It’s never too early to begin planning grand opening party ideas for your startup restaurant. There’s usually a lot of waiting time while you get the necessary licenses, construction approval and, health permit. For example, you can use the wait time to build a following on social media, and you can ignite interest in your restaurant with social campaigns. The following YouTube video by Posist Technologies demonstrates some restaurant grand opening ideas that can create a lasting impression on your customers.
1. Host a VIP Restaurant Event and Regular Grand Opening for the General Public
It’s important to match your grand opening strategy with your targeted customer demographics, but you can’t just appeal to rich people with tons of money to spend. However, you can appeal to those in a wealthier demographic by hosting a VIP event in tandem with a regular grand opening for everyone else.
You can invite local celebrities, politicians, business leaders and people from higher-income neighborhoods to try your gourmet specialties and culinary masterpieces. It’s important to include some guests from lower-income neighborhoods to acknowledge their VIP status as important people in the city.
Don’t forget to include key influencers on your invitation list. Social media influencers can launch your restaurant, bar or nightclub by recommending it to people in your targeted customer profile. An Instagram post or Twitter Tweet about your restaurant event can inspire hundreds of people to try your restaurant after the main grand opening.
You could also make your VIP event an exclusive influencer event, which is a great way to build interest for your grand opening and beyond. You should invite every local reporter, blogger, celebrity, and social influencer than you can find. Host a great event for them, ensure that they receive spectacular food and service and encourage them to write reviews and/or mention the restaurant to their followers.
Take plenty of photos of the event to post on your website and on the restaurant’s walls, bulletin board, digital sign and/or big-screen video monitors. Your grand opening can easily exceed your expectations if you get the right networking buzz from a host of local influencers.
Best Strategies for Your VIP Event
The Sold Out Tonight restaurant marketing blog recommends that restaurant owners be sure to invite local government officials, the police and fire chiefs, high school principals, local college deans, etc. These people have extensive social networks that can put your restaurant on the map for business meetings, luncheons, catering, delivery services, and special events.
Your VIP event should ideally have a theme that resonates with the guests. Examples include a gourmet food or wine tasting, vintage dress, table and bar service by local celebrities, Mardi Gras night, costume party and cooking demonstrations. You can also use a VIP night to solicit opinions about your cuisine, service, concept and other valuable information to improve your business model.
Using the VIP Event to Improve Your Regular Grand Opening
During your VIP event, which can actually be informal, you’ll get a better idea of how customers respond to your menu and how efficiently your kitchen staff works in real-world service. The event can serve the purposes of a soft opening if you present the event as an effort to gauge the opinions of local movers and shakers.
You can also go in the other direction and keep your VIP event very exclusive and employ a bigger staff than needed to ensure impeccable service, great food, and fine dining ambiance.
2. Partner with a Charity, Community-service Organization or a Retail Merchant
Restaurants often partner with charities, community-service organizations, and other merchants to broaden their grand opening event. People who support the restaurant will attend, and some people will attend to support a local or national charity. Partnering with a community organization demonstrates a concern for local services. You might choose to partner with a non-competing local merchant to get a bigger crowd and offer more incentives, prizes and information about the city, local shopping and dining and critical tourist resources.
Partnering with a respected charity gives your new restaurant instant credibility. You can donate a percentage of gross sales or profit or donate a set amount when customers order certain items. Ideas for charity grand openings might include a casino to raise funds for charity, an auction of donated items or even a dating auction where people bid on a date, which is usually held at the restaurant.
The charity, community organization or merchant that you choose as a partner for, your grand opening should bring something to the event, such as educational information, discounts on services, discounts for patronizing both establishments or fundraising for a special cause.
Ideas for Community Organization Partnerships
Community organization partnerships can help your business network with civic leaders, get bookings for meetings and private parties and encourage the organization’s members to eat at your restaurant. The grand opening event might raise funds for local community services or festivals.
Your grand opening might bring attention to a controversial community issue or expose a new problem that needs to be addressed soon. Regardless of the details, your partnership shows that you are civic-minded and willing to work with local officials and businesses to find collaborative solutions.
Decoration and Design of a Grand Opening with Partners
Depending on your partner, the organization might have lots of design materials that it wants to use to promote its position or charitable work. You can’t design fun and frivolous restaurant setting with balloons and noisemakers if you’re raising money to fight breast cancer. It’s important to coordinate design with your partner. It might be perfectly fine to decorate for a party if you’re raising funds for youth groups or raising awareness for special needs.
3. Promote Your Cuisine with by Transforming Your Restaurant’s Grand Opening into an Exotic Festival
You can promote your restaurant’s grand opening by creating a festival atmosphere that mirrors festivals in the country that features your cuisine. Your culinary creations for the grand opening don’t have to be regular menu items, but you should limit the special foods and promote your regular menu for the best results.
Examples of this kind of grand opening include the following ideas:
- Spanish Cuisine
If your restaurant features Spanish cuisine, you might want to create the atmosphere of a tapas bar or one of the celebrated food festivals that include the Saffron Rose Festival, Haro Wine Fight, Tomatina Tomato Fight or the Grape Harvest Festival.
- Cajun/Creole Cuisine
If you have Cajun or Creole foods on the menu, you might want to host a Mardi Gras type party with costumes, beads, King Cake and Zydeco music.
- Seafood Specials
There are any number of ways to tie your grand opening to the sea if you serve a lot of seafood. You might feature a crab or lobster boil, pick-your-own-dinner promotion or decorate the restaurant in a nautical theme. You might host a promotion where local fishers can bring their own catch as a tie-in to the idea that doing so is the only way to get fresher seafood than you serve. You could sponsor a pirate treasure hunt and use social media to promote the event and track the treasure hunters’ progress.
If your restaurant is a theme restaurant – such as the Hard Rock Cafe, Chuck E. Cheese, Medieval Times, Rainforest Cafe and Planet Hollywood – creating an over-the-top grand opening is not only appropriate but also expected. You should offer entertainment, dress the staff in costumes if appropriate to your theme, offer prizes and incentives for return visits and be sure to collect names and contact information for future marketing initiatives.
Many restaurants now embrace the farm-to-table concept, and you might want to include local farmers and suppliers at your grand opening to answer questions about their food, labor practices and ties to the area.
4. Mimic the Red-carpet Treatment by Rewarding Grand Opening Guests with Swag Bags and Other Giveaways
One classic way to stage your grand opening is to create a formal setting, invite local celebrities and provide each guest with the red carpet treatment. No matter how wealthy your customers might be, everyone appreciates a bargain or giveaway, and the gifts you give should be items that commemorate your grand opening and can serve as mementos of your opening date.
Hosting a raffle is one way to trigger interest in your event. The raffle can include mostly promotional materials, but you should offer some valuable prizes to create media buzz and interest. In keeping with the red carpet theme, you might roll out a real red carpet and get some co-conspirators to arrive in limos. If you’re serving an upscale customer base, that might be unnecessary because some guests will probably travel that way. Offering valet service is another way to make a signature statement at your opening.
Giving out swag bags is a great idea. You can include incentives for a future visit and branded merchandise like t-shirts, key chains, USB drives, laminated menus, tote bags, pens, pop sockets, and other promotional items. The freebies shouldn’t be too expensive, and they should serve double-duty as marketing messages for your restaurant.
Create a Fun Atmosphere the Reinforces Your Concept
According to pos.toasttab.com, Chipotle serves as a great example of how to do a grand opening right. The company received high marks when it first opened by creating social buzz, targeting the fast/casual dining segment and throwing out free t-shirts shaped like a burrito at community events, concerts and sports matches.
The red carpet treatment can be real or tongue-in-cheek as people arrive dressed to the nines for burgers and fries. Festive decorations should complement your concept and not make guests uncomfortable when moving around. The purpose of a grand opening is to create social buzz and introduce people to your cuisine, so it’s important to maintain the highest quality control and service standards.
Example of a Red Carpet Grand Opening Done Properly
You can get an idea of how to stage a red carpet grand opening by watching a YouTube video of Fraticelli’s Italian Restaurant and Bar Grand Opening Event. The restaurant features regional Italian cuisine, and the party showcased how to celebrate in style. The restaurant also partnered with the Carpenter House charity to donate $1 for every pizza sold during the event.
5. Stunt-based Grand Openings Are Alive and Well and Living in Your Restaurant
Grand openings don’t need to be formal, invitation-only affairs – especially if you’re opening a fast food, fast/casual or neighborhood place. You can get a lot of mileage by creating a fun-loving image for your restaurant with creative stunts, guerilla marketing and promotions in your neighborhood. Stunt-based grand openings work well if you’ve laid the groundwork by publicizing your restaurant locally and in social media.
You can actually host stunts in the community several days before your grand opening or blanket your local neighborhood on opening day. According to an article posted at the waiterio.com POS website, you can promote the event with flyers that you pass around the neighborhood, direct mail to targeted neighborhoods, outdoor signage, and guerrilla marketing campaigns.
Guerrilla Marketing Campaigns
Guerrilla marketing is hip, trendy, in-your-face stunts designed to draw publicity and encourage crowds to check out your restaurant. Simple ideas might include using clean graffiti to send customers your way, hosting a flash mob event or sponsoring an event outdoors where people do silly things to earn free food.
For best results, guerrilla campaigns should focus on something specific that’s not a regular part of the menu. A grand opening special deal, fake food items with crazy names, a chance to be served by a local celebrity or VIP treatment are possible ideas for your campaign. Guerrilla campaigns are meant to shock, but you have to be careful that you don’t create any genuine safety risks or promote fake “over the top” events that people might think are real.
PR Stunts to Draw a Crowd
PR stunts to promote your restaurant aren’t always targeted to consumers nearby. Some restaurants target the tourist industry by creating a viral ad campaign to reach likely travelers of visitors to the city where the restaurant is based. Warner Leisure Hotels designed a product and news release that targeted journalists in an effort to publicize a clever play on words.
The stunt was described in an article posted at ecoconsultancy.com, a respected statistics company. The Hotels marketed an “anti-age gin,” which was purported to slow the aging process. The gin’s ingredients included antioxidants, collagen and skincare botanicals to give the gin a credible claim to fight the effects of aging.
This is the kind of high-level stunt that can create buzz and viral social sharing, but more common stunts to promote a restaurant include:
- Sunken Billboard
Ivar’s is a very old seafood restaurant in Seattle, and in 2009, it developed a bizarre campaign stunt by claiming it had uncovered 1954 billboards under the water with messages that included, “Ivar’s Chowder. Worth surfacing for 75¢ a cup.” According to Aaronallen.com, the stunt was a hoax, but it increased the sale of chowder by 400 percent.
- Break a Record
People love to hear about world records, and you could arrange for an attempt to break some world record involving food – especially food you serve. It might be a pancake-eating contest or a speed-eating contest. According to eventbrite.com, the Guinness World Records organization has a business solutions team that can help you plan an official world-record event.
- Taking Lunch to New Heights
In 2011, KFC organized a stunt where a mountain climber dressed as Colonel Sanders rappelled down Chicago’s River Bend Building. According to mentalfloss.com, the Colonel handed out $5 meals to window washers. The marketing headlines said that KFC was taking lunch to “new heights.”
- Braille Burgers
The Wimpy hamburger chain in South Africa created a great PR stunt by providing ”braille burgers” for visually impaired customers. According to trendhuntercom, the burger messages, written in braille across the top of the bun, informed customers that the restaurant’s menus were now available in braille. The stunt helped launch a campaign to reach more than 800,000 visually impaired people.
Restaurant Soft Opening Ideas Improve Your Planning for the Main Event
Restaurants schedule soft openings to iron out any problems with service or food preparation before the formal grand opening. Soft openings can be open or closed. Closed soft openings might be reserved for special groups of customers, but restaurants often hold soft openings for friends and family members of the staff, which keeps any problems in the family.
No matter how carefully you plan, you can’t predict how a grand opening will go. You might find that certain dishes are too complex to prepare within a reasonable time. The staff might need more training. The soft op\ening customers might not like certain menu items, which means your kitchen might need to change recipes or remove some menu items.
The open soft opening allows customers to walk in off the street. That allows you to gauge the kind of traffic you might expect on an average day. You can invite friends and family to soft openings as well. Some restaurants stay open until the grand opening, which is when all the planning, decorating and partying is scheduled. You don’t need to decorate for a soft opening. It’s just a practice run to spot problems and allow staff to get comfortable working together. Make sure that your POS system is ready to rock and roll, however, because you don’t want to be worrying about that at the last minute. Waiterio.com offers a simple POS system that’s affordable and easy for your staff to operate.
How to Design a Compelling Restaurant Grand Opening Invitation
One thing that you need to learn how to do is to generate compelling copy that’s written in a style that appeals to your ideal customer. You’ll find that you need to do this in menu descriptions, marketing messages and social media pages, but setting the right tone is especially important when writing press releases about your grand opening and designing invitations for your restaurant’s prospective customers.
Invitations for Grand Openings
Your invitations should complement your restaurant concept. Fine dining invitations are usually formal and printed on the high-quality stock using only one font, usually script. It’s usually best to keep these invitations short and concise, but be sure to include all the necessary information about the date, time range and how to make reservations or RSVP. Formal invitations seldom have a lot of graphics or images, but it’s fine to use your restaurant logo or a simple, elegant design or formal photo of the dining room.
Fast food and neighborhood restaurants have more options when designing an invitation. The invitation can be a simple flyer inviting people to the grand opening celebration, and these can be distributed throughout the neighborhood or passed out in public. Depending on how the invitation is designed, it can be folded as a self-mailer if you have a mailing list of potential customers.
If you invite celebrities, local politicians and influencers, you should produce an invitation that’s less formal than fine dining invitations but more formal than fast/casual. These invitations must be personalized and explain why the person has been invited – such as an invitation to write a review, network with local businessmen, etc.
Invitations for fast/casual restaurants can include more information, illustrations, photos, and graphics – just don’t make the invitation too busy. Using one of two colors is best, but some restaurants want to include photos of their culinary creations. The important thing is to choose high-resolution photos that showcase your food and restaurant in a good light. Don’t use stock photos or photos of poor quality.
Announcements and Press Releases
According to pressreleasezen.com, when you write about your restaurant, you should keep in mind its unique selling point and those things that differentiate it from similar restaurants. Write in terms that your ideal customer understands and appreciates. If you’re opening a sports restaurant, write your material with sports references. If you’re promoting a fast/casual restaurant, talk about things like sustainability, organic ingredients, and farm-to-table suppliers.
The celebrity chef culture grows more important every day. Write about your chef and his or her experience, culinary philosophy, and experience. Telling a good story is important to get customers on your side, so you might want to share unique stories about your staff, their experience, and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Your food is the center of attention, so you should discuss the restaurant’s culinary philosophy and give a brief overview of your cuisine.
Include a quote from the chef, owner or manager about the cuisine, restaurant design or type of customer who the restaurant expects to serve. For example, you might mention that the restaurant is an ideal setting for business dinners and meetings. Your customers might be young, urban hipsters who are looking for a fun place to dine where they can connect with friends in social media to arrange impromptu gatherings.
You should also include important details about the restaurant. These include service hours, location, website address, social pages and information about any additional services you offer – such as online ordering, catering services, food delivery, meeting rooms, etc.
Unique Grand Opening Ideas Make Your Restaurant Memorable and Attract Customers
According to an article posted at smallbusiness.chron.com, grand opening ideas can be as simple as a community dinner, free perks for guests or private receptions for key groups. The webrestaurant store.com recommends using social media to create publicity for your opening with the following ideas:
- Sponsoring special deals and contests for members
- Using hashtags for your opening to create a unique identity
- Using Facebook to solicit reservations online
- Posting pictures of the opening process online to build interest
Using Pre-opening Events to Promote Your Grand Opening
An article posted at restaurant.eatapp.co recommends holding multiple pre-opening events to build buzz and promote your grand opening. You can host a meet-and-greet with local suppliers, sponsor a small business lunch for influential business owners, give a tour of your restaurant or host a cooking class or demonstration.
According to an article at restaurant.org, pre-opening receptions and soft opening events are an ideal way to give your staff practice in preparing your menu and working as a team. An article at restaurant.opentable.com recommends holding three pre-opening events: a family and friends dinner, a press preview and a party for employees and stakeholders.
The more fun you can make your grand opening for guests, the more your fledgling restaurant will be respected. Grand opening ideas for restaurants run the gamut, and you should choose ideas that match your concept and reflect well on your business reputation. Reputation is everything in today’s restaurant industry, and your opening strategy reveals a lot about your restaurant, its staff, and its food and service standards. It’s important to schedule enough employees to handle more customers than you really expect. It’s better to be over-prepared than to be caught understaffed, stressed and inefficient.