A restaurant soft opening is basically a practice run or dress rehearsal for a new restaurant. It allows restaurant owners to gauge how well the restaurant will operate in the real world before it actually opens for the public. Restaurant owners should consider when to hold the soft opening, whom to invite and what -- if anything -- to charge.
Because ironing out the kinks is the primary purpose of a soft opening, it should be scheduled at least a week or two in advance of a restaurant's grand opening to the public. This gives the owner time to assess attendee feedback and make any necessary changes to menu, personnel, decor, kitchen setup or dining room setup. Some restaurants choose to have a series of soft-opening events.
Restaurant owners usually invite only family members and friends to soft openings. This is because friends and family will offer constructive criticism and will generally be more forgiving of any shortcomings.
The restaurant owner should demonstrate appreciation for the help of those who attend the soft opening and offer feedback. One way is to offer menu items for free or at reduced prices. This also helps attract attendees to the event.