What is Soft Opening: Ideas For Your New Business

Revel Blog | Revel Systems | October 20, 2021 |


If you’ve been working hard on a business that is almost ready to launch, you may be wondering whether you should do a soft opening or a grand opening. Soft openings are a great option for restaurants and retail businesses that want to test the waters with friends and family before opening their doors to the public (which is what we mean when we say grand opening). If you’re undecided on how to debut your opening to the world, let us tell you our favorite soft opening ideas and what effects a soft opening can have on your business.

Soft Opening Explained

So, what does “soft opening” mean? This form of business launch allows only a select group of people (usually close friends and family) to attend the soft opening, meaning they get to test out the services of your business and make any suggestions for necessary improvements before you open your doors to the general public. The soft opening is essentially a beta test that occurs a few weeks or months before the business officially opens.

There are several pros and cons to hosting a soft opening or soft launch for your business. Here are some of the top advantages of a soft opening:

  • You can receive feedback. One of the top benefits of hosting a soft opening is that you can receive valuable feedback from the friends, family, and customers you invite. And you likely invited them because you trust and value their judgement. We recommend collecting comments directly about the overall atmosphere, as well as the products and services. Pro-tip: Provide elegant feedback slips and ask them to write down their thoughts so you can refer to them later — it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of showing off your business to those you love. 
  • You can iron out the logistics of your business location. Another excellent advantage of hosting a soft opening is it allows you to iron out any kinks ahead of the official grand opening. If your business is a new restaurant, you can evaluate the kitchen equipment, the flow of the restaurant space, the point of sale (POS) platform, and the seating area decor. If you’re opening a boutique, you can rearrange the layout, update your prices based on feedback, or up your inventory of particularly popular products. 
  • You can prepare your business staff and employees. You can also use the soft opening as an opportunity to prepare your employees and create a sense of consistency across your entire team. You can train your team ahead of the soft opening and use it as an opportunity to see how they work in action. Observe them during the soft opening and be sure to privately ask your guests for feedback. What did they do well? Was there anything they could have done differently? If they have any issues at the soft opening, you have plenty of time to implement further training before the grand opening.
  • You can build the anticipation of your business opening. You can also use the soft opening as a chance to build the anticipation for your official launch. Your guests, friends, and family can act as word-of-mouth marketing for your business. Encourage your guests to spread the word about your new business and discuss the experience with their own friends and family. Pro-tip: Encourage them to share on social media as well. Nothing spreads the word faster online than reposts or retweets! 
  • You can make any adjustments if needed. The soft opening is a great opportunity to get feedback and take note of any things that could use improvement before the grand opening. Once you receive feedback from your guests, take some time to review and implement the feedback and change anything that your guests feel could enhance the customer experience.

As you can see, there are lots of benefits! However, we should also cover the disadvantages to hosting a soft opening. Here are some of the cons you may want to consider:

  • A soft opening creates a sense of urgency to open the business. A soft launch can create a sense of urgency for your business to open, so we recommend scheduling the official grand opening date shortly after your soft opening. If the grand opening is too long after, your guests might lose interest and the hype might die down.
  • You might expose your ideas to competitors. Another disadvantage of hosting a soft opening is that it exposes your business ideas to competitors before your business officially opens. This also ties into the date of your grand opening because if you wait too long after your soft launch, your competitors might have an opportunity to put your business ideas into effect before your business opens — stealing your thunder.
  • You might receive low-quality feedback. A big con of a soft opening is that you might not get the highest quality feedback from your family and friends. Your family and friends most likely won’t want to hurt your feelings by criticizing your business. After all, no one knows how hard you worked more than those closest to you. Be sure to encourage your guests to be as honest and open as possible with their feedback so that you can better understand any changes you need to implement. Emphasize to them that being honest is better than preserving your feelings. Better yet, we recommend extending soft opening invitations to extra guests that are not friends and family, who are more likely to give you constructive criticism.

What is a Soft Opening for a Restaurant?

A restaurant soft opening is a trial run of your operations team. You will typically only invite a select few to your soft launch to test out different elements of your restaurant, including the logistics, the service, and the menu in order to get valuable feedback. While restaurant soft openings certainly aren’t necessary, there are some amazing advantages to hosting soft launches, including:

  • Building buzz for your restaurant. Hosting a soft opening is an excellent way to generate buzz for your restaurant. If you invite 25 friends and family and even half of your guests gush to their friends about it, then eventually you’ll have quite a large group of customers lining up at your doors to experience it for themselves. Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the top benefits of a restaurant soft opening.
  • Preparing your staff. This is also a great chance to prepare your restaurant employees by allowing them to test out their kitchen and service skills. This in turn also helps you, because a trial run allows your team to give you feedback on what you need to improve or how you can help them succeed after the grand opening. For example, do your restaurant servers need to study the menus more? Is your kitchen running as efficiently as possible? It’s better to work out the kinks now before you open your doors to the public.
  • Refining the logistics. Hosting a soft opening also gives you plenty of opportunity to refine the logistics of your restaurant space. For example, you can determine whether your current layout accommodates a full house or if your kitchen will require more storage space. You can then tweak the logistics as needed.
  • Getting early feedback. Hosting a soft launch is a great way to gain feedback from your customers and guests, as well as your employees. You can give your guests surveys, asking them what they think about the service, the menu, and the restaurant concept in general. If you need to change or improve on anything, you should have plenty of time before the grand opening to make changes to enhance your restaurant experience.
  • Boosting your revenue. Restaurant soft openings are a wonderful marketing opportunity. Any guests and consumers who liked what they saw (and tasted!) at the soft opening will certainly come back to your restaurant again, and you’ll get new consumers through their recommendations to their communities (that highly sought after word-of-mouth marketing we mentioned). Repeat customers and word-of-mouth marketing will give you more profit and revenue and boost the bottom line for your restaurant from the start.

Restaurant Soft Opening Etiquette

We recommend sending out a soft opening invitation to encourage people to come out and test your restaurant. You can either send an upscale invitation in the mail or you can email the soft opening invitation to your guests if your restaurant has a more casual style. 

We recommend selecting a flashy design to capture the attention of your potential guests. Naturally, you should also include information about the event, including the date, time, and address, as well as the dress code and pricing if applicable. Pro-tip: Ask your invitees to RSVP so you know how many guests to expect. 

In addition to sending out invitations for your restaurant soft opening, we recommend carefully considering your guest list, as the people you decide to invite can have a huge impact on how your restaurant performs moving forward. We recommend considering inviting friends and family, local business owners, community leaders, and influencers when creating your soft opening guest list.

Soft Opening Ideas for Menus

Here are some tips for creating a soft opening menu for your restaurant:

  • Full menu. Providing a full menu for your soft opening might be the best way to go, especially if it's fairly close to the date of your grand opening. That way, you can receive feedback on your entire menu.
  • Spotlight signature dishes. You could try only serving signature dishes during your soft opening to give your customers something to talk about and give them a reason to come back following the grand opening to try more dishes from your menu.
  • Target a time span. The typical time frame for a soft opening ranges from one night to two weeks. If you’re only opening your restaurant for one night, you might want to try serving your entire menu. But if you’re soft opening for three days, for example, you might choose to host a dinner meal one night, a lunch meal another day, and a cocktail hour the third day. 
  • Choose a pricing strategy. Many restaurants choose to offer either free food or a discounted menu during their soft opening. If you do decide to charge full price, then we recommend throwing in some free items like a free appetizer to thank your guests for their feedback.

What is a Soft Opening for a Business?

Whether you’re opening a restaurant, a boutique or any other business, a soft launch can be a truly helpful tactic. A soft opening for any business usually happens a few weeks or months before the grand opening. It’s a great way to test out the business, get valuable feedback on the products and ambiance, and make any changes if needed. You can also benefit from great word-of-mouth marketing by offering your soft opening guests an excellent experience.

Whether you opt for a soft or grand opening, a reliable POS platform is crucial. Managing your transactions is never more important than during the birth of a business. If you’re opening a new business and in need of POS assistance, look no further than Revel Systems®. Our digital transaction technology makes your life easier and lets you focus on the opening of your new venture. Contact us today to learn more! 

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