10 Impressive Restaurant Grand Opening Ideas That Will Attract a Crowd

After months of hard work and meticulous planning, your restaurant is finally ready to open its doors. Your menu is perfect, the staff is highly trained, and all systems are operational. Now, you're faced with the ever-important task of creating a buzz around your grand opening to ensure that customers begin pouring in from day one.

In order to help you brainstorm, we’ve put together ten unique grand opening ideas that are sure to attract a crowd on your big day.

1. Invite Influencers

Who doesn’t want Jack Johnson singing “Banana Pancakes” at the grand opening of their hip new breakfast spot? Thanks to the internet, influencers like Jack are a few keystrokes away. Musicians, athletes, actors, celebrities – you name it.

Even if you’re on a tighter budget, you can still make a splash with local politicians, radio station personalities, and local sports teams. If you partner with local food critics or vloggers that have large followings, you can get your message out to their audience with a single Instagram post, YouTube video, or blog post.

Once you’ve secured your influencer’s attendance, find a way to squeeze everything you can out of it. Get yourself a red carpet and invite the press to come and take photos. Put up a branded backdrop with your logo on it so people can take pictures with the influencer(s). Ask them to sign autographs for your customers. Every little thing can generate a bigger buzz.

2. Throw an Epic Party

Bottomless mimosas and hanging some streamers aren’t a bad idea. However, if you want to create a memorable grand opening, you’ve got to think outside the box. Be creative here and think about what your customers would really take time out of their day to come do or see.

If you’re an edgy restaurant with unique items all over the walls and are going after a younger crowd, then consider sweetening the pot with some live entertainment. If your parking lot is big enough, invite a small carnival to set up for the weekend. Nothing draws an impromptu crowd like flashing lights, fun rides, and the promise of great food and games.

3. Support a Worthy Cause

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Few things ignite people’s passion like supporting a cause they care about. When done tastefully, you can create customers for life with a charity fundraiser.

You can go two directions here:

Create your own charity event like a 5K walk or run to support cancer research, green planet initiatives, or a food drive to help the homeless. Let your imagination run wild and make it something you and your staff really connect with.

Partner with an already established charity that is special to your team and your customers. Chances are that if you care, someone else already has an operation you can align yourself with, and you both can reap the benefits. Create a special event with the charity, or sponsor an existing event and align the dates with your grand opening.

Just because it’s a one-time grand opening event doesn’t mean you can’t think long-term. If your event is a hit, you could make it an annual occurrence.

4. Give Away Something Big

This one seems like a no-brainer option, but plenty of businesses get it wrong. Prizes can sometimes be underwhelming – giving away an iPhone that everyone already has isn’t going to be enticing enough to draw a crowd.

Make sure any prize you're giving away is big and exciting, like a new convertible or an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy (especially if you’re an Italian restaurant). If this idea seems far-fetched or over budget, consider partnering with another local business so you can share the cost and publicity. They're likely also looking for creative ways to get in front of customers and would happily partner up.

5. Honor an Individual or Group of People

Similar to supporting a worthy cause, honoring a specific person or group of people is a quick and memorable way for opening your restaurant.

Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:

“First Responders Eat Free” – invite them to bring out their big trucks to make it a spectacle
“Veterans Eat Free” – invite a distinguished veteran and pair up this idea with a local politician who can honor them in some way

Honoring a group of people on day one can also have long-term benefits. Give them an ongoing discount or put their picture on the wall, and you’ll boost the chance that they’ll keep coming back week after week.

6. Give Away Free Food or Vouchers

Everyone’s gotta eat, so free food is always a hit. Chick-fil-A has an incredibly successful tradition of offering free food for a year to the first 100 customers on the opening day of each new restaurant.

You don't have to go quite that far with your offer, but even a month's worth of free food is sure to get people talking. You can also consider providing a “comeback perk” like a coupon good for next month, so people don’t just come for the opening but keep coming back.

7. Provide an Experience

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The right experience will get people excited to attend your grand opening. For example, advertise that you'll be trying to break a Guinness world record. It may sound intimidating, but companies do it all the time. Alternatively, you could plan a parade or another type of publicity stunt – the Tour de France started as a publicity stunt to promote a new French newspaper.

Another possibility is to host an upscale event like an art show where you invite local artists to show off their art. Or have them paint a mural on the side of your building live in front of your customers.

8. Launch on a Holiday

If there’s one thing consistent about holidays, it’s that people go to restaurants. Set your launch up for success by timing it right:

Valentine’s Day: Advertise romantic dinners with a free housemade dessert and candles to take home.
Halloween: Throw a costume party and give away prizes to the best costume.
Thanksgiving: For each meal your customers buy, provide a free meal for someone in need.
Christmas: Offer something of value like free pictures with Santa around the holidays.

9. Host an Irresistible Challenge

Food challenges are always popular, especially when there's something in it for the customer. Consider starting an ongoing challenge at your restaurant, and whoever completes it gets their meal free, a t-shirt, and their picture on the wall.

For your grand opening, be sure to make it a bit more of a spectacle that will attract a crowd. Include several contenders and offer a great prize and a dish on the menu named after the winner.

10. Create a Unique Game

Creating a fun game is a great way to get your customers engaged with your business and, if done right, can hold their interest past opening day. Let Skip’s Kitchen inspire you with their card game. Everyone orders their food, and when they go to pay, the cashier fans out a deck of cards in front of them so they can pick one.

Most cards serve as table markers so the server knows where to bring their food, but if they pick a joker, their meal is free. It's become a big draw for customers and keeps people waiting in line for their chance to win. This may not necessarily work for your restaurant, but the free meals may be worth it for the word-of-mouth marketing and the repeat clientele.

If you really want to make a lasting impression on your first day, it's important to plan it months in advance. Keep in mind that it's not all about getting people to your restaurant – you also have to ensure everyone has a great time once they're there. That means not only quality food and customer service, but excitement factor or unique experience that gets them to come back. And hopefully, bring their friends too.

What’s the most creative grand opening idea you’ve heard of or seen? Tell us in the comments below: