Opening a restaurant is an exciting time for the owner. Months or even years of hard work finally come together in a combination of anxiety, stress, joy and anticipation for actually running the business. As you build your timeline and plan your opening budget, be prepared to decide the best time to open your doors to the public.
Choosing the Best Time of Year to Open
Choosing when to open can impact your early sales. The best time of year to open has to do with where your restaurant is located. A host of factors could influence the business you get on opening day. Be sure to think about the time of year, the local climate and even your personal life when planning your opening day.
Summer months are generally busy months for restaurants. Still, some owners plan to open during the slower months, like autumn and spring, in order to give staff time to prepare for the busier, warmer months and holidays. Consider your restaurant concept as well as the local climate. Someone preparing to open an ice cream shop, for example, may want to open during spring or early summer, when people are more apt to go out for a cold treat.
During the major winter holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, business can either be non-existent or overwhelming. Opening a restaurant in a retail-heavy location during the holiday season can bring a lot of business right away, so think about whether this would be a good move for your restaurant.
As you plan when you will open, consider how local events could help or hinder your business. In general, restaurant owners want attention on their new restaurants, so people will be excited to dine there. Sometimes, local events can help by bringing attention to your area. For instance, annual conventions, parades and athletic events may bring large groups of people together in the same area as your new restaurant, providing a great opportunity to show off the newly opened eatery to many people at once. On the other hand, big events that take place outside your trade area may pull traffic away from your new restaurant, not only decreasing potential customers but also making it more difficult for you to get the press you need. When possible, stay aware of local events and schedule your opening accordingly.
Family and Personal Affairs
As it is, balancing a family and a restaurant is never easy. Be sure you do not make it more difficult by scheduling your opening day when your family is expecting a new baby or when you have a major surgery scheduled. You cannot plan for everything, but be sure to check your calendar if you think you may have conflicting family or personal plans.
The Purpose of a Grand Opening
Once you have a date scheduled, you can begin to plan your grand opening. A grand opening describes the new restaurant’s celebrated opening day. To prepare for a grand opening, restaurant owners and managers saturate the local market with advertisements and announcements to invite guests for the first day of business. A restaurant may send out direct mail coupons or hang highly visible banners to get even more attention. The purpose of a grand opening is to promote your restaurant and attract as many guests as possible. You may even initiate a special grand opening event to do so.
However, not everything goes right the first time. This is especially true with brand new restaurants. Rarely does an operation run completely problem-free during the first few days or even weeks of being open. A flood of customers arriving to the restaurant immediately after it opens can overwhelm the staff and result in less than perfect service. It takes effort and practice to get a restaurant operation to consistently run smoothly.
The Benefits of a Soft Opening
To avoid an overwhelming opening day, restaurant owners often schedule a soft opening. This is the term for a practice period when a business opens its doors without any major fanfare. A soft opening is not advertised except by word-of-mouth, usually to employees’ friends and family. Sometimes restaurants will even schedule a window of time before the grand opening called a “preview” or a “sneak peak.” This is a time customers can eat for free, so staff can practice making and serving the food. The crowd attending a restaurant’s soft opening is usually much more manageable in volume.
Another benefit of scheduling a soft opening is that guests are usually more accepting of minor mistakes if they know the restaurant is still not fully open. This allows the staff to get a feel for operating the restaurant while still giving them several days or even weeks to settle any major issues before the grand opening. Scheduling both a soft opening day and a grand opening will give the restaurant staff a better chance of running a successful operation.
Opening day is a big day for a restaurant. A restaurant’s grand opening signals the end of preparation and the beginning of operation. As such, the opening day can be seen as a sort of gateway from planning to execution. Planning for the best possible time of year for both soft and grand openings will help you know what to expect and give you and your team the best chance at running the new operation as well as possible.
Be Prepared for a Not-So-Grand Opening:
Usually, local area marketing, word-of-mouth and any advertising space you may have purchased will bring in guests eager to try your new restaurant. Do not feel discouraged, however, if people are not breaking down the door in anticipation. In fact, many restaurants take time to develop a customer base and steady sales. Focus on perfecting your restaurant operations as much as possible so that your food and service is impeccable once business picks up.