12 Ideas for Killer Restaurant Grand Openings

How to make day one a day won
Anne Robertson, Managing Director, Public Relations

Restaurants only get one chance to make a first impression. Hit it out of the ballpark, and you’ll capture scores of devoted customers who will return and tell their friends. Fail, and there’s a good chance you’ll limp along and be one of the six in 10 restaurants that close their first year.

But, no worries. Here are some great ideas to help ensure that your restaurant’s big kick-off will generate excitement, create awareness and produce paying customers.

Fundamentals.

Even the best grand opening will fail unless you get the basics right. Your food—taste and presentation—must be perfect. And the customer service your employees provide must be polished and professional. To work out the kinks, consider a soft opening—a week or two where you open to no fanfare or publicity. This will give you time to make everything picture-perfect.

Know thyself.

Before you can create a strategy for your grand opening, be sure to know who you want as customers. Are you going for millennials? An older age group? Families? Busy business professionals? This may sound like a simple step, but nothing may be more important.

Fit in.

Unless you’re part of a chain that restricts décor, take the time to truly understand the neighborhood and community in which your restaurant is located. You don’t want to blend in and disappear, but you want your restaurant to be complementary to the businesses around it. If your restaurant is situated near gallery row, then consider bringing an “artsy” feel to your interior. How about a rotating display of works by new artists for customers to enjoy?

A week, not a day.

Consider having a grand opening week rather than a single day. This will help you appeal to more people and make an extended splash to selected groups of customers. On the first Monday, you can offer special deals only for teachers. On Tuesdays, honor local firefighters and police with exclusive discounts. On Wednesday, offer free beverages to people who work on your street when they stop in. You get the idea—give every day a unique theme and pay respect to the people you want as loyal customers.

VIP night.

If you want to make a splash in the media, considering hosting an invitation-only sampler party for local elected officials and reporters who cover food and restaurants. Invite a prominent food expert to speak. Everyone likes free food.

Influencers.

Be sure to reach out to local food and restaurant bloggers, as well as other social media influencers who are active on Facebook and Instagram. Invite them to a special grand-opening event where they can mingle with like-minded people, eat great food . . . and walk away with a logo-emblazoned mug. Remember, you have a week during which you can host a large variety of activities.

Non-profit partner.

Show off your civic stripes by partnering with a local non-profit entity—the closer to your restaurant the better. Create a signature dish for your grand opening week and give all proceeds from it to the charity. You can issue a news release, and so can your selected charity. And since your non-profit partner stands to gain, they’ll pitch in by promoting your restaurant as well. Everyone wins.

Form a street team.

Create a band of employees and send them around the neighborhood to visit every business up and down the street. They can deliver menus and invite locals to an exclusive party or tasting. You can also drop off sampler trays to businesses so they can try your food.

Don’t forget your families.

Most of your employees have nearby families—spouses, children and parents. Invite them to a “family only” kick-off event and treat them to great food. They will be your finest ambassadors to the community. If they don’t tell people how great you are or where to find you, who will?

Get local.

Look for other opportunities for local promotion. The more, the better. Sponsor a local Little League team at the closest elementary school. Join the street beautification coalition. Offer a free catered meal to a nearby senior center. 

Local promotion and social media.

Don’t forget to establish an awesome Facebook page and Twitter account. Post pictures of food on your Instagram and Pinterest platforms. Send out coupons via local mailers like Valpak.

Don’t do this.

The only thing you shouldn’t do . . . is nothing. If you don’t make noise, no one will know you’re there.

Keep your restaurant afloat

Sadly, most restaurants fail. But a great grand opening and a savvy business plan can help prevent a sorry-we’re-closed sign from  hanging in your window. Knowing common pitfalls is the first step to avoiding them. According to Aida Behmen-Milicevic and POS Sector, here’s the most common reasons that restaurants fail.*

  • Low start-up capital

  • Poor knowledge about the competition

  • Wrong location

  • Insufficient restaurant promotion

  • Inconsistent offers

  • Bad partnership relations

  • Poor inventory management

  • Unskilled management of staff

  • Lack of original ideas

*: POS Sector, “10 Ways How Restaurant Failure Can be Avoided”

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