There are a lot of unique and somewhat confusing terms in the restaurant industry, but soft openings top the list for most diners. While retail stores often throw lavish grand openings, restaurants aim for a more reserved opening day. Soft openings are limited or unannounced opening nights that give the establishment a chance to make a few mistakes and polish up their presentation before the crowds start packing in.
Some soft openings are only held for the friends and family members of the staff. Others open up to the public but without any advertising so only hungry passersby drop in for a meal. Most restaurants end up opening without every detail worked out yet, so these practice openings give them a chance to test drive their systems and see what breaks in the process. This means they can get it right for the first big night of service.
Soft openings often begin with small numbers as well. Once the friend and family dinners are passed, some establishments only take reservations for two or three dozen diners at a time. This gives them a chance to settle gaps in the staff and rearrange the menu for better explanations of the dishes.