Restaurants took a major hit from COVID-19 in 2020, with sales dropping by 79% in mid-March. If your restaurant was forced to shut down during the worst of the pandemic, then you’re not alone. And now, many states and provinces have already begun rolling out their plans to reopen the economy, and many restaurateurs are now planning out their grand re-opening.
Here’s how to plan your restaurant’s grand opening (or re-opening) to get back to business with a bang. Stay tuned for a few special tips from Melissa Bensky, one of Toronto’s most prolific foodgrammers with her account, @tastethesix.
[Pssst, if this is your first opening, check out our blog on How to Start a Restaurant!]
1 Set goals for the event 🎯
Set a goal for your restaurant’s grand opening—whether it’s seating capacity, an order volume, or revenue for your first day back in business.
Having a specific goal will help you plan out your budget, labor needs, marketing strategy, messaging, and organization before the event.
Here are some goal types to consider (and you don’t have to have just one!):
- A seating capacity goal (such as 100% of the allowed seating capacity) or a reservation booking goal
- A revenue goal—such as a volume number or percentage compared to pre-COVID
- A follower goal on social media from gaining new interest in your restaurant
- A return visit goal for diners who return to your restaurant after the grand opening
2. Set a budget 💰
With your goal set, work backwards to determine your budget. Consider food costs, labor costs, and cost of marketing your reopening. Fit Small Business recommends spending a minimum of $6,000 for a restaurant opening, or 20% of your first year’s marketing budget.
“Frequency and repetition will help your advertisements get noticed. You want to have a big enough budget that your target customers will be exposed to your ads multiple times in a short period (two weeks) prior to the grand opening…he “newness” of the business and special offers related to the grand opening should increase the responsiveness of potential customers.”
Plan your budget to include food costs, labor costs, operating costs, marketing costs, and any extra costs such as for party favors and special decor.
3. Plan your staffing 👷♂️
When it comes to planning your schedule, you’ll want to work within your labor budget limits set above. The labor cost range can be determined by the number of guests you expect and the projected sales for the evening. You can use 7shifts’ optimal labor tool or labor budgeting tools to help schedule the correct amount and type of staff to fit your needs and budget.
Consider creating different sets of shifts for staff to keep people working in the same groups. That way, if someone tests positive for COVID-19, you know the exposure was limited with other team members.
When it comes to preparing your staff for your reopening, ensure you’ve updated their training for the latest health and safety procedures and precautions your restaurant will be observing.
- Train staff on physical distancing and how to best serve food with the least amount of contact
- Stagger workstations so employees can keep physical distancing between themselves
- Use directional arrows on the floor in kitchen settings to control flow of traffic and reduce interaction and crossover between cooking and clearing areas.
- Ensure that your staff know the common signs and symptoms of COVID-19 so FOH staff can identify any ill guests, and staff can notify management if they or another employee are unwell
Make sure you create, publish, and send the schedule to staff well in advance. Also consider sending an Announcement to your team about the grand reopening, the menu, and what they can do to prepare.
Plus, make sure you enable the Employee Health Check in 7punches so all of your staff can be screened for COVID-19 risk factors before they start their shift.
To maximize the exclusivity of the event, plan a limited-time, reduced menu to showcase new dishes in your restaurant. Additionally, by keeping the menu to a limited number of dishes, you can better plan and manage your food costs.
If you’re throwing an opening party with invitations make sure you have enough food! The absolute worst is when people are hungry and feeling the need to search and corner servers. Tapas style and appetizers are always perfect for grand openings. No one likes family style with complete strangers (especially during COVID) and it gets messy. Make smaller portions of entrees so everyone is able to enjoy.
Mel Bensky, @tastethesix
Need some ideas? Have your chefs experiment with new dish ideas beforehand to attract old and new diners to try some fresh cuisine!
Pensons Restaurant posted a behind-the-scenes look at their chefs working up some brand new dishes for their reopening next week!
5. Ensure health & safety of staff and guests 🌡️
Before you reopen, ensure you’re set up to comply with new health and safety regulations to keep everyone safe.
Here’s a few key things that Restaurants Canada and the CDC suggest to put in place before opening your restaurant:
- Post signage promoting physical distancing upon entry
- Provide hand sanitizer at various stations around the restaurant, including entryways and tables
- Display signs in multiple locations that indicate the maximum number of customers and staff a restaurant can accommodate at any one time
- Mark direction of travel, to designate entrances and exits, pick up areas and washrooms.
- Adjust floor plans to fit local seating capacity and social distancing regulations
- Demarcate floor with markers for any areas where a line up may occur (restrooms, pick up areas, etc.) and/or provide directional signage to indicate flow through the restaurant as well as outside.
- Mark certain tables and chairs unavailable for use if they cannot be moved to accommodate physical distancing
- Separate booth seating with physical barriers where possible
- Bar seating should have one seat every six feet. Alternatively, bar seating must be closed until physical distancing requirements are eased.
- Adjust washroom capacity signage to allow physical distancing.
6. Advertise! 🔈
The sure-fire way to fill your seats and hit your targets during your reopening is to ensure your diners hear about it!
- Hold a contest or giveaway on Instagram or Facebook for a free date night at your grand re-opening
- Promote the date and menu through stories, videos, and posts on your social channels
- Update your website and answering machine with details about the grand re-opening to get diners hyped
- Give sneak peeks at the new dishes being unveiled at the grand opening
- Let your audience know what to expect from the grand reopening, whether it’s free champagne, a brand new menu, or a limited-time drink list
7. Invite influencers ✉️
To make your restaurant’s grand opening a hit on the local food scene, get influencers involved! Find local food bloggers and foodgrammers in your area and give them an exclusive invite to the event. Make sure you send them information about the opening beforehand so they can help you market, too!
Food influencers don’t come free, though, they’re business people too! Don’t forget to ask about their costs for services and discuss a joint marketing or partnership plan that you’re both comfortable with.
If you’re having an influencer event for the grand opening, set up tables specifically to capture the food. This is so helpful for influencers and the photos come out so professional
Mel Bensky, @tastethesix
8. Offer free stuff 🆓
People love getting free stuff. By planning a few party favors for all your diners, you’ll make the event seem more exclusive. Set a specific seating capacity for the event so you can build the free items into your budget and leverage the scarcity of party favors for extra marketing power.
Here are a few ideas:
- Free champagne
- Free appetizers
- Coupons or gift cards
- Custom restaurant swag (hats, pens, shirts, etc.)
Whatever party favours and free perks you decide, make sure they’re accounted for in the budget.
Free drinks are always a plus and you can show off your cocktails. Party favours can include branded sauces, pastries, and small things that are on-brand for the restaurant.
Mel Bensky, @tastethesix
9. Take reservations 📖
With restaurant regulations for COVID-19 varying from state to state, it may be a good idea to use a reservation service like OpenTable to ensure you’re complying with local seating capacity regulations. Ensure that your website, social media, and online listings all detail how diners can make a reservation—and let them know that you won’t be taking any walk-ins for your grand opening.
Don’t forget to plan your invites and reservation limits to give your diners a great, exclusive experience while still complying with local seating capacity regulations.
“Don’t over-invite. It may seem like a successful event because it’s crowded, but your guests won’t enjoy themselves or have a chance to really experience everything the restaurant has to offer.” — Mel Bensky, @tastethesix
Bonus: after the event
Once the event is over, you’ll want to measure the success of your event against the goals. Check your sales and labor numbers, verify how many reserved guests made the event, and check your social media feed for any new tagged posts from guests.
Take stock of how everything went—what worked, what did not—and you’ll get a sense for what you can improve for your next big event.
Tag us on @7shifts so we can see what your grand opening looks like!
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Hey! I'm Dew, the former Brand Strategist. I cultivated 7shifts' social and content garden, and I looked for ways to grow our network of restaurateurs, local talent, and tech companies.