise money for a cause.
For example, every year on Thanksgiving, my local comic book store (I’m a nerd, deal with it) hosts a “Cans for Comics” event. They give out a back-issue comic for every can of food donated. Most back issue comics are usually something that are near impossible to move. It’s a win-win; they collect cans and drive traffic to the store while also clearing space for new inventory.
You might be thinking, how could I do something like this that would help my grand opening? Well, I have an idea for you. Let’s say you want to partner with Toys for Tots. Maybe on your Grand Opening, you could match every donated toy with a bounce-back coupon (say, buy one entree get one free).
The benefits would be helping the charity, increased traffic for your grand opening, free publicity for holding the event, and a probable repeat customer. The only con would be the cost of the coupon and, let’s face it; you would do something like that anyway, so why not get all the benefits from this idea? Boom, now THAT is a ninja idea!
13. Have a Raffle
When thinking of grand opening ideas, offering something to customers is a given. With that said, people LOVE raffles, and it is something that you should think about doing.
Give raffle tickets to everybody who attends your grand opening and then do the drawing at the end of the day on Facebook Live. In addition to the excitement of the raffle, you will send even more traffic to your Facebook page!
As for prizes, start with a bunch of gift cards to the newly opened restaurant. After that, ask for donations from your local community. It is a great way to bring everyone together, in addition to getting more attention on all businesses involved. Lastly, add an exciting “big ticket” item like an iPad or a 75″ TV to REALLY create some excitement!
Chic-Fil-A has used a variation of this strategy for over 15 years to astounding success. They give the first 100 customers a voucher for free chicken sandwiches for a year. This promotion usually results in people camping out! Just think of the buzz and publicity that would generate!
I have one other great prize idea: a backstage pass. Raffle off a dozen or so of these, and people will love it while costing you next to nothing. So, what exactly do I mean by a backstage pass?
Yes, kids, that is what you call a cliffhanger. Read on to learn all about this grand opening idea!
14. Give Customers a Backstage Pass
You might think I am crazy here, but hear me out. How about giving select customers a tour of your kitchen that includes some sort of culinary demonstration? Not only does this show you have nothing to hide, but it also allows you to showcase how clean your kitchen is and how professional your staff members are, all while also bringing a sense of community to the restaurant.
Customers love to feel like they are getting a sneak peek behind the scenes. There is something hardwired in our DNA to enjoy getting to peek behind the curtain. Giving customers a backstage pass to your restaurant does just that.
15. Have Live Entertainment
Another way to make sure that your big day goes with a bang is to book some live entertainment. Look for local bands, singers and comedians in your area. By using your best negotiation skills, they should be able to perform at a low price or even for free in exchange for exposure.
They will also promote the event to their fans, which should hopefully get the name of your restaurant out there even more and make more people interested in coming to see what you are all about.
16. Extend Your Grand Opening
If your budget can manage it, turn your grand opening from a day-long event to a week-long extravaganza. Using different variations on the above strategies each day will even encourage repeat visits on grand opening week. If you can’t swing is a week, what about a weekend?
17. Invite the Press
A good idea would be to invite the local press or business owners to give them a tour of your restaurant before the actual unveiling. These types of events can be super rewarding for both you and your staff by generating up attention and reviews.
18. Be Different
You need to stand out from other restaurants in your area, and you need to get yourself noticed. That needs to be kept at the front of your mind when you are planning your grand opening.
There are many ways that you can do this; it’s just a case of thinking outside the box. You could have a human billboard walking the streets, a singing and dancing flash mob, or you might want to help host a local event. You might want to undercut the prices of other restaurants that are selling the same dishes as you.
Anything goes as long as you are not doing anything illegal. Whatever you decide, be brave, be bold, and take chances if you want to become the next big thing.
Hopefully, reading this guide has given you some fantastic grand opening ideas for your new restaurant. It’s all about creating excitement, thinking outside the box, and growing from there.
You and your business can achieve enormous growth if you get it off to the right step, so make sure you have everything in place before you even decide on an opening date. It’s time to stop thinking and start doing, and you can begin right now!