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Launching a new restaurant is both an exciting and challenging endeavor. As a restaurant owner, you’ve likely been dreaming about the day you finally open your restaurant to the public, serving up delicious meals to eager diners. You’ve probably calculated the costs, hired a fantastic team, and have been tirelessly perfecting your menu. But have you considered how you’ll introduce your restaurant to potential customers? One strategy that has become popular among savvy restaurateurs is a soft opening.

A soft opening for your restaurant is a great way to build up anticipation and create hype before the official launch. It provides an excellent opportunity for you to test your systems, get real-time feedback from diners, and make necessary improvements. So, if you’re planning to make a grand entrance in the restaurant industry, consider a soft opening as your first step in this exciting journey. It might just be the secret ingredient to your success.

What Is A Restaurant Soft Opening?

A restaurant soft opening is essentially a rehearsal for the official opening day. Unlike a grand opening, where the doors are open to the general public, a soft opening is typically only for a limited number of people – usually family, friends, and perhaps some invited local influencers or media.

As a business owner, this is your chance to make sure you get things right before the big day. It allows you to test everything from your menu and service to your operational efficiency and staff training. It’s also an opportunity to spread the word about your restaurant, generate some initial buzz, and gather early reviews.

A successful soft opening can provide valuable insights and feedback, enabling you to fine-tune your operations, making necessary tweaks and adjustments before your official launch. In essence, a soft opening gives you the chance to iron out any kinks, ensuring you’re fully prepared for the grand unveiling of your new location.

Consider this scenario: 

A locally renowned chef decides to open a new fusion restaurant. Before announcing the grand opening, he holds a soft opening, inviting local food bloggers, critics, and influencers. He uses this opportunity to test his unique menu, gather feedback, and adjust as needed.

The result? By the time the grand opening comes around, word has already spread about the fantastic new location, and the chef is more confident than ever in his menu and service. This is a prime example of how a soft opening can set the stage for a successful restaurant launch.

Difference Between Soft Opening And Grand Opening

While both a soft opening and a grand opening are essential stages in the journey to launch a restaurant, they serve different purposes and are characterized by distinct attributes.

Soft Opening

A soft opening, as we’ve established, is a great way to do a trial run before the official opening day. Unlike the grand opening, it’s typically an invite-only event. You invite people, usually family, friends, influencers, or local press, to test your concept before the rest of the public.

This gives you an opportunity to gather feedback, make necessary adjustments, and ensure that you’re prepared and confident for the grand opening. The soft opening is often seen as an intimate, low-pressure opportunity to iron out any operational kinks, making it a critical step for many new restaurants.

Grand Opening

A grand opening, on the other hand, is the big day. This is when you officially open your doors to the public. It’s typically a more significant, celebratory event, designed to build anticipation and excitement around your restaurant. It’s not an invitation-only event; instead, it’s the moment when you welcome everyone to experience what you’ve been working so hard to create.

While a soft opening serves as a “dress rehearsal,” the grand opening is your restaurant’s “premiere night.” Each plays a crucial role in the successful launch of your restaurant.

Why Have A Soft Opening?

While the excitement around the grand opening of a restaurant is undeniable, it’s the soft opening that provides a critical foundation for success. But why exactly is a soft opening so important?

Ensuring Operational Efficiency

At the heart of a successful restaurant is smooth, efficient operation. A soft opening allows you to test everything, from the kitchen’s workflow to front-of-house service. It’s a valuable opportunity to identify areas of improvement, ensuring you present the best version of your restaurant to the public on your grand opening day.

Fine-tuning Your Menu

Is your signature dish as delightful as you envision? Does the vegan option resonate with diners? A soft opening provides real-time feedback, helping you fine-tune your menu according to your guests’ preferences.

Building Anticipation and Relationships

A soft opening can generate initial buzz about your restaurant. It also helps establish relationships with key people such as local influencers, press, and loyal patrons who can become your restaurant’s advocates.

Staff Training

Your team’s performance significantly impacts a guest’s dining experience. A soft opening allows your staff to get acquainted with their roles in a more relaxed setting before the high-pressure grand opening.

A soft opening acts as a ‘safety net’, ensuring that when you officially open your doors, you’re doing so with confidence and readiness.

When To Plan A Soft Opening?

The timing of a soft opening is crucial. Typically, it should be planned a few weeks before the set grand opening date. This period allows you to make last-minute changes before opening your doors to the general public. It’s during this phase that you’ll be able to address the feedback you’re testing in real-world conditions.

Remember, a soft opening is all about refinement. It’s the chance to make those minor tweaks to the menu, decor, or service that could make all the difference when your doors open for the grand event. This buffer time is a valuable safety net that can help set your restaurant on a path to success.

Determining if a Soft Opening is Right for Your Restaurant

While soft openings can offer numerous benefits, it’s essential to consider if this approach aligns with your business’s unique needs and circumstances. Here are some factors to consider and questions to ask yourself.

Factors to Consider

1. Budget: Soft openings can incur additional costs like free or discounted meals, staff wages, and utilities without the corresponding full income. Ensure you can absorb these expenses before opting for a soft opening.

2. Time: Can you afford the extra time required for a soft opening? Remember, it’s not just the event; you also need time to analyze feedback and make adjustments.

3. Staff: Soft openings require staff to be on board earlier, which may affect hiring and training schedules.

4. Type of restaurants: is your restaurant a bistro, fine dining restaurant, or a pop up restaurant like food truck?

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Planning a Soft Opening

1. Are you open to feedback and ready to make changes? A soft opening’s primary purpose is to get feedback and identify areas that need improvement. If you’re not prepared to receive and act on criticism, a soft opening may not be right for you.

2. Can you effectively manage expectations? Remember, you’re inviting guests to a work-in-progress. Clear communication about what they should expect is crucial.

3. Do you have a network to invite to the soft opening? The success of a soft opening relies heavily on having an eager, engaged audience willing to give honest feedback.

How To Prepare For A Soft Launch?

A soft opening is an effective way to polish your restaurant operations and gain useful feedback without the pressure of the grand opening. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to prepare for your soft opening.

Pre Soft Opening Preparations

Developing Your Soft Opening Strategy

Firstly, it’s crucial to define the goals you want to achieve with your soft opening. Are you primarily interested in feedback on your menu, assessing your team’s performance, or creating a buzz around your new restaurant? This will guide all subsequent decisions.

Identifying Your Target Guests for the Soft Opening

Next, identify your target guests. Do you want to invite family and friends or also influencers and local businesses? Depending on your goals, you might want to consider different types of attendees who can provide you with actionable feedback.

Staff Training and Expectations for the Soft Opening

Training your team before the soft opening is crucial to ensure a smooth process. As the environment is more controlled during a soft opening, this is an excellent opportunity to prepare your staff without the usual rush of a typical service.

Menu Planning

When it comes to your types of menu, it’s essential to understand that this is one of the first impressions you’re making on your guests. It should reflect your restaurant’s concept and appeal to your target customers.

Deciding on whether to serve a full menu or a limited menu during your soft opening is a strategic decision. While a full menu allows for more comprehensive feedback, a limited menu could help maintain control during the soft opening, ensuring quality over quantity.

It’s important to serve items that showcase the best your restaurant has to offer. Don’t be afraid to include both safe options and adventurous ones to get a wide range of feedback.

Choosing the Right Date and Time for Your Soft Opening

When choosing the date and time for your soft opening, consider when your target attendees are most likely available. You’ll want to provide them with a memorable experience, and having them comfortably present is part of that.

Generally, scheduling your soft opening for days or weeks before your official launch date gives you a buffer to apply any necessary changes. Consider the length of your soft opening too – a single night, a weekend, or an entire week, depending on your needs.

Choosing Your Pricing Strategy

You’ll need to decide whether to offer free food, charge full prices, or offer discounted rates during your soft opening. Free food may attract more attendees and encourage them to give constructive feedback, while charging can help offset some costs.

Invitations and Guest Lists

Who to Invite to Your Soft Opening: family and friends are an excellent starting point, as they are likely to give you feedback without the fear of hurting your feelings. You can also invite local business owners and influencers to help spread the word.

Your invitation should include the time, date, and address, the expected dress code, information about menu pricing (if any), and where to RSVP.

Post-Soft Opening Activities

Evaluating the Success of Your Soft Opening

After your soft opening, it’s time to evaluate. Look at the feedback to see areas of improvement, analyze how well your team performed, and assess what changes need to be made.

Looking at Feedback for Areas of Improvement

The feedback you gather is crucial for improvement. Analyze all comments and suggestions. Did guests love a specific dish or suggest tweaks to your service? Remember, every piece of feedback, good or bad, can be a stepping stone to refining your restaurant operations.

Transitioning from a Soft Opening to an Official Opening

The next step is gearing up for the grand opening. Use the insights from your soft opening to make any necessary adjustments. When you officially open your doors, you’ll be confident, prepared, and ready to deliver an exceptional dining experience to your customers.

To learn more about the ins and outs of opening a restaurant and tips on restaurant success, check out this comprehensive guide on restaurant costs. You can also explore Menubly’s blog for a range of other helpful resources and insights for the restaurant industry.

Some Common Mistakes to Avoid During a Soft Opening

When planning a soft opening, there are common pitfalls that you can avoid to ensure its success.

Not Preparing Your Staff

Your team, especially your kitchen staff, need to be prepared to handle real-world restaurant operations. Ensure they are well trained and familiar with your entire menu items, so they can provide an excellent dining experience to your guests.

Not Encouraging Honest Feedback

Your soft opening is a sneak peek into how your restaurant functions. Your guests’ feedback is valuable. Encourage them to be honest with their feedback. You can use questionnaires or face-to-face interactions to gather their insights. It’s these honest reviews that will help you fine-tune your operations before the grand opening.

Offering Full-Priced Items

Lastly, we’d recommend against offering full-priced items during a soft opening. Remember, a soft opening offers many advantages, but guests are also helping you iron out the kinks. So, a discount or complimentary item can be a nice thank you gesture.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What does a soft opening mean?

A soft opening is a trial run of a business before its official opening. This preliminary event is a great opportunity for restaurant owners to work out operational hiccups, train staff, and receive valuable feedback from guests.

2. What is an example of a soft opening?

An example of a soft opening might be a new restaurant opening its doors for a few hours each day, serving a limited menu to a small group of guests. The restaurant might offer discounts or free items to incentivize customers to provide feedback about their dining experience.

3. What is the difference between a soft opening and an opening?

The main difference between a soft opening and an official opening (often called a grand opening) lies in their purpose and scale. A soft opening is a quieter, smaller-scale event that helps the team prepare and adjust before the main event – the grand opening.

4. What is the Ideal Number of Guests for a Soft Opening?

There’s no fixed number for this, as it largely depends on the size of your restaurant and staff. However, you’re going to want to balance it so that your staff is challenged but not overwhelmed. Aim to simulate an average dining experience.

5. How Long Should a Soft Opening Last?

Again, there’s no set rule for this. It might last a few hours, a full day, or span over a few days. The main goal is to ensure all aspects of service are tested and any changes can be applied effectively. Remember, the soft opening is part of your preparation for the grand opening, so use this time wisely to refine your operations.

Using An Online Ordering System For Your Restaurant

Menubly is a comprehensive online ordering system designed specifically for food service businesses. It offers an interactive menu that customers can use to place orders for dine-in, pickup, or delivery. It also comes with a QR code menu which allows your customers to scan to access your menu. This system allows customers to get their food quickly and conveniently, reducing waiting time and improving the overall customer experience. The ability to easily serve dishes to customers, whether they’re enjoying their meal on-site or on-the-go, opens up new ways to make your restaurant more profitable and customer-friendly.

Unlike third-party delivery services like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and GrubHub; Menubly doesn’t take a commission from your sales. This allows you to retain more of your profits, which is crucial for small businesses.

Moreover, an online ordering system like Menubly can simplify operations. It can reduce the chances of order errors, speed up service, and free up your staff to focus on preparing those famous dishes that make your restaurant stand out.


In conclusion, hosting a soft opening is a great way to prepare your restaurant for its grand opening. From refining your service and staff training to perfecting your menu and decor, this trial run offers a safe space to test everything without breaking the bank. As a restaurateur, you get real-time feedback from guests that you’re able to apply, ensuring a smooth and successful official launch. Now that you have everything you need to know, it’s time to get planning and bring your vision to life. Good luck with your restaurant’s journey!