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Business Lesson 4 of 7: Opening Successfully and Finding Your First Customers - Japan it UP!

Business Lesson 4 of 7: Opening Successfully and Finding Your First Customers

This is a part 4 of a 7 part series about how to start your own bar, restaurant, or nightclub business in Japan.

Lesson 4 of 7: Bar, Restaurant, Nightclub – Opening Successfully and Finding Your First Customers

During Lesson 4, I’ll cover the following topics:

  • Write a Press Release
  • “Friends and Family”
  • “Soft Opening”
  • “Grand Opening”
  • Create a Website and Subscriber Newsletter
  • Research Additional Marketing Strategies

Write a Press Release

One of the best (and free!) ways to get the word out about your new restaurant is to write a press release. This is a brief, usually one-page, written introduction to your restaurant that you send to all of the local newspapers and magazines. A well-written press release reads like a newspaper article, and should include the following:

  1. Introduction paragraph that briefly tells the name of the restaurant, the type of food it will offer, its location, and the date of the Grand Opening.
  2. Two to three paragraphs describing the restaurant further. Describe the menu items you think will be most popular, the décor of the restaurant, and little bit about the owners. Try to hit on why the public will be interested in your establishment.
  3. Contact information at the bottom.

Be sure to have a native Japanese person help you prepare your press release so it is perfectly clear to the press representatives who will receive it. If possible, try to target your press release to the food section editors of the publications if there is one.

It’s also a very good idea to send a second press release about one month after your opening. This one can focus on the success of your opening and can include quotes from happy customers (be sure to get written permission first!).

Friends and Family

Before you are ready to open your restaurant to the public, it’s a very good idea to give your staff a chance to iron out problems with a practice run. The best way to do this is to hold a private dinner at your new restaurant, for close friends and family, free of charge. This gives your cooks a chance to practice menu items and your staff a rehearsal in selling the menu and providing customer service. At the end of the evening, give each guest a survey and ask them to be brutally honest in their responses. Then, use their feedback to make the appropriate changes.

Yes, this step can be costly in materials and labor, but it is invaluable in that it gives you a chance to work out the kinks before the public has a chance to experience them. And since bad news travels faster than good news in public venues, the investment is a solid one.

Soft Opening

After your “Friends and Family” event, plan to have a “Soft Opening.” This means that you open your doors for business one or two days before your advertised grand opening. You’ll get some curious walkers-by wander in, and a further chance to practice your new menu and operations.

Most restaurant experts recommend doing both a “Friends & Family” and “Soft Opening” since the more practice your can allow your staff, the better prepared they will be to hit the ground running for your Grand Opening and beyond!

Grand Opening

When you’ve ironed out all the wrinkles in your menu and service processes, you’re ready to “go live” with your Grand Opening. Pull out all the stops – make the event special. Be sure to reward your employees for a job well done. This will help them to keep the momentum going in the weeks to come.

Create a Website and Subscriber Newsletter

In this age of online marketing, consider creating a website for your restaurant. Include the URL in all advertising and on your menus. So that you can focus on the many other aspects of developing your restaurant, find or hire somebody to be responsible for maintaining the website. In your website, create some pages that offer prospective customers something useful, such as coupons, specials, and even new menu items.

In addition you using you website to advertise, consider creating a subscriber newsletter that can be obtained on an opt-in basis through your website, or through sign-up cards placed at each table or on the customer receipt. By offering a regular newsletter with useful material, you can start to reach potential customers and build a relationship with them. Advertise specials, or write articles about food, but be sure to make the bulk of the content really helpful to prospective customers. Tell people why your store is different, and why they should want to shop there.

Also, be sure that your restaurant is listed on local online directories. Many of these directories include a review feature. Ask friends and customers to review your restaurant on these free sites.

Research Additional Marketing Strategies

Take a careful look at how successful restaurants advertise. Do they rely exclusively on a website, or do they supplement their marketing strategies with print and/or other types of advertising?

Then think about where your potential customers are – places they frequent, things they read. The old adage “meet them where they are” can help you get the most out of your advertising dollars and efforts. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How is my store different from my competitors?
  • What quality merchandise do I sell?
  • What kind of image do I want to advertise?
  • What types of customers do I what to attract? What are their tastes?
  • Why do they want to buy from me?
  • The answer to these questions will help you determine how and where to advertise your store.

Here are some books worth reading about opening a bar, restaurant, or nightclub.


Unfortunately, the adage “build it and they will come” will probably not work, so you’ll need to put considerable thought and effort into attracting customers to your store. Don’t forget to ask for help from local Japanese resources.

Your efforts will be rewarded if your research is careful and your preparation is thorough.

Stay tuned for Lesson 5! (now live – Potential Problems and Solutions)


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