There are many ways to open a restaurant. Some restaurant owners do not have the time or resources to put on a big, lavish grand opening event. They may opt for a quieter opening that includes distributing flyers throughout the neighborhood and hanging a banner that says, “Grand Opening.” However, when planning your opening, keep in mind that the grand opening is the best time to get press for your restaurant. The money you spend on your grand opening will be worth it if your restaurant gets publicity. And if you do not make a big splash during your opening, you may never make one at all.
If you do choose to plan and market a grand opening event, it is imperative that you pay attention to even the smallest details. The most common mistake that restaurant owners make when planning their event is not preparing properly.
Before Your Grand Opening Event
Choose the date and plan events.Be careful when choosing the date for your grand opening. Give yourself enough time to order the necessary supplies, hire and plan entertainment (DJs, live bands, eating contests, etc.), and to plan the menu. Also be sure to check out what else is happening in your area during your selected dates. If another event has picked up momentum and can possibly outshine your venue, then consider rescheduling for a time that is the most beneficial for your business. Timing is very important.
- Start with a “quiet” opening. Begin with a soft opening a few weeks in advance. Do not advertise that you are opening. Invite only your family and friends, and serve any walk-ins who happen by. Inform them that you are undergoing a trial opening, and that they will get their meal at a discount. Use this opportunity to take detailed notes about what went well, what went wrong and what was unexpected. This will help you get all of your operations and management in working order before your grand opening.
- Join local organizations. For example, become a member of the local Chamber of Commerce. This will help establish you as a responsible business owner who is involved with the community. Consider partnering with a local non-profit group that you would like to support. Organize a tentative date for a future fundraiser and advertise this in your grand opening advertisement, such as: Join us tonight for our grand opening and again on March 22 for a special evening to support the Jones House for the Blind." Become a part of your community and increase your word of mouth marketing through a chain of organizational networks.
- Inform the public. Send invitations and take reservations. Put your best foot forward with an estimated count of how many guests to expect. Invite anyone you can think of to your grand opening, including local celebrities, people in the neighborhood, people you know personally, people associated with the charity you may be partnering with, etc.
- Apply your target marketing plan. Your market demographic should receive the bulk of your marketing materials. Invite and entice guests who will become regular customers and make them feel special right from day one.
As you plan your grand opening, keep in mind that all details should be accounted for in advance. This includes obtaining all licenses ahead of time, menu planning, ordering inventory, food prep, ordering and arranging all dinnerware, flatware, decorations and entertainment. Brainstorm and plan ahead for any obstacles you might face and devise ways to overcome them. Start with soft opening and use your notes from that evening to come up with ideas for overcoming any issues on the big night.
Grand Opening Publicity
Restaurant owners put on grand openings because they attract the attention of the media and the public. If no one knows about your restaurant’s opening, your grand opening events will be wasted. Be sure that your grand opening gets some press by following these guidelines:
- Consider hiring a professional. You may want to contact a local publicist. Professional public relations firms or consultants are skilled in knowing the right people and the best avenues for getting press for your restaurant's grand opening.
- Distribute a media kit. Set your grand opening up for success. A media kit should be released two to four weeks before the event. It should be distributed to local newspapers and broadcasting stations. It can include a press release with the details of your restaurant’s opening and any articles that may have already been written about your restaurant. Include a little about what makes your restaurant special, including biographies of the owner and the chef and a short summary of your involvement with the community. Follow up with your media contacts to see if they have any questions or would like to schedule an interview.
- Partner with a local charity. This will greatly increase your chances of getting press, and as an added benefit, the community will probably pay you back for your good will. Partnering with a non-profit will help create a network of initial customers for your restaurant, since people within the charity organization will inform their friends and family of your grand opening and the fundraiser you are putting on.
- Contact publications and TV stations. Contact local newspapers, magazines and broadcasting stations to see if they would be willing to cover a story about your restaurant and its upcoming grand opening. You could also write an editorial or an opinion article about why the community needs a restaurant like yours.
- Hire photographers. Make sure there is someone there to photograph your grand opening. That way, there will be pictures ready for any journalists looking to cover it. Keep in mind that the press that comes after your grand opening is just as important as the press that informs the public of your opening. Do not let up on your public relations efforts just because your grand opening is over.
- Invite a reviewer. If you know that your food is top notch, you will want to invite a food critic or restaurant reviewer to your grand opening. This is sure to get you some press, although there is a risk that the press might be negative.
- Invite a local celebrity. If you get a local politician, television host or any other local celebrity to come to your grand opening, you will be more likely to get some media coverage.
- Provide tours for the media. You might consider holding a separate opening for the media, if you expect a lot of coverage. Have your media kit ready for any media representatives who come to the grand opening events. Make sure to give them a tour of the restaurant, and also send them a follow-up press release after-the-fact, including photos of the grand opening events and information on any future promotions or events
Putting on a Good Event
You can hold your grand opening on one night and make a single big splash. However, if you have a lot of interest, consider a week-long opening, with different events each night of the week. This week-long festivity will pack an extra punch. For example, you can have a fundraising night, a neighborhood opening night, a VIP night, a friends and family night, and a press night.
No matter what, your grand opening event needs to be enjoyable and unique in order to attract the attention your restaurant deserves. Make sure your grand opening includes all of the following elements:
- Entertainment. By providing your customers with an enticing form of entertainment – such as a live band, DJ, dancing or contests – you will create a night that they will remember.
- Great food and drinks. Your restaurant’s foundation is its food and drink. Your special opening night menu should showcase the dishes that you believe best represent your restaurant’s brand. Inform the chefs and kitchen workers that all of the dishes need to be executed perfectly on opening night.
- Top-of-the-line service. You need to show that your restaurant will be customer focused. Since first impressions are the most important, you should overstaff on servers and hosts for the grand opening event.
- Some sort of unique element. Always include some kind of unique element in your opening events. For example, if you are opening a fine-dining Italian restaurant, you could put on a drawing where you give one of your opening-night attendees a free trip to Italy. If you are opening a Chicago-style pizza place, consider putting on a contest to see who can mix and match the toppings to come up with the most original and tasty pizza recipe. Whatever your concept, you can come up with some kind of unique way to show it off on opening night.
Many restaurants choose to simply hang a banner or invite the neighborhood to their grand opening. However, once the grand opening is through, getting publicity for your restaurant can be quite a challenge. If you can, it is best to take advantage of your opening by creating a one-of-a-kind event that will make a splash, inciting media coverage and spreading your restaurant’s name.
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