What is a Soft Opening?

Jim B.

A soft opening refers to the practice of a business opening before its actual grand opening date to test its operations. By doing this, business owners can diagnose and correct any problems they might have with their operations without enduring the scrutiny that might accompany a grand opening. In some industries, a soft opening is required by law or industry officials before the business can proceed further. Even when not required, such an opening may be beneficial as a means of working out any kinks in the business before inviting a large segment of the public to the establishment.

Soft openings are a good way for businesses to attract customers and draw a large crowd in preparation for before the grand opening.
Soft openings are a good way for businesses to attract customers and draw a large crowd in preparation for before the grand opening.

Grand openings are a way for businesses to attract a large amount of people to a new business and immediately give it a competitive advantage in the market. Making sure that a grand opening is as effective and smooth as possible is crucial to a new business, as any mistakes will be magnified due to the increased attention. Since this is the case, many businesses choose to go through a soft opening, in which the business is officially opened up without all of the fanfare of a grand opening.

New sports stadiums may host amateur or semi-pro sports events before hosting a game played by a professional sports team.
New sports stadiums may host amateur or semi-pro sports events before hosting a game played by a professional sports team.

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The grand opening in these cases is usually scheduled after the soft opening, with the duration of time between up to the owners of the business. Soft openings may last several days or weeks, or they can even be one-day test runs to give the owners a sense of how things will work once the real thing takes place. These openings are usually unpublicized to the public at large, and attendance may even be by invitation only.

In some cases, a business might not be allowed to officially open without a test run, depending on laws or industry regulations. For example, in the gaming industry in the United States, casinos usually are required to have a soft opening so that gaming officials can witness the operations to make sure that employees are taking the proper precautions handling money and that security is tight. Some countries also require that establishments that will hold events drawing large crowds, like stadiums or arenas, have run-throughs to allay security concerns.

Smaller-scale businesses also may wish to consider a soft opening to see if they are ready for the grand opening process. By doing this, the owners of the business can observe how their staff reacts to customers, whether business equipment works properly, and other operational elements that will be severely tested with the larger crowds brought about by a grand opening. Such run-throughs may prevent the potentially disastrous effects of a poorly executed grand opening.

In the United States, casinos are typically required to have a soft opening to ensure proper practices are in place.
In the United States, casinos are typically required to have a soft opening to ensure proper practices are in place.

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Discussion Comments


I was surprised to learn that even homeless shelters have soft openings. I always thought that their operation would be pretty cut and dry, but my friend who volunteered at one said that it never hurts to be prepared.

The shelter where she worked started out just serving a meal at night. The workers wanted to get a feel for their guests and their needs.

Once they got an estimate of how many people would be wanting to stay there overnight, they purchased cots and opened to the public. This was a good way for them to prepare for the amount of people who would need their services.


My friend owns a small party supply business, and she and her husband decided to have a soft opening about a week before their grand opening event. They discovered things during this time that made them glad they had decided to open early.

For one thing, the cash registers decided to quit working about halfway through the first day. They had to get them repaired, and luckily, they had time to do this. In the meantime, they just used a calculator and stored the cash in a lock box.

Also, their air conditioning quit working on the second day. It would be two days before the repairman could come.

By the day of their grand opening, they had fixed just about everything that could have broken. They felt confident in the operation of their store and their equipment, and they didn't have any additional problems.


@disciples – If you see a business that looks like it is nearing completion on construction, you might drive up into the parking lot to take a closer look. Often, new businesses will have signs on the doors stating their planned opening date.

It's not always a total secret. After all, they want some people to show up. Since the first opening date is almost never the grand opening, they usually post it on a sign outdoors for those people who are interested enough in the business to drive up and check.

I have even seen some new businesses run a small ad in the newspaper stating the date of their soft opening. Sometimes, they put this date in small type and have the grand opening date in larger, bold type so that it is the main focus of the ad.


@summing – I don't think that it would be a waste of money. What if you have the soft opening just a couple of days before the grand opening? Then it will be like opening for good.

After all, it's not like you will be shutting down after the soft opening to prepare for the grand opening, right? Unless there are major issues that cause you to need to shut down to prepare for it, you should remain open. If there are issues, wouldn't you want to know about them beforehand?

I don't think that a soft opening is ever a bad idea. It's not a waste; it's a precaution and an investment.


How do you know if a business is having a soft opening? I have always wanted to go to something like this but have never known how to get an invite. Suggestions?


My partner and I are opening our restaurant in three months and we have been debating whether or not to have a soft opening. I think it is a great idea because it will give us a chance to get everyone trained and the whole operation running smoothly before we are open to everyone.

My partner thinks that it is a waste of time and money and that we should just get prepared and then open for good. Who do you think is right? How do you know if a soft opening is right for your business?

I have been to a couple of soft openings for restaurants and they are really great fun. You get to eat a lot of good food and drink, usually free or at discounted prices, and the whole affair has the feel of a premier without all of the pressure. Everyone is in a good mood if a little bit frazzled.

Now, you have to be willing to put up with some mistakes. The purpose of a soft opening is to work out some of the kinks so expect there to be kinks. But if you are a good sport about it, it is really nothing that will ruin the experience.

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