Bring the Wow to "Now Open”

We spent last week in Southern California soaking in the sunshine and reveling at restaurant innovation. New concepts and “coming soon” signs were plentiful from Burntzilla's creative hamburgers and hot dogs to The Butchery's indie butcher shop vibe in Crystal Cove. Opening a restaurant is hard work, and according to a recent Cornell University study, the odds are stacked against you in keeping the doors open. The number of restaurants failing in the first year is 60 percent, Yet, restaurants continue to survive and even thrive with smart strategy and storefront action. There are many steps you can take to have a golden grand opening and increase your chances for long term success.

1. Do a 180 on Your Grand Opening: Think beyond a one-day grand opening event. Your restaurant grand opening plan should cover a minimum of 180 days, giving you a roadmap 90 days pre-opening, 90 days after the doors are open. We worked with zpizza to develop Grand Opening toolkits for franchise owners so they could make quick decisions on marketing tactics; set budgets and build out calendars. Their plans included everything from ordering business cards and signage to calendaring street team outreach, friends & family events and community partnerships.

2. Build Excitement During Your Build-Out: Before your doors open, start creating anticipation around what your restaurant has to offer. Announce a BOLD offer. Give your customers an opportunity to try the food for free; access to a VIP experience; or an awesome prize that lasts beyond a single day. When a new Chick-fil-A comes to town, it’s not unusual to see long lines and customers camping out overnight before the doors even open. The reason: the first 100 customers get a gift card with free meals for a year. Not only did they create great buzz from day one, they just created 100 champions for their brand.

3. Be a Community Champion: Restaurants are more than a place to eat, they’re a community anchor. Look for ways to support local community groups, schools and your Chamber of Commerce. These community ties are often the most powerful ways to drive loyalty. Jersey Mike’s understands this, always opening its doors with a reminder to customers that giving back is a part of who they are. They often turn their openings into fundraisers for local charities, handing out coupons for a free sub if customers donate $1 to support local charities.

4. Grow the Bullseye for Your Target: Look at the many ways, audiences that can be your loyal fans. We spent an afternoon with a Chronic Tacos Franchisee. His line was out the door well past the lunch rush. When we asked what he thought drove the madness, he told us about his "boots on the street" approach. He knew his trade area cold and had catering offers that appealed to local businesses, a great donation package for local non-profit groups and different daypart offers. His efforts garnering him top grossing store in the brands system.

The restaurant industry is exciting but the competition is fierce, make sure you have a solid plan AND support.