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What Is a Soft Opening? Definition and Characteristics

By
Matthew Krimmel


Soft Opening Definition and Meaning

A soft opening occurs when a restaurant opens to a limited number of people for the first time. It's an invitation-only event, giving you the ability to choose who experiences your dining concept before the rest of the community.

The main reason a restaurant has a soft opening is to test its operations. Some restaurants have more than one to gauge the skills of their staff and the functionality of kitchen equipment.

Owners and managers can make necessary improvements before opening their doors to the general public. It serves as a trial run before it officially opens for business.

The restaurant owner can test out the menu and predict the demand for food and drinks based on the feedback received from attendees. A soft opening can act as a rehearsal for your restaurant's grand opening and daily operations.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about a soft opening.

Soft Opening and Grand Opening Difference

A grand opening occurs on the actual day your restaurant opens its doors to the public.

A soft opening is a test run that happens well before your official opening.

Soft Opening Characteristics

A soft opening could be an opportunity to create buzz about your restaurant in the neighborhood. Another objective is to improve your restaurant and make some last-minute changes before opening it to the public.

If problems occur, they should happen in front of a few close friends and family members instead of a large group of potential customers.

Grand Opening Characteristics

A grand opening is a celebration held to open a new restaurant or one that has changed ownership.

It introduces a business to a neighborhood on a much larger scale. The restaurant owner usually advertises it to draw a large crowd.

A grand opening welcomes more guests and isn't exclusive. You might even see members of the industry and media there.

It's common to issue a press release announcing the grand opening of a restaurant.

The owner expects everything to run smoothly at the grand opening. The service should be efficient and professional, and the food and drinks should be top-notch.

Soft Opening Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages

There are several good reasons to arrange a soft opening of your restaurant. Here are a few of them:

1-Get feedback. Undoubtedly the best reason to hold one is to elicit feedback from your attendees.

You want to encourage comments from guests on the food, drinks, service, and other features of the restaurant.

It gives you the chance to hear some honest and constructive feedback about your restaurant before you open it to the general public.

 

2-Make changes and improvements. Implement the feedback you receive from the attendees and adjust anything that could use improvement before the grand opening.

Make changes to the menu, the restaurant décor, and the restaurant layout if necessary. You want to provide the optimal dining experience for your guests when opening to the public.

 

3-Create some buzz. It could provide an opportunity for generating buzz in the community about your restaurant.

If everyone leaves the event feeling good about your restaurant, then they'll share their experience with family members, friends, and neighbors.

It could draw a large crowd of diners for your grand opening, giving your restaurant a good financial start.

 

 4-Prepare your staff. It enables your restaurant and kitchen staff to prepare for the real thing.

It allows them to demonstrate knowledge of the menu and practice good service. The staff can test the POS system and other technology. They can also relax their nerves and get used to the processes of your restaurant.

The front and back of the house can test their skills and determine their readiness for interacting with guests.

Disadvantages

However, there are a few potential disadvantages to planning a soft opening:

1- Exposure of your concept and ideas to competitors. It's beneficial to your restaurant and staff, but it could help your competitors learn your concepts and ideas.

If your grand opening occurs too late into the future, then your competitors might steal your creative ideas and implement them in their restaurants. Then, your community will see your competitor's restaurant as the one with the brilliant concept that you dreamed up.

2- The potential for not receiving constructive feedback. Family members and close friends might be hesitant to give you feedback that could hurt your feelings.

Prevent this by encouraging them to be honest and open about any concerns or complaints they might have.

You could also invite people outside your inner circle, such as business acquaintances, who aren't as concerned about offending you with negative feedback.

Hand out questionnaires to be completed anonymously by the attendees at your event.

3- Guests might take advantage of the situation. "The customer is always right." You've heard this cliché before, but it still applies to customer service in the restaurant industry.

Some guests might not forgive any lapses in service or unmet expectations with food and drinks. It could prove beneficial when making improvements for the grand opening.

But it could also squash the positive vibes you're trying to create for the grand opening.

When to Plan a Soft Opening?

Nowadays, any restaurants hold a soft opening to ease into the pressure of daily operation. If you decide to organize one for your restaurant, keep in mind your grand opening date when planning your event.

The period from a few days to one week before your opening works best for holding your soft opening. Don't leave too much time between your soft opening and grand opening. Any excitement created will begin to fade if people have to wait too long for the grand opening.

If everything runs smoothly, you’ll be able to apply any suggested changes and open your restaurant doors to the world with confidence.