Planning, execution, consistency, adjustments, training, and timing. These are all keywords you will hear during the start-up phase of your new restaurant. There is no better way to test your restaurant on these keywords prior to “officially” opening other than what is called a “soft opening.”
What is a soft opening? It is a series of fully operational shifts over the course of 1-2 weeks prior to 'officially' opening, in which only pre-selected guests can enjoy your new establishment. Soft openings are essential for many reasons and need to be viewed as an integral part of your start-up strategy.
It is an opportunity to review the fine details of your service standards, communication systems, and point-of-sale systems, along with your food and beverage timing, as well as presentation standards (expediting). A soft opening also gives you an opportunity to review lighting, sound, signage, and any possible confusion within your menu. It gives you an opportunity to make adjustments before it truly counts.
Skipping this stage is setting yourself, your staff, your suppliers, and your investors up for failure. Imagine adjusting the above after you’ve opened and after customers have left poor reviews. Here are some tips to consider for your soft opening to make it, and your restaurant, a success!
Goals. As with anything you do in business, it’s best to have a predetermined set of goals. What do you want to achieve with your soft opening? For example, how many hours of practice do you want your service staff to accumulate, how many platings do you want your kitchen staff to prepare, or which stations may need the most attention before you open to the general public? Remember that this is all about training, adjusting, and monitoring the systems you should have put in place. Pro Tip: Create a soft opening checklist with a scoring chart and then go over these benchmarks with your management team and front-line employees. Communication is essential to ensure you’re all working towards the same set of goals.
Budget. Ensure you have developed a budget for a soft opening in your start-up expenses. Spending money here will save spending double to triple the costs after you’ve opened in needing to fix potential mistakes. Consider food and beverage costs, staff costs, special invite costs, and/or special giveaways for your invited guests. Pro Tip: Work with community partners and suppliers to receive samples and to reduce your soft opening costs. They are often willing to assist you because they want to build a long-term relationship with you and your restaurant.
Menu. There are a couple of ways to look at this. You could offer limited items to test on certain days of the soft opening, or you can offer your full menu each of the days. It also depends on the size of your menu. However, let’s hope you’re already following the need for smaller, more compact menus. Pro Tip: It’s best to offer your full menu. This is what you will be offering your customers once you open, so get the practice now for service, timing, and point-of-sale use.