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What is soft opening for restaurants? Why you need it and how to do it?
After months of planning to open your restaurant or food establishment, the next part is introducing your business to ...
After months of planning to open your restaurant or food establishment, the next part is introducing your business to the customers.
- A soft opening is a traditional event performed days or weeks before the grand opening.
- The main objective of soft opening is to prepare the staff on how to properly serve customers and collect points for improvement on food service aspects.
- A soft opening event is a good marketing strategy to introduce your food business to the community.
Opening your restaurant to the public can be nerve-wracking, and problems or shortcomings may start to show when you start operations. At times, food service employees can get overwhelmed, which can cause problems in your operations. To avoid this problem, it has been a practice in the restaurant industry to launch a restaurant soft opening.
What is a soft opening at a restaurant?
The soft opening meaning is a test run of your business introduction to potential customers before your grand opening. It aims to prepare your staff for the bigger opening and identify potential areas that may be problematic during regular operations.
During a soft opening, you can also test whether your employees understand food safety standards and if your establishment is operating up to the restaurant industry standards for operating.
Food business owners should treat a soft opening as an opportunity to address problems before they happen. You can get feedback from customers who will be attending the soft opening and review them for application.
In a soft opening, the environment is more controlled, but enough to emulate a regular food business operation. This time is an opportunity to test strategies and gather information for better and more prepared grand official openings.
How do you perform a soft opening?
How you do a soft opening is based on your discretion. A common tradition in the restaurant industry is that the food business owner sets a date for the soft opening a few days before the grand opening to have enough time to apply changes.
A soft opening is usually invite-only with a few slots for random guests. It is an intimate sneak peek of your business for close friends and important people. You can either open your full menu or offer a limited menu. A soft opening event is a good opportunity to identify which dishes would be a hit.
In some cases, food business owners invite food critics or influencers to a soft opening event. This soft launch strategy can be a good advertisement for your business.
An important aspect of every soft opening is how you collect and assess areas for improvement. This event is designed to mimic how your operations and staff would react to real customers and restaurant service. One way to extract feedback from customers is to provide a questionnaire focused on evaluating your overall food business.
Do you announce a soft opening?
Soft openings are commonly invite-only events. You have the option to open a few slots to random customers to get their opinions as well.
Restaurant soft opening invitations are commonly sent to friends, family, business partners, community leaders, influencers, writers, and critics. As the target is to mimic a normal day of operation in your food business, try to invite the same number of guests as your expected daily customers.
Invitations may include the time that customers would come to the establishment. You can allot different time slots for different groups as this is how consumers arrive on a normal day.
Do you charge for a soft opening?
Your soft opening menu item pricing strategy may vary depending on your discretion. There is no absolute rule that says you have to give out free meals on a soft opening, but it may be a good strategy to give out freebies or discounted items.
Some strategies may include a mix of full-priced and discounted meals on the entire menu. Providing discounts to attendees of the event will allow them the chance to try new products that they may not be familiar with.
Strategically upsell your specials to customers by highlighting them on your menu or offering them a limited food option at a discounted price. Another common strategy is to provide complimentary items to guests.
Are soft openings free?
Not all food business owners can offer free service and products for a soft opening. Depending on the budget of the owner, they can provide big discounts on food and a few gifts for selected customers.
Discounts and gifts can be your way of expressing your gratitude to those who attended the event. It can also act as an advertisement for your food business.
Why do people do soft openings?
Doing a soft opening offers many advantages to food business owners. It can allow you to prepare for a more random flow of customers during regular operations. In addition, you can use the results of your soft opening to predict how your target audience will react to your dishes and aspects of service.
Specifically, a soft opening can help you with the following benefits:
- Marketing strategy. A soft opening event can attract a lot of buzz and create hype, especially with good reviews. Potential customers can get a peek at what your company has to offer. If done correctly, event attendees will naturally spread the word about your food business and instantly become free advertisements while building a loyal customer base. Inviting influential people and sharing the news about your business can spread through mouth advertising about your services faster and throughout a wider network.
- Trial run for operations. One of the main reasons for executing a soft opening is to test your preparedness and capacity for everyday operations. It is a critical step where you can observe which areas need more attention, and you would have enough time to address them accordingly. Additionally, food employees can become more at ease and proficient for later days if they have already experienced service during a soft opening.
- Improvement of operations. An important activity you should not forget during a soft opening is preparing a checklist and an observation list. After the event, use these lists and precise feedback from guests to orient your staff on the strengths and weaknesses during the soft opening. You can use this actionable feedback for retraining your staff and reorganizing your establishment with minor tweaks.
More than a tradition, soft openings have been a practice that helps food restaurants serve customers better in everyday settings by gathering the average dining experience. In addition, a soft opening event can be a pilot testing chance for a new addition to your operations, such as restaurant software or an automated payment system.
You can also determine if your team can apply food safety standards based on your pre-approved HACCP system.
How long between soft opening and grand opening?
A common time frame for performing a soft opening is at least one week or less before the grand opening. When choosing a date for your soft opening, a good parameter is to consider how fast you can apply major revisions to your operations.
Similarly, the time frame of your soft opening may also change depending on whether you have already collected enough information and experience to operate fully.
Although there are advantages to a long soft opening, you can expect some drawbacks. As soft openings offer discounted prices on a variety of menu items, you can expect a few losses with prolonged events. The hype dies down when you leave too much space between the soft and grand opening.
Soft opening vs Grand opening
Generally, a soft opening is a toned-down and less stressful event than a grand opening. Specifically, here are a few differences between the two events.
How many days does a soft opening last?
A soft opening event typically runs from three days to two weeks. Some businesses with a limited budget or those very confident with their operations can do the soft opening in a day. The more budget you have, the longer you can run a soft opening. Despite this, leaving too much time for a soft opening can cause the hype to fade.
During the duration of your soft opening, you can test out different features of your food business on separate occasions. An essential factor to consider when deciding the length of your soft opening is whether you'd be able to apply the suggestions and corrections on time.
Why is it called soft opening?
A soft opening is a smaller-scale event that introduces your food business to a select few customers. Unlike a grand opening, a soft launching event has a more controlled operation with a predicted number of customers to prepare your staff for a smooth process.
What do you need for a restaurant soft opening?
Although a soft opening requires a more reserved operation, that does not mean that you do not need to be prepared. You still need to get a lot of things done and set up the necessary tools for this event.
Here are a few things that you need to check off before launching a soft opening event:
- Staff training. Make sure that your staff is aware of basic food safety and customer service rules. Assign a food safety manager who will note all areas for improvement after the event.
- Complete menu. Strategically highlight specialty items in your entire menu.
- Adjust prices accordingly. You can create a special menu for your soft opening. Do not forget to add promotional information.
- Invitations and advertisements. Send out invitations with complete information about your food business, including the date, place, and time allotted to them. Include a soft opening message to introduce your business. Build hype by posting posters and social media news. Create a guest list based on who you send out the invitations to.
- Checklist for operations. Prior to opening, use an opening checklist to ensure that all areas are clean and ready for service.
- Customer feedback forms. Prepare a comprehensive form or a card with questions to gather honest feedback from customers after dining, reflecting your service on the day.
In addition to this list, you can also prepare your service staff by providing them with visual aids on how to properly perform food handling tasks. At FoodDocs, we have collected some of the most important food safety documents such as checklists, posters, and advisories that can help you operate safely. Check out more in our HACCP plan template hub.
How do restaurants promote soft opening?
A soft opening is a great avenue to promote your new food business. You can use traditional methods and more advanced ones to reach more customers.
It is very important to translate your specialties and other information about your food business in your advertisements.
Nowadays, there are many new ways to promote your soft opening. You can choose from the following ways:
- Social media. Create official social media accounts for your food business. This way might just be the most popular promotion route of the moment. In addition to being free, social media information travels very fast.
- Specialized invitations. Send out invitations to community influencers, friends, critics, city-wide industry leaders, and other target customers.
- Forums and bulletins. Although more designed for a grand opening or official launch, you can attract customers by posting your soft opening date on bulletins. This promotion technique can attract important social media influencers and potential critics of your products that can result in future partnerships for promotions.
- Visual aids in front of the establishment. Equip your facade with proper signage and posters to attract locals to your area.
The main mode of promotion for a soft opening would have to be invitations. This controls the number of potential customers and prepares your staff for the influx of people.
Preparing for a soft opening with a digital solution
A very big and essential aspect of opening a food business is to be prepared in terms of food safety. You cannot operate a food business without knowing the basics and achieving a go signal from your local health department. Your best way to fulfill this task is to have a comprehensive HACCP plan.
Although not all food businesses require a HACCP plan in the US, the government still requires food-related businesses to have a risk-based preventive control program for company registration. Not sure if your food business needs a HACCP plan? Here is an informative guide for you:
Learn more about this topic here.
A comprehensive HACCP plan can prepare you for any possible risks to food safety that can significantly affect your soft opening. A bad impression regarding food safety on your first few days of operation will be something hard to stand up from.
The news can spread fast, and the last thing you want to happen is for customers to find non-compliant food service operations during your soft opening and leave a negative review. Bad customer experiences during a soft opening can last for a while. Restaurant surveys can significantly affect your business image, whether it is for your soft opening or your regular operations.
Getting compliant with digital food safety
At FoodDocs, we have created two digital solutions that can quickly equip you with the most essential food safety systems. First, you can assemble your HACCP plan with our customizable digital HACCP plan template builder. The process that usually takes months to create can be shortened to a mere 1 hour with our digital solution.
Our system can automatically generate a comprehensive HACCP plan template for you by answering a few basic questions describing your business. To further optimize the plan, you can customize it and add more information about your operations. This template contains all the important sections of a HACCP plan and completes all the preliminary tasks for you.
With our digital solution, you can comply with the necessary food safety regulations for a fraction of the usual time it takes. Not to mention, our solution costs at least 15x less than hiring a food safety professional to complete a HACCP plan.
Maintaining compliance with digital food safety
In addition to a HACCP plan template, our system can generate a comprehensive digital food safety management system for you. This digital FSMS is complete with monitoring logs, checklists, and other food safety documents that can help you maintain compliance at all times.
Specifically, you can get the following features:
- Automatically generated monitoring forms such as Fridge temperature logs, cooking logs, cooling logs, and even a cleaning checklist for your food service operation. These food safety documents contain detailed instructions on performing and monitoring each operation.
- A smart notification system that alerts food handlers regarding a food safety task. With this feature, no food safety operation will be forgotten.
- A real-time dashboard that can help food safety managers oversee operations remotely and quickly identify areas that need improvement.
- Digital cloud storage where you can store all documents without taking up any physical space.
Our digital FSMS solution only takes 15 minutes to set up, and your team can use it for your everyday operations, especially your soft launching event. This digital solution ensures food safety compliance and preparedness to face customers for your big event.
Food safety is a very big factor for customers when choosing a restaurant. One of the highlights that you want your invited customers to spread throughout the business community is how seriously you take food safety. With our digital solutions, you can be sure that your business complies with the highest food safety standards.
Experience how our solutions can help you prepare for your soft opening now. Use our free 14-day trial and continue food safety compliance up to your grand opening or actual launch.
Frequently Asked Questions
Need a bit more information about what is a soft opening for a business you have in mind? Here are a few frequently asked questions regarding this topic.
What is a soft opening for a hotel?
A soft opening or a soft launch for a hotel generally means the same for a restaurant. Not all of its facilities are open to customers. There may be rooms that are not yet ready for occupancy or facilities, such as pools, bars, or play areas.
As a hotel is expected to be much bigger than a single restaurant, the soft opening can run from a few weeks to a full month. The objective of a hotel's soft opening is also to collect information on how to improve services and prepare staff for any possible problems.
What is a soft opening for a small business?
Soft openings for a small business are a common practice that acts as a test run to prepare the service team for regular operations. This event is usually held by businesses that deal with customers on-site. It is usually an invite-only event for friends, influencers, and customers to try your products and give constructive feedback.
What is a soft opening for a store?
A soft opening for a store is a trial run for the actual operation with more limited access to features of your facility. Unlike a grand opening, this event has less promotion and is sometimes limited to a few customers only. Soft opening for a store is held a day or more before the grand opening. This is to prepare your staff and facility and apply improvements.
When should you do a soft opening?
A soft opening is held before the grand opening. Depending on your budget and preparedness, a soft opening can be held at least a day or a maximum of two weeks before the grand opening. Ensure that you have enough time to assess the feedback and apply improvements to your operations. Additionally, consider a very limited time frame between your soft and grand opening. A very long time between the two events can cause the built-up hype to decrease.