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

Apex Social Club on the 55th floor of the Palms Casino Resort. Apex Images: Clique Hospitality. Camden Image: Anthony Mair

The Palms Casino Resort recently unveiled a new, updated look with brand-new nightlife venues. What’s it like to be part of a large-scale—and highly visible—renovation and rebranding? Clique Hospitality nightlife partner Jason “JRoc” Craig provides insight into rebranding, renovating, and executing a successful grand opening.

The Palms as most knew it completed construction in September of 2001. Just two months later, the resort and casino was hosting a grand opening that counted Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson amongst the list of guests. Ghostbar, considered by some to be Las Vegas’ first boutique nightclub, received its first guests during the Palms grand opening.

Ghostbar would operate for over a decade before undergoing a renovation. In 2016, Station Casinos acquired the Palms for $312.5 million. By September of 2017, the iconic ultra-lounge/nightclub, along with restaurants N9NE Steakhouse and China House and lobby bar Social had ceased operations for good.

From the dust of closed bars and restaurants emerged Andy Masi and the Clique Hospitality team. Nightlife veterans know Masi: he’s the former CEO of Light Group, which was acquired by Hakkasan Group (Hakkasan Nightclub, OMNIA, Jewel, Wet Republic, Searsucker, Herringbone) in 2014. A year after Light Group was sold, Masi founded Clique Hospitality. The hospitality and entertainment group boasts a roster of food, beverage, nightlife and daylife experts who have molded the dining and party scenes in Las Vegas for almost 20 years.

Interior of Apex Social Club at Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas -

The Palms partnered with Clique to replace Ghostbar with Apex Social Club. The firm is also behind Camden Cocktail Lounge (pictured below), situated just steps away from the resort’s new Damien Hirst-designed center bar (complete with one of the artist's shark sculptures). And while a $620 million renovation price tag may be incomprehensible to some independent bar and nightclub operators, the lessons learned are relevant to operations of all sizes in all markets.

“Any venue opening these days in Las Vegas requires a lot of planning, strategy and execution,” says Craig. “With construction, as well as preparation and planning of Apex and Camden opening, this process took about 9 months.”

Camden Cocktail Lounge inside Palms Casino Resort -

Whether renovating, rebranding or opening the doors of your venue for the very first time, you need to pay attention to your grand (re)opening details. There are operators out there who will spend months choosing bar tops and tweaking their back bar design, yet they'll dedicate just a couple of weeks to planning their opening event. Don’t shortchange yourself, your team and your business by only giving a week or two of consideration to opening your doors to the public for the first time.

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

There’s a reason “You only get one chance to make a first impression” has attained cliché status: it’s true. Your grand opening, fairly or not, sets the tone for how guests will perceive your business, brand and employees in the moment and for the foreseeable future. You don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to host an incredible and unforgettable grand opening. What you need is plenty of time to plan so execution goes as smoothly as possible. Go as big as you can while remaining true to your brand and providing excellent service to make an amazing impression. Otherwise, you're basically throwing a party in celebration of closing your doors months down the road.

Are you currently taking real steps toward turning the vision for your business into a reality, such as applying for licenses? Start planning your grand opening at the same time as you’re filing applications. It’s simpler (and less panic attack-inducing) to change event details as your soft and grand opening dates approach than to have to come up with a complete plan in just a few weeks or days. You have enough to worry about when opening a bar, nightclub or restaurant—don't shoot yourself in the foot by putting off opening event planning.

Opening a dining or nightlife venue requires a marketing strategy. In 2018 (and beyond), that means including social media in your marketing arsenal. And social media marketing means activating social media influencers. Clique Hospitality partnered with branding agency The Influence to invite influencers and press. The agency specializes in influencer marketing.

Read this: Embrace the Power of Local Influencers

The Influence and Clique Hospitality ensured guests were invited to the Palms’ grand re-opening a month before the event was scheduled to take place. Give yourself several months to plan your opening event and make your guests aware of the date several weeks before it arrives. Don’t sabotage months of planning by giving people only a week or two to plan on attending your grand opening. Making people aware of your event weeks ahead of time gives them time to spread the word and increase your crowd size exponentially.

You may be on the fence about the importance of social media influencers, which is just another way of identifying someone as a tastemaker. To Craig, it would be a mistake to not take advantage of their reach and networks.

“It’s a huge part of the success of our grand opening, as well as part of our day-to-day strategy. Brand awareness is key. Leading into the opening we did several key out-of-market promotions and events to get the brand out there to the public and get them familiar with the opening of these venues,” he says. “Our P.R. team did a fantastic job with all of these events, garnering the right press to get the eyeballs we wanted on these events. On top of the P.R. which reaches the masses, we had tastemakers and influencers at all of these events getting the word out on social media platforms and expanding our reach that way as well.”

Searching social media on your own can help make you aware of the influencers you need to invite to your soft and grand openings. You should also have an idea of the media outlets you want to give invites: industry and local blogs, local and surrounding area media outlets, and outlets from feeder cities if you’re operating in a tourist destination.

Read thisBar on a Budget, Part 2: What Kind of Owner are You?

Your budget and other resources will dictate what you’re able to do to promote your opening event. Who you know, what they can do to help promote your business, and if they’ll discount or waive their fees can be as valuable as cash. Sit down and think of talented friends, family and staff. Think of what they can do for you and what you can for them.

Perhaps you know someone who’s talented with cameras and video editing software. Ask them if they can help you create a promo video for social media and to send to bloggers and news outlets. You’ll find one of the Palms’ “From Dust to Gold” promo videos for inspiration below.

If your budget can withstand it, signing with a P.R. agency like The Influence can be prove to be money well spent. You don’t have to copy what the Palms did for their grand opening line item by line item. While they were able to put VIP guests up for Memorial Day Weekend, you don’t have to provide lodging for your own VIPs. Offering comps, discounts, swag and whatever else you can think of (within reason and the regulations governing your area of operation) goes a long way toward making guests feel special. Is your community known for a particular snack? Team up with that snack's producer to hand them out to influencers as gifts.

Of course, having social media influencers in attendance doesn’t do you any good if they aren’t posting about your grand opening. Let them—and the rest of your guests—know how you expect your event to be promoted. The number and type of posts you expect, what platforms you want to be utilized, the dates you want your event promoted… That’s all information that should be detailed and given to your influencer and media guests.

To ensure that your business, brand and event is easily searchable, finds the right audience and possibly even trends, sit down and think of a hashtag (or hashtags) for influencers and other guests to use in their posts. Make sure to supply the hashtag (or, again, hashtags) to your guests. Be clear that they’re expected to use those hashtags. Let them know when you want them to post, particularly if you want your opening event promoted before and after it takes place, not just during. Tell your guests what social media profiles you want tagged in their posts. Your other guests will jump on those hashtags as they're shared across social media platforms.

For instance, the Palms’ grand re-opening event was dubbed “From Dust to Gold,” so guests were encouraged to tag their posts with #FromDustToGold. People who partied at Apex Social Club were provided with #ApexSocialClub and #TheViewHasChanged, while Camden Cocktail Lounge was assigned #CamdenCocktails. Since each venue has their own social media profiles, those were also provided to guests for tagging.

Your grand opening is your brand’s introduction to the world. Dedicate the amount of time, detail and resources it deserves. Give your guests enough advanced notice to plan to attend your opening event and bring more people with them. Invite influencers and give them something to share with their followers, leveraging their networks to your benefit. This is your moment—make it count.

Nightclub & Bar attended the Palms Casino Resort Memorial Day Weekend grand opening event but did not receive any compensation in exchange for this article or social media posts.