A soft opening is critical in getting any business up and running. Learn the basics of a successful soft opening.

You put hard work, commitment, and not to mention, a lot of money, into opening your new business. You’ve worked with your partners, the city, contractors, landlord, and everyone who has had a part in making your business possible, and you’re finally ready to open your doors to the public. With over 120 locations and more than 3,400 self-serve taps installed, iPourIt has seen what it takes to successfully open a self-serve beer wall. A soft opening is critical in getting any business up and running.

What is a soft opening?

Think of a soft opening as a test run. You’re not showcasing a finished product, but you are offering a little sneak peek. A soft opening builds anticipation, gives you essential feedback, prepares your staff, and more importantly, allows you to iron out all the kinks and get the logistics in order before opening to the public.

Usually, a soft opening is done without any advertising or marketing. It can differ from one restaurant or bar to the other, and there are a few factors to consider. Who will you invite? What will you serve? What is the time span? Fortunately, iPourIt has gained some insight on the best practices of a soft opening from our partners and operators.

Who Do We Invite to a Soft Opening?

When you’re ready to open your doors, you might be tempted to open them to the public right away. However, we urge you to have at least one soft opening because your first-time customers can have a strong impact on your success moving forward.

iPourIt recommends, first, inviting friends and family to the soft opening. Friends and family are much more forgiving if there’s a hiccup. You’re looking for constructive criticism and insight while also getting a feel on how your business will run on a regular basis. This is your chance to assess your strengths and weaknesses, to make any final tweaks, and to build anticipation with social media and word of mouth before your grand opening.

After inviting family and friends, consider inviting local merchants to establish a neighborhood presence and to gain support from the community. To further increase buzz in your area, invite relevant influencers. iPourIt offers an exclusive list of influencers to our operators. The influencer list includes bloggers, editors, publishers, columnists, reporters and more, in the food and beverage, entertainment, and local news beats. This is a service offered only by iPourIt and can be a solid contributor in getting the right people into your location.

When it comes to invitations, send out email invites for a casual feel or physical invites for a more upscale feel. It depends on your business. Whatever you decide to do, make sure to set clear expectations with the invitations and include the date, time, address, pricing, RSVP method and date, and possible features such as live music and entertainment.

Should We Offer the Full Menu?

Deciding what to serve your guests is ultimately up to you. However, it may benefit you to serve a limited menu with signature dishes to give guests something to talk about and a reason to return.

The menu offerings ultimately depend on your pricing strategy. There are a few ways to go about it. Some bars and restaurants offer completely free food, a discounted menu, or a full-priced menu with limited items. If you decide to charge your guests full price, consider offering some freebies. For instance, you could offer an appetizer sampler platter, a drink flight special, or give the first 16oz poured free of charge. Make sure to fit your pricing strategy into your budget so it won’t hurt your bottom line.

What is The Time Span of a Soft Opening?

The general time frame of soft openings can range from a couple days to two weeks depending on how many events you want to hold. We suggest having at least two soft opening events. Remember, you are giving your staff practice and making sure all the operations are in order, so this may take more than one night.

Decide whether or not you want to have your guests arrive at the same time or staggered times. Staggering guests can provide a realistic flow of service. We suggest inviting around 100 people. Keep in mind that you may have people walk by and want to walk-in. If you decided to accept walk-ins, make sure to plan on the extra number of guests. Finally, it’s smart to limit the hours you’re operating during your soft opening. What works best for your staff and guests?

What Do We Do Next?

The last step of having a soft opening is making sure you collect feedback! Make sure to take note of guests’ comments. You can even provide a feedback form. This is where you will gain the most insight into your business. Make smart changes based on this feedback, but don’t completely change your business model or your menu.

Finally, make sure you advertise the grand opening as much as possible. There should be some buzz of your self-serve beer wall from the soft opening and media by now. Take what you have learned, make appropriate tweaks, and open your doors. You’re ready for business!

Examples of Successful Soft Openings

  • First Draft Kitchen + Taproom – Minneapolis, MN
    • Opened July 13, 2018
    • 13 days, with walk-ins accepted before grand opening
    • Over 78,000 ounces poured 
  • Blvd41 – El Dorado Hills, CA
    • Opened August 2018
    • Two, 5-day soft openings with limited hours
    • Over 17,000 ounces poured 
  • Pour Bros. Craft Taproom – Champaign, IL
    • Opened September 2018
    • 2-day soft opening with limited hours
    • Over 23,000 ounces poured

If you want to know more about iPourIt or how to successfully open a self-serve bar please feel free to contact us!