Opening a restaurant can take months, if not years. When it does open, chefs and owners are obviously hoping to start making money as soon as possible. But in a move that seems contradictory, many of them hold off on offering certain meals for weeks or longer. Why not debut full service when the buzz is still high?

"You want to put your best foot forward," said chef Michael Schlow, who recently opened Casolare in the Kimpton Glover Park Hotel, his fourth restaurant in the District, with dinner service. Breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch will follow.

It's a smart play to stagger the debut of meals, Schlow said, because nailing down one service is hard enough: "Obviously we'd all like to enjoy the revenue of being open." But many restaurant owners believe they owe it to guests, not to mention staff, to perfect one meal before rolling out the rest.

That's the way Michael Friedman, who opened All-Purpose in Shaw in mid-May along with his partners, sees it. Only now is the team beginning discussions about lunch service. You have to "walk before you run," Friedman said. Dinner service typically precedes lunch because the former generally has more guests and thus more revenue.

The additional months have given All-Purpose time to analyze what's selling well and what needs to be tweaked before debuting an additional seven meal slots. It has also given them an opportunity to do a wider market analysis and check out what's going on in other neighborhoods between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. "What does the community need?" Friedman said. "What is the community not being offered now?"

Jeff Benjamin, chief operating officer of Vetri Family, which recently opened Pizzeria Vetri on 14th Street NW, agreed. Lunch is available Friday through Sunday only, meaning the remaining afternoon slots can be used for training staff and addressing diner feedback. He anticipates launching daily lunch by the fall.

For Cheesetique owner Jill Erber, who last month opened a third location of the restaurant in Ballston, staggering meal debuts gave her time to overcome the new space's physical challenges. In a layout dramatically different than her other restaurants, Erber wanted to look at the flow, specifically making sure servers weren't walking more than they had to, taking extra trips or getting in customers' way. She also was interested in seeing where supplies would best be stored and "how to bus tables in an elegant way."

Erber thought offering lunch during the restaurant's first week would be easier, a good way to ease into operations. She was mistaken: "It ended up being crazy." The restaurant was slammed, especially in one aspect she didn't expect -- lunch takeout. It was so popular, the kitchen had to dedicate an entire area to packaging to-go food. "That's a week well-spent," Erber said.

Restaurateurs can't drag out the delay too long, though. It can be important to add meal services before the initial buzz dies down.

There's always a concern about staying relevant, especially after the post-opening honeymoon period. But the risk is one Friedman is willing to take. Too many restaurants open with everything at once, he said, and then everything is mediocre. "It's a cutthroat business," Friedman said. "If you don't do it right . . . you fail."

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