Create a playbook to simplify restaurant openings
By Lauren Fernandez
There is no substitute for the excitement and energy around the launch of a new restaurant, and a solid plan for your grand opening is critical to your ongoing success. In the scramble to get the doors open and the table set, it can be both daunting and overwhelming to plan a grand opening. The key details that can make or break a successful opening can easily get lost in the shuffle.
You have one chance to make a good impression, and the grand opening is the most powerful tool a new restaurant has to be properly introduced to the community. I have quite a few successful openings under my belt, so much so that I designed a playbook I still use today.
A grand opening doesn’t have to be daunting if you know what steps to take, plan ahead and get organized. Here are just a few best practices we use to ensure a successful grand opening.
With the current labor market, be sure to factor in a 20-25% turnover rate during the opening and go heavy on the hiring to account for that. It helps to be “boots on the ground” in your community. When it comes to the search for employees, local culinary programs, schools and local Facebook groups are great places to start.
We like to start hiring as early as three weeks out from the grand opening, as there is always work to do as well as training. Be thinking about retention before new employees even walk through the door: get feedback early and often. Recognition programs, fun activities and contests are ways of keeping good employees around for the long haul.
Training and Orientation
Trainings should be organized, and trainers should be working side-by-side with trainees so that each member has the opportunity to learn and work at their highest level. A team that fully understands and is well-versed in the purpose and mission of the restaurant will find it much easier to meet any customer expectations.
A high level of employee buy-in creates more authentic interactions with guests and ensures better customer service. Execution, quality and consistency are all key to a successful restaurant, and that starts with a staff that is well mentored, coached, appreciated and developed.
Hire a Photographer
Remember people eat with their eyes first! You will need good, appetizing photos of your dishes. Find a food photographer whose style you like that works your brand. Schedule a photoshoot six weeks out from the opening. You will want photos of your food, some local scenery shots as décor candid shots of your staff as they train as well.
It’s equally important to have a photographer onsite for your grand opening to capture the excitement. Before and after you open, good photography can generate a tremendous amount of interest and buzz on social media platforms.
If you don’t have a background in public relations, you’ll want to work with a local PR team to properly get the word out about your new restaurant. A PR team can help coordinate and promote the grand opening, implement friends and family nights, find influencers and food media outlets to work with and land announcements in local media outlets. PR creates the buzz and interest around your grand opening by helping tell the brand story, and it’s an important part of the recipe for success.
As soon as you start building your location, start building an online community. Set a cadence of posts for 30 days leading up to the opening and include incentives and giveaways if followers like and share your posts. A countdown featuring menu highlights is a great way to generate interest leading up to the Grand Opening. If you can schedule posts, spend time interacting with your audience and inviting people to follow the restaurant on social media and attend the grand opening.
Plan your training to include at least two invite-only soft openings, where you invite nearby business owners, vendors, friends and family. Use extra food to provide samples out in the community. Drop off information about the grand opening events and coupons for future visits. Make sure your loyalty program is open and operating well before the grand opening to ensure you capture long-term marketing potential.
A Grand Opening Is Not Just One Day
A weeklong celebration gives the community a chance to participate even if they miss the first big day, creating excitement and momentum. Consider doing a series of giveaways with your grand opening lasting an entire week.
Branded giveaways such as hats, shirts, stickers and koozies are lasting marketing that goes out into the community and can easily be ordered along with team uniforms and other restaurant merchandise. Designing and ordering ahead will allow you to integrate photography into your Grand Opening marketing campaigns.
These perks should be tied to spend requirements such as “buy two entrees, get a free shirt,” and enrollment in your loyalty program should also be a requirement. Consider a loyalty program gift as a separate incentive for a return visit.
A successful opening can mean all the difference to the long-term success of your restaurant. These steps will set you up for years of success to come.
Lauren Fernandez is the CEO and founder of Full Course, a non-traditional restaurant investment group created for operators by operators that is changing the way new businesses grow their brands. The company partners with restaurants in the early stages of development to optimize existing operations, develop strategies for sustainable growth and bring the right investors or franchise partners to the table. Fernandez is a restaurant industry veteran with two decades of experience. She previously served as general counsel and head of franchise administration for FOCUS Brands, a multi-brand restaurant company with more than 4,000 restaurants (including Carvel, Cinnabon and Moe’s Southwest Grill) in over 15 countries, and was co-founder, president and operating partner for multi-unit franchise developer Origin Development Group, acting as a strategic growth partner for brands such as Chicken Salad Chick. She also is a frequent speaker in the areas of organic business growth, licensing and franchise operations across the country.