Restaurant Soft Opening: How to Do It via Text Marketing
Published: Jul 24, 2023
After months of hard work and preparation, it’s time for your restaurant's soft opening. You’ve set up your location, hired and trained your staff, and perfected your menu items. Now you can invite your first select guests for a trial run before you officially open your doors.
A soft opening, or soft launch, gives you a chance to iron out all the details and make tweaks in a low-pressure environment. The idea is to build momentum and attract customers while making adjustments and improvements based on feedback from this initial period.
Preparing to host a soft opening usually isn’t a buzz-filled affair; you can save that for your grand opening day. But it doesn’t have to be very low-key and quiet, either. You can still entertain your guests and provide them with a full experience, just in a more relaxed setting where the stakes are lower, and mistakes are expected.
However big or small you decide to go, this guide will show you how to use text message marketing for restaurants to plan a soft opening—before you open your restaurant to the world.
What’s a Soft Opening?
So what is a restaurant soft opening? A soft opening is when you start operating your restaurant for a limited number of people, before officially opening your doors to the public. Think of it as a practice period made up of invite-only days or a series of events designed to test your operations and create some marketing buzz before the official launch.
You may operate on a limited basis during this period, perhaps only a few hours a day or with a limited menu. And you may not have your full staff on hand yet. A soft opening typically lasts from a few days to a few weeks, depending on how long you need to incorporate all the feedback and fix any last-minute hitches.
Advantages of a Soft Opening
A grand opening with all its fanfare and expectations is a lot of pressure. And things will go wrong in more ways than you may have expected. A soft opening is like a rehearsal where you practice with your performers (staff) and get an initial audience reaction. It’s the perfect way to prepare and anticipate problems before they happen during the real thing.
That said, a soft opening is real. And you should take it seriously. To have a successful soft opening, think of it as a day with your closest customers and treat it as the special occasion it is.
Chance for Improvement
Hosting a soft opening may give you a chance to see which areas of your operation are lacking, what’s not working, and how to streamline your processes before the big crowds start coming in. You may have imagined everything down to the smallest detail, but you won’t truly know how everything works in reality until people are inside and eating.
This is a period where you can make mistakes and learn from them without harsh reviews or sullying your reputation. A soft opening gives your staff a chance to work together in a real environment and identify shortcomings before opening to the public.
SMS Marketing Pricing
We use a pay-as-you-go pricing model, meaning we charge per sent message. No monthly or sign-up fees. SMS marketing costs vary depending on your destination.
Spread the Word
A soft opening is also a great marketing opportunity for your new restaurant. Use it to generate buzz and spread word of mouth within your community and build anticipation for the grand opening. People will be sharing their impressions and photos with their own networks and raising awareness for you.
By inviting the right people and hosting a great night, your soft opening will attract more attention to your restaurant than an immediate grand opening. You can use SMS marketing in the days and weeks following to keep your restaurant top of mind for new and returning customers.
Send a Soft Opening Restaurant Invitation via Text
While email and direct mail have been the traditional channels for invites, sending a soft opening restaurant invitation via text is quite effective to reach your audience. Text messages are more personable, and unlike many emails, they actually get viewed. Text messaging allows for two-way communication, so invitees can directly reply with any questions or to RSVP.
With mass texting, you can send out multiple invites and easily personalize them to each recipient. Your invite can be viewed at any time and any place, and the recipient will get the whole experience right on their phone.
To make sure that your guests haven’t missed the announcement, you can set up an SMS alerts service to automatically reach out to your invitees for follow-up. And before your big day, you can use an SMS reminder service to notify your guest list of the upcoming soft opening event so they don’t miss it.
What to Include in Your Restaurant Soft Opening Invitation
Texts are short and to the point, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t include visuals or links. With MMS marketing, you can design an invitation or include a photo of your restaurant. SMS platforms have a variety of features to assist you with bulk texting and effective customer outreach.
Include the essential information of who, what, where, and when. You can create a simple landing page online that will list this information and include a link in your text message. Remember, this is a personal invitation, don’t make it a marketing promotion. Send a personalized text with the details included and attach a more general invitation.
Even though you may have limited seating, allow your guests to bring a +1 if you can and mention it in your invite. This will make them have a more enjoyable and memorable time, courtesy of you and your restaurant.
If you wish, include a link or an image of your full menu. You can then text your guests asking about their preferred meal or inquire about any allergies or dietary restrictions for an even more personalized experience.
It’s a good idea to create some unique dishes apart from your regular menu or some signature drinks to mark the special occasion. And if you are going to have a special pricing strategy or comp some of the meals for certain guests, mention that too.
It's important to give your guests an easy way to contact you with feedback after your restaurant’s soft opening, and SMS is a fantastic communication channel for this. Collect your guests’ phone numbers during the invite-only event, but make sure that they explicitly agree to receiving text communications from you. And even if you're not getting organic feedback, you'll have a user base to approach, get your questions answered, or try out SMS marketing ideas later on.
Whom to Invite to Your Restaurant’s Soft Opening
Soft openings for restaurants are usually invite-only, so it’s important to think about who you want to be there. You might be tempted to invite all your friends and family, and it’s certainly important to have a night dedicated to those closest to you sharing your big occasion.
Make sure that you also invite people from the food and dining industry who can help you with informed and professional feedback. If this is your first foray into the restaurant business, they can help you create a network and generate awareness. This entails fellow business owners, food bloggers, critics, local influencers, and others from the wider community.
1. Friends and Family
Your friends and family are the most likely to leave praise and positive reviews, and they are your strongest supporters. Give them an early first-hand experience and ask them for honest direct feedback.
2. Business Owners
Hotels and BnB owners who can recommend your restaurant to their guests can be great allies to have. Other businesses in your area can also be useful contacts and potential customers, especially if you offer special deals for large groups or events.
Reach out to food critics from your local newspapers, emphasizing that this is a soft opening and that you would value their constructive feedback. They may be more forgiving during this initial period than once you are fully operational.
Local influencers and bloggers can be helpful advocates for your restaurant and help spread the word. Inviting them during this initial phase rather than on a grand opening night will allow you to show them more personalized attention and build early rapport.
You may perceive other restaurant owners as your competition, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to be friendly with them. Restaurant associations and other industry groups often help each other out and have stronger collective power when it comes to lobbying local regulators.
Soft Openings for Restaurants: Do it Right
The question of how to do a soft opening for restaurants depends on the areas of the business you most wish to test and improve. A good soft opening is one that you learn from, not necessarily one that goes perfectly. So take it all in stride and make sure that it not only goes right but that it serves its purpose.
Pay attention to how people are behaving and interacting. Are the tables too close to each other? Are they too far apart? Do things get in the way of the waiters?
Think of the atmosphere you want to create, but also from the point of view of the customer. You may have worked hard to create a unique atmosphere, but is it comfortable for the guest? And as a restaurant, you have to think—is it comfortable for eating?
You can have the best decor, the softest seats, and the perfect playlist, but the food is what matters the most. Does your menu reflect the type of restaurant you want to be?
Don’t be afraid to change things up if you sense that some things on the menu don’t fit or aren’t as highly praised as you thought. That’s what a soft opening is for.
Once you show your restaurant to the general public, you may realize that some of your branding and creative quirks need reevaluation. Your visuals and branding are a huge part of your restaurant’s identity, but don’t get overly attached to ideas. It may turn out that the menu design you loved is actually hard to read or navigate, some of the decor is off-putting, or the staff uniforms are hard to work in.
You can prepare your staff as much as you want, but you won’t see how well they work together until your first busy night. Use your soft opening as a test run to ensure that everyone understands their role and provides the same level of professional service. This is the time to improve your service and create a smooth process from start to finish for waiters and kitchen staff.
As the unseen powerhouse of a restaurant, the kitchen is where many problems can arise that affect your customer service. Make sure that your food prep times are realistic, and that you have all the equipment you need. This is your chance to take a look at the overall running of your restaurant, identify what needs changing, what requires your closer attention, and what’s working right.
Whatever happens, remember that unhappy customers are an inescapable part of the food service business. Your soft opening is the perfect platform to take a proactive approach and get feedback from all your customers to ensure they are satisfied by the end of their meal.
Dexatel is a leading business text messaging provider with complete messaging solutions for the food and beverage industry. Send reservation reminders, order delivery notifications, and weekly specials through an easy-to-use SMS platform that will serve you long after your restaurant is officially open.