Monthly Archives: August 2021

How to Open a Restaurant: Start Slowly With a Soft Opening

Given the dismal failure rates for new restaurants (some reports put it as high as 90%), it’s heartening to watch a local restaurateur succeed with a new restaurant. But when you open a restaurant, can you ever be too successful?

Being “too successful” may sound like a nice problem to have; after all, how can you ever have too much success? But a hot new restaurant can, in fact, overestimate its capabilities and cause its own demise.

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A few months ago, a brewpub restaurant opened near a friend’s house in California. It filled a continually unsuccessful restaurant space located in a residential mall. Locals in this densely populated area spoke of it as a doomed location since multiple restaurants had failed. Yet, the local population was hungry for a good restaurant where “everybody would know their name.”

These Californians may have finally gotten a restaurant that will survive. Why? Because the owners wisely shunned some initial revenue by carefully piloting their new endeavor toward long-term success.

This new venture features multiple outdoor fire pits built into the tables, family-friendly outdoor areas, and a dog-friendly patio perfect for the local family-centric neighborhood. The bar is efficiently designed with rustic wood and metal seating on all sides. Roll-up doors bring the outdoor breeze into a covered room where food service is concentrated. Multiple TVs for sports, myriad craft beer on tap, a full bar, and a sleek menu of food options round out the experience.

Go soft for openers
So far, the response has been overwhelming. So much so that wait times can be two hours before enjoying a simple meal and a beer by a fire on a late spring evening. But here’s the thing: It’s still a soft opening at this place. It is slammed most evenings, but it has limited hours and a limited menu while a portion of the patio still has construction materials on stacked wooden pallets waiting for its expansion.

This restaurant’s owners have created a demand partly by being so limited in their initial offerings. They knew that being too successful at first would develop insurmountable problems later. With the rush of business that a long-anticipated restaurant gets, imagine how detrimental full hours and menus would have been to service and food quality. Instead of a potentially disastrous grand opening without a practice run, the owners have carefully crafted a manageable operation that can expand appropriately as the initial excitement wanes.

Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential chronicles dozens of failed restaurant experiences that come from the hubris of owners who think that a little initial success confirms their expertise and perfect formula. Time after time, the owners would quickly open another restaurant and find themselves unable to provide the dining experience that keeps customers coming back again and again.