Restaurant Opening Party: Expert Dos and Don'ts

Opening a restaurant is no easy feat. Once all the permitting is approved, the menu is decided, and the space is set up, it's time for the opening party. This party, which sets the tone for the first few months of business and beyond, is more than just a celebration. It's an important event that shows off your hard work to customers, influencers, and the media. Two well-established restaurant public relations professionals shared their tips on the dos and don'ts of successfully throwing a restaurant-opening party.

Setting the Date and Budget

Katy Darnaby, Senior VP of The Door - An Idea House, who does public relations and event planning for some of the country's most notable chefs, suggests choosing a date that you're certain does not conflict with other events. In large cities, like New York and Chicago, there are many events going on each night. "You'll want to make sure that the date you choose doesn't prevent people from committing from the get-go," she says.

CEO and Partner of Isabelli Media Relations, Janet Isabelli, suggests that you also put a plan and budget in place for both the event and the marketing aspect of opening a restaurant, whether done in-house or by partnering with a marketing or PR firm. "The goal is to generate a smart campaign that will lead to editorial placements and consumer demand prior to your opening," says Isabelli. This will help create momentum around your restaurant, and keep the media—and customers—interested in the months to come.

Defining the Event

Darnaby and Isabelli agree that it's key to define your event ahead of time. Who do you want to attend? What do you want to showcase about your space? Do you want a full scale glitzy party or a series of intimate dinners?

"Something that caters to your investors may look very different than something that caters to the media," says Darnaby. Think about who you want to interact with at these events. Many restaurants are opting for smaller-scale, multiple event openings, says Isabelli. "This approach allows the owner/chef/management team to interact on a more personal level at each gathering, as well as retain more control over the food, drink, and hospitality for the duration of the event," she adds. Darnaby agrees that it's a good idea to use these events to make worthy connections, whether large scale or small. "Many people overlook using the opening as the time to make the right connections with the people who should be interacting with management and staff," she says.

Assign someone the responsibility of managing the guest list and make sure you haven't left out any important stakeholders. People may get offended if they receive last-minute invitations. Make it clear which guests are invited to avoid running into sticky situations at the door. You should also be sure to give yourself time to pull the list together.

Decide on any musical entertainment, photographers, or outside servers in advance of the event and be clear on their roles. Determine if special outfits or specific AV equipment are needed.

Tasks for the Big Day

The work has just begun when the big event arrives. "Treat the night of the opening like you would a restaurant pre-shift," says Darnaby, who also suggests overstaffing the event, as someone may cancel or not show up. Gather your employees together and make sure everyone knows their roles, what they should and shouldn't say about the spot, and how the restaurant management and chef want the restaurant portrayed.

On the night of your event, staff the check-in area with individuals who can identify the majority of attendees. "They'll be able to quickly flag VIPs with the agency's floor team so proper introductions can be made to the owner, chef, general manager, and other key members of your team," says Isabelli. Also, have an individual from this team follow around the photographer, making sure he or she gets proper photos throughout the night.

Social media is becoming increasingly important in spreading the word about restaurants, so make sure to use your platforms to your advantage. "Create a special hashtag for the evening, and make it known on your menu cards and on other tasteful signage on display. It will not only inspire engagement, but allow your team to easily identify posts surrounding the excitement of your opening," says Isabelli, who also suggests having a member of the on-site team posting online as well.

By following these insider tips, you'll be on your way to opening a restaurant and hosting an amazing event to celebrate. Keep in mind that the opening party will showcase the tone of your space, so be sure to find ways to really make your restaurant shine.