The Fallacy of the “Soft Opening”

Posted By: Melissa Libby Restaurant Operations, Marketing + PR,

The Fallacy of the “Soft Opening”

By: Melissa Libby & Associates | @iworkinrestaurantpr 


Once upon a time long, long ago, in the world of rotary dial phones, TVs with three channels, and World Book Encyclopedias, a restaurant could have a “soft opening.” They would post a sign on the door and random passersby would stop in and try it. Having a nice experience, these people would tell a few friends who would come in and have a nice time and then tell their friends. Until one day, a few weeks later, things are buzzing along and it’s time to do the grand opening party, tell the media and invite the general public. 


Today, when a restaurateur tells me they are planning a “soft opening,” I hear: “We do not want you to distribute a well-written description of our concept with details about the cuisine, info about the chef, our location or even our hours. Please don’t tell anyone our vision and goals. And especially don’t send pretty photos of our specialties. We would rather a random passerby do the job with his iPhone, based on his one experience and the menu item he decided to try.”


The reason? “We are not ready. We want to work the kinks out first.” 


With all the construction and bureaucratic delays that occur with opening a restaurant, I can totally see that you want to open the very first day you can. I’m okay with scrapping the grand opening party. But if you’re not “ready” and there are “kinks” then either don’t open or don’t charge full price. Give the first customers 50% off and a survey and those kinks will be worked out in a couple of weeks without hurting you. Otherwise, you are open and subject to scrutiny (and criticism) just like a restaurant that’s been open for years. 


And what about the media? Food media today track opening dates like Google tracks your every move. Even if you don’t send out a press release, influencers and media will know within ten minutes of your doors opening and will either plan to come in right away or search for the info from those who have. And if it’s not good or accurate, then that’s too bad because that’s what’s getting covered.


It's time to put the “soft opening” where it belongs – in the history books.