The path from conceptualizing a restaurant to opening the doors for business can be overwhelming. Just ask Irene and chef Jonny Becklund, co-owners of Dear Irene in Bend, Oregon.
The pair was ecstatic to find the perfect space for their restaurant in a historic downtown building on the banks of an idyllic pond. Then the work began; the Becklunds spent 1.5 years tracking down permits, modernizing the area, and crafting locally sourced seasonal menus. As Dear Irene moved closer to their opening day, these challenges converged, leading to unforeseen obstacles. Their secret to success was creating and sticking to deadlines for necessary tasks. “You have to have your concepts and creativity,” Irene Beckland says. “That’s what people come for. But organization and lists are just as critical. Staying organized helped me stay sane throughout the whole process.”
Based off of Irene’s tips, we created a 90-day checklist to help you navigate the path to your opening night.
T-minus 90 days
Order kitchen equipment: If you need specialized tools, such as multi-purpose workstation equipment or custom-designed electronics, consider ordering them earlier.
Ramp up your social media marketing efforts: Becklund initiated Dear Irene’s Instagram account approximately a year before the restaurant’s official launch. However, she started to post content on a weekly basis when the restaurant was three months away from its grand opening.
Choose all your vendors: The closer you get to your grand opening, the busier you’ll be. In addition to establishing relationships with food vendors, early adoption of restaurant technology, like point of sale (POS) systems and reservation platforms, can help organize your big night. Becklund recalls her relief at having restaurant technology and software in place months before opening. Adopting the right restaurant technology can also help with other steps in the restaurant opening process, such as onboarding and staff training.
T-minus 60 days
Finalize your opening night menu: Considering that you’ll adjust the menu based on soft launch feedback, feel free to experiment. Either way, ensure that the dishes served on the opening night are at their best. Establish a supply chain management system that factors in cost, availability of raw materials, and transportation, so you’ll have everything you need for opening night with no last-minute delays.
Order your small wares: Give yourself ample time to stock your kitchen and bar area. Ordering small wares early and testing out your service with those tools will help you understand what you’re missing and give you time to make adjustments before you open to the general public. Becklund reports one of the biggest surprises during the soft opening was a lack of small wares for a smooth service. “There were little things missing from day-to-day operations, like helpful sharing utensils. I ended up running to Home Depot multiple times.”
Assemble and equip your staff: Make an appointment with your bookkeeper for payroll and staff paperwork. Start filling staff positions and outlining training procedures, including establishing a dress code or ordering uniforms, if necessary. Sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, and ZipRecruiter are great places to find the right staff for your restaurant. Create separate job postings for each open position, outlining responsibilities and required skills. Remember to list all the benefits of working for you!
Install signage: Generate excitement about your restaurant opening by installing your restaurant’s exterior logo. Be sure to put up a flier announcing your grand opening date, instructions, or a QR code for making early-bird reservations.
T-minus 30 days
Install and test your technology: If you adopt restaurant technology early, you’ll likely have already established relationships with customer service teams. Your Tock implementation manager can help you build a business page to promote your restaurant and can even help you invite guests to your soft opening to ensure your team is entirely familiar with the platform on opening night.
Train your staff: Begin practicing service and menu tastings with your team and onboarding them with relevant POS and reservation platforms. This is also the ideal time to create your staff schedules.
Place your food orders for the soft launch: Work with your back-of-house team to ensure you have enough ingredients for potential mishaps but not so much that you’ll generate food waste. Encourage your chefs to devise multiple ways to utilize ingredients (e.g., use carrot tops to make carrot top pesto, use citrus rinds for cocktail garnishes, etc.)
T-minus 7 days
Host a soft launch for family and friends: One week before your grand opening, host a soft opening for friends, family, and industry insiders to test your service staff’s mettle and get honest feedback on the menu.
A restaurant’s soft launch is typically also the time to begin media previews. Be bold in inviting popular community influencers to the event. “The most effective marketing we did was inviting influencers to our soft opening,” Becklund says. “We got four or five [Instagram] Reels that helped escalate our following. It was absolutely helpful.”
T-minus 0 days
Grand opening: You’ve made it! Expect opening night to be hectic and be prepared to pay attention to the little details. Most importantly, take a moment to enjoy the culmination of your hard work. All the planning you’ve done up to this moment will continue to pay off as you navigate your first month of service.
Visit Tock‘s Resource Center for more on how to open a restaurant.