How to Have a Great Food Cart Grand Opening
Part of the For Food Cart Owners Series of Articles.
If you are opening a Food Cart, I highly encourage you to have a Grand Opening for your Food Cart.
Why Have a Grand Opening?
A Grand Opening is a great way to build buzz for your Food Cart and scheduling an event like this gives people who have not visited your food cart a reason to finally stop by and check it out.
Having a Grand Opening also gives your fans an event to be part of.
A fan is someone who LOVES your Food Cart and the cuisine that you are serving. They know your story and love telling others about your Food Cart. A fan follows you on Facebook and Twitter ( Note – If you are not on both Facebook and Twitter you are making a huge costly mistake). A fan will bike or drive out to your Food Cart, even if it is not in their neighborhood.
When you have a Grand Opening, if you have it at the right time (i.e. not too soon), and if you promote your Grand Opening properly (i.e. Use Facebook and Twitter) , your fans will tell their friends about it and they will try to get their friends to come with them to your grand opening.
You can tell when you have a real live fan at the window.
Please Note -Usually a fan is someone you do not meet until your Food Cart is actually open for business.
When Should You Have Your Food Cart Grand Opening?
I recommend that you get your cart open for business and then have a Grand Opening celebration about 8-12 weeks after your Day One i.e. Your Day One is the first day that you are open for business.
Yep – you read that right. I recommend that you have a Grand Opening about 8-12 week from when you open.
Whatever you do, do NOT have your Grand Opening on the same day that you first open for business. The first day that you open for business is the worst day to have your Grand Opening. If you have questions about this, check out the For Food Cart Owners article titled The Worst Day To Have Your Food Cart Grand Opening
Prior to Your First Day in Business
Prior to your first day in business, use social media to build buzz for your Food Cart.
On Twitter Use Hashtags like #BrandNewCart and #ComingSoon.
Post items on Facebook and Twitter about what kind of cuisine will you have.
If you are going to be featuring Bulgarian cuisine, hashtag words on Twitter like #BulgarianCuisine #ShopskaSalad #Kyufte #Meatballs and #Lutenica etc.
If you are to be a Food Cart selling Chicago Beef Sandwiches, use hashtags like #Sandwiches #Chicago #Beef and #ChicagoBeef etc.
Use social media to talk about the progress you are making with getting your Food Cart built and approved. People like to feel a part of your journey, and they like hearing about your story and progress.
The Pulehu Pizza Food Cart did a great job doing this before they opened for business. Check out their tweets from March and April 2013 – www.twitter.com/PULEHUPIZZA
Use the time prior to your Food Cart opening to build your Facebook likes and Twitter followers. To succeed as a Food Cart you need to cook the food and you need to sell the food.
Once you know when your Day One will be, invite a few people. Invite me! I am a Food Cart Fan, and I love getting to see Food Carts go from concept to Day One to Grand Opening to a One Year Anniversary celebration and beyond.
I am not always able to attend all of the Food Cart events that I am invited to, and sometimes I am not given enough notice, however, if you invite me to your Food Cart’s Day One, I will do all I can to make it. My email address is: sshomler@PortlandFoodCartAdventures.com
First Get Your Food Cart Up and Running
Once you open your Food Cart, it will likely take you about one – two weeks to get into a rhythm that works for you.
After a week or two of being open for business, you will have a better handle on things like managing your inventory (how much do you really need?), you will learn what items are actually selling from your menu, you will discover when you have time in the day to use to social media (i.e. Twitter and Facebook) to sell your food and promote your brand. etc. etc.
It is one thing to have a well thought out plan laid out before you open. It is quite another to take a second look at that plan after having a month of business under your belt.
Once your Food Cart is open, start telling people that you are in your Soft Opening phase and that you working out the kinks that come with opening a new business and that you will be having a Grand Opening in the near future. Check out this short article about Soft Openings - www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-soft-opening
Grand Opening Time Line
Day One – I call a Food Cart’s first day of business Day One. Get your Food Cart open!
First one to four weeks that you are open for business - Get yourself established. Get to know your regular clients, figure out which ones are Fans. Use social media to tell people that you are now open and that they can stop by and check you out!
Keep building your Facebook likes and Twitter followers. To succeed as a Food Cart you need to cook the food and you need to sell the food.
After about four weeks of being open for business – Once you have a month or so under your belt, schedule your grand opening.
Your Grand Opening can be anywhere from 8 -12 weeks from your Day One. You do not have to be in a hurry to have this date. In fact, if you opened a Food Cart in December, I would advise you not to have your Grand Opening until April or May when the weather improves.
Promote Your Grand Opening
Once you have scheduled your Grand Opening, start promoting it!
Invite People via Social Media
Use social media and start telling people that you you are having a Grand Opening and start telling them when it will be.
Invite People in Person
to have a great Grand Opening, you also need to start inviting the clients and fans who stop by your Food Cart.
If you are operating on a limited budget, have someone (yourself, a friend etc) print up a 8.5 X 11 piece of paper that has six or eight equal size text boxes on it and in each box have words like “You are invited to our Grand Opening” printed on it, along with the date and time of your Grand Opening Party. Go to a place like the Fed Ex Office store and make 50 or so copies. Take your copies over to the cutting board and start cutting. Now you have 300 invitations that you can hand out.
Make sure to keep your invitations in a large Ziploc bag, or in a plastic container to keep them from getting wet and/or ruined while they hang out in your Food Cart.
Please note – If your budget allows it, you can have your invitations professionally printed like my friend Todd Edwards with the Ole Latte Coffee Food Cart did for the Grand Opening of his Food Cart. (See the picture at the top of this article to see what he had printed up) Todd use Buel’s Impressions Printing for all of his Food Cart printing and signage needs.
There are a number of Portland Food Carts that have menus and signage made by Buel’s and I highly recommend them. If you contact them, ask for Summer. Summer knows what Food Carts need. If you you do contact them, tell them that Steven sent you!
Hand Out Those Invitations Strategically
During your Grand Opening promotion phase, when you have a client at your window, tell them that you are having a Grand Opening coming up soon. If they show interest in your Grand Opening, ask them if they would like to be invited i.e. – say these magic words, “Would you like an invitation to our Grand Opening?”
If they say “yes,” hand them them one of the 300 invitation you had printed up. Then ask them to bring some friends with them when they come. Tell that it is going to be a really fun event.
To succeed as a Food Cart, you need to cook the food and you need to sell the food. Being strategic with your grand opening invitations is part of what it means to sell the food.
Asking the question – “Would you like an invitation to our Grand Opening?” is very important. Read Seth Godin‘s amazing book Permission Marketing for more info.
Have both a Four Hour Party and a Weekend Long Celebration
Here is what I suggest. This plan allows you to maximize your Grand Opening, and it gives you fun stuff to talk about on social media.
The Party – You Can Keep it Simple and Still be Effective
Schedule a Grand Opening Party to happen on a Saturday. Say from Noon -4:00 PM or from 4 PM-8 PM.
During that party, put up some ballons. Ballons are inexpensive, fun and they look cool!
Run a food special during that time. Perhaps discount something off of your regular menu as a “thank you” to your fans.
Do your best to get your family and close friends to show up during that specific time frame. It looks impressive to have a crowd of people hanging out around your Food Cart, and it contributes to a festive atmosphere. Make sure to tell people “thank you” for coming to your Grand Opening. Your fans will appreciate being thanked.
This four-hour block of time is a party partially just because you say it is. Putting up some balloons will also help it feel like a party. If you are on a very limited budget, that may be all that you really afford to do. Don’t worry about it. I have been to plenty of Food Cart Grand Openings that have had a simple Grand Opening Party, and it has always been fun! If you can afford to do more, see the Deluxe Party section below.
Please note – the suggestion that you have your four hour Grand Opening party on a Saturday, is simply a suggestion. I have been to Food Cart Opening Parties on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and even on a Thursday once.
The Weekend Long Celebration
You will invariably will have some fans who want to come to your Saturday Party who just can’t make it on that day. of who can’t make it during the 4 hour time block. You can structure your Grand Opening to give those people a way to still participate in your Grand Opening.
One of the ways you can stretch your Grand Opening Celebration out over an entire weekend is to have three different food specials. Have one on Friday, one on Saturday (all day) and one on Sunday.
For these three specials, do not discount something off of your regular menu. Remember, you need to make money and Food Cart have a limited prime selling season (depending on the year, this prime selling season runs from about April through October).
So instead of discounting something off of your limited menu, offer something new. This a great time to see how people respond to some of the culinary ideas that have been percolating in your noggin.
Don’t worry if you are only going to be able to offer a limited number of these specials each day. Selling out of a special is a great thing to tweet about – “We have sold out of our Friday Grand Opening Special! Thank You Portland! #FoodCart #GrandOpening #Portland.”
When you invite people to your Grand Opening and they say that they can’t make it during the 4 hour party happening Saturday afternoon or evening, tell them that they can stop by on Friday or Sunday as well and that you you will be having Grand Opening Specials on all three days of your Grand Opening Celebration.
Invite Other Food Carts to Join in on the Fun
If you are in a pod where other carts are present, invite them to also have a food special on the day that you are having your Grand Opening. They can put up a sign that they are having this special in honor of your Grand Opening.
Hopefully they will tell others about the awesome event happening at the pod. If they are smart and if they have some marketing savvy, they will talk about it on social media.
I have seen this done effectively with my own eyes. For example, when Carte Blanche had their Grand Opening, Fried Egg I’m In Love had a food special in honor of that Grand Opening.
If other Food Carts are going to have food specials in honor of your Grand Opening, make sure that you tweet about it. Feel free to mention it on your Food Cart’s Facebook page and tag the other Food Cart when you do. I know for fact that sometimes families will decide to visit a Food Cart Pod to see Cart A that Dad wants to see, because Cart B (in the same pod) specializes in a cuisine that Mom likes.
The more people who turn up are your Food Cart Pod on the day of your Grand Opening, the better off you will be.
I know from painful personal experience that not all Food Cart owners are created equal. It is possible that you make this suggestion a fellow Food Cart owner in your Food Cart Pod, and that they look at you like you have two heads. If you run into someone like that, just say “next” and work with those who “get it” when it comes to marketing and working together to support an event.
I recently helped a Food Cart with a Grand Opening and some of the carts in that pod did not want to take part in the festivities. I felt sad for those Food Carts who choose to miss out on the fun and the free publicity.
On the other hand, I was not at all surprised at the Food Carts who did want to take part in the fun. Those Food Carts are owned by business people I greatly respect who really seem to “get it.”
Having a “Deluxe” Food Cart Grand Opening Party
I have been a to number of Food Cart Grand Opening Parties that could be described as a Deluxe Party. If you have the financial resources to “spice” up your Grand Opening Party, go for it!
If you can have music at your location and if you know a musician willing to play at your Grand Opening, do it! People love music!
At the end of this article I will post some of the pictures I have taken at some of these Deluxe Grand Opening Parties.
If you would like to easily share this article with someone they can find by going to www.HowToHaveAGreatFoodCartGrandOpening.com Of course this article can also be found on www.PortlandFoodCartAdventures.com
Be sure to check out the other articles in the For Food Cart Owners series.
I am Steven Shomler and I am a fan of Portland’s Great Food Carts!
Portland Food Cart Adventures – We tell the stories of Portland’s GR8 Food Carts and the people who make Food Cart Magic happen.
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