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
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
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 organize give away prizes.
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.
11. Provide Live Entertainment
Influencers are great, but they can also be expensive. Sometimes a KISS tribute band or an up and coming local artist will get people just as jazzed up about your grand opening. Some string lights over the patio and the right blend of music, food, and drinks can create the perfect atmosphere for your first impression.
12. Ignite the Right Atmosphere
Like moths to a light, people are drawn to fire. Sometimes torches around the patio, a lit fireplace, or some personal fire pits outside to eat or drink around can draw a crowd. If outdoor seating and entertaining aren’t possible, consider putting adding some restaurant decorations such as candles at all the tables to replicate a similar vibe of warmth and coziness.
13. Leak the “Secret Menu”
People adore exclusivity, and nothing makes people feel more special than ordering off-menu. Come up with a handful of dishes or dish variations that you can “let slip” to some select food bloggers, charity organization members, or local politicians. They then get the pleasure of spreading more value to their followers by sharing them.
14. Offer Meals on the House
Nothing draws a crowd like free food. Consider offering a free meal or side to everyone on your big night. It’s an expensive tactic, but there’s no faster way to get people hooked on your restaurant’s menu than giving them a free sampling of the best you have to offer. To lower the cost, make the free meal outside of peak hours like 8-10 PM, and you’ll likely offset your meal losses with drink purchases.
15. Order Up Some Nostalgia
Combine some of the ideas above to pay tribute to a glorious decade. If you do find a local KISS cover band, you could make your grand opening an 80’s celebration and offer free food to anyone born in the 1980s or anyone wearing 80’s signature clothing.
4 Restaurant Opening Best Practices
Restaurant grand opening events are essential to generating some much-needed early buzz about your establishment. Beyond the big ideas above, there are a few best practices to keep in mind to stack the deck in your favor on opening day.
1. Throw up a Banner to Assure People You’re Officially Open
People drove by your restaurant for months while it was under construction, so it’s important to make it clear to anyone in the area that you’re open and ready for business.
2. Invite Anyone & Everyone
A grand opening event isn’t just a public spectacle, it’s a personal one. Invite your family and your extended family. Invite your staff to do the same. Have everyone personally invite their neighbors, too. While you’re at it, send an invite to all your vendors that helped build your restaurant and supply it – the more, the merrier.
3. Go All Out on Social Media
Make an account on all the relevant networks and start building a following. Run some local ads to generate buzz about the opening and consider some smaller giveaways like “guaranteed table on opening day” or “we’ll name a drink after our raffle winner.”
4. Ask People to Endorse You
You’re going to spend a lot of time, effort, and money on opening day, so try to squeeze every bit out of it that you can. Encourage people to leave reviews of the food and their overall experience. Offer up some more of those “comeback perks” like coupons or vouchers in exchange for reviews to encourage people to not only leave glowing reviews but also to come back and dine with you again.
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. Need help scheduling employee shifts for your restaurant? Sign up to ZoomShift today.