Nail It or Fail It: The Keys to a Successful Grand Opening

Image: EduardHarkonen / iStock / Getty Images Plus

If you’re opening a new bar, a successful grand opening sets the tone for your success or failure. Host a successful one and you’ll enter the honeymoon stage where guest counts will automatically be high just because you’re the new bar on the block and everyone is talking about you.

However, host a poor grand opening and the only thing people will talk about is everything that went wrong. With so much at stake, understanding each step of a grand opening is vital.

I spoke with my colleague Jamal Afzaly of Lounge Eighteen in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to bring you the key points you must know about grand openings.

Join the Nightclub & Bar Show Guest List

Get exclusive access to America's Largest Bar Expo

Take your business to the next level and join thousands of industry experts in Las Vegas March 30-April 1, 2020 at Nightclub & Bar Show - America's Largest Bar Expo! Celebrating 35 years, 2020 will be packed with hundreds of new events including The Bar of the Future, Keynotes, Workshops, Expo Floor Demos, city-wide training courses and much more! Join the Guest List for exclusive offers and updates.

1. Know the Different Types

A grand opening can be a multiple-day event, and there’s a different objective for each day. There’s a “soft” opening which is essentially just for family and friends, an “industry sneak peek” for other those in the hospitality industry, and then a “grand opening” that’s open to the public.

You start off with a soft opening with only your close circle because this is when you’ll make the most mistakes. People who are your friends will be honest with you in their assessments of your quality of service. They’ll also be the most understanding when things go wrong. The objective of this event is to test all your systems, ensure everything is running smoothly, and get feedback so you can improve.

The industry sneak peek is for all the owners, operators, managers and workers in the immediate area who you invite on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday night (when they’re not likely to be working themselves). The primary objective of an industry sneak peek is to spark word-of-mouth advertising. Bartenders, managers and servers at other venues will talk amongst themselves and with their guests about your venue, provided the experience you delivered to them is favorable.

The actual grand opening that you host for the public at large should be a week or two after the industry sneak peek. By the time you’re ready to open your business to the public, you should have identified a number of things that needed to be fixed based on feedback you received from the soft opening and industry sneak peek. Before the grand opening, take action on that feedback.

By following this sequence of events, you’ll be able to refine your process and ensure your grand opening will be a complete success.

2. Utilize Different Marketing Methods

There are different ways to market your soft open, industry sneak peek and grand opening. The soft open is primarily driven by word of mouth since the only guests you want are those you with whom you have personal relationships. The industry sneak peek is also driven by word of mouth but involves some street teams going out to hospitality venues in your market to personally meet the staff at each location.

Read this: Gold from Dust: How to Pull Off an Incredible Grand Opening

As you approach the public grand opening, the pace of marketing becomes much more intense since this event is the first day you’ll be concerned about sales and profitability. The grand opening is driven by anything and everything that you can do to market, which is a combination of word of mouth, publicity, street teams, digital and email marketing, and social media. The objective of each day of the grand opening will determine how you market each event.

3. Collect Feedback and Adjust

I closed for two weeks after our soft opening and industry sneak peek so my team could make the appropriate adjustments. During the soft opening, I left feedback forms on each table so I could collect any comments they had regarding our service. I also spoke personally to the guests during and after service to get as much information as I could. The information I received allowed me to adjust my service and fine-tune any infrastructure that wasn’t functioning exactly the way it needed to work.

Read this: Proper Foundations: 4 Pitfalls to Avoid When Opening a Bar

I gave all my contractors a heads up during the soft opening and industry sneak peek that I would require them to be on call in case anything went wrong. All of them obliged and were there when I needed them. My staff and I also met immediately after each event and discussed all the things we needed to improve upon. Use the feedback from your grand opening to refine your process.

4. Train Your People

Taking the time to properly train people is a big factor in determining the success of a grand opening. We spent a lot of time and money to ensure that our staff were knowledgeable about products, steps of service, and behavioral expectations.

Prior to opening we tested their product knowledge and went through dry rehearsals with each of our floor staff. This revealed to us who was going to succeed in our culture and who was not. There were a handful of trainees who didn’t make it through the process and we saved ourselves from being embarrassed in front of real customers by getting rid of them before opening to the public.

Read this: Bar on a Budget, Part 1: The Big Question

The first impression customers get from your grand opening sets the tone for successful word-of-mouth advertising and we invested a ton of energy into training so most people would be saying good things. If you want to host a successful grand opening, take the time to train your people before you open.

Kevin is an operations consultant with over a decade of experience working directly with bar, restaurant and nightclub owners on all points of the spectrum: from family-owned single bar operations to large companies with locations on an international scale. Kevin works with them all and understands the unique challenges each kind of company faces.

He is the author of a book entitled Night Club Marketing Systems – How to Get Customers for Your Bar. He is also a regular writer for Nightclub & Bar, providing information high-level operators seek to get the extra edge in their marketing, sales and operations.

He continues to write today, providing specialized information directly to nightclub, bar and restaurant owners from his workshops, newsletters and magazine articles. He is also active in the field, operating an inventory auditing practice with Sculpture Hospitality.

Suggested Articles

Jon Taffer traveled to Largo, Florida, to rescue a sports bar with feuding owners and a kitchen that produced terrible pizza.

The word “teamwork” gets thrown around but what does it mean? These are the traits you need to develop in your team to succeed.

Too many bars and nightclubs have cookie-cutter marketing. It’s time to step up the game and pack your bar with the right guests.