How to Build a Large Party Business
A strong restaurant benefitting from multiple revenue streams has to be able to rely on large party business. Unfortunately, many restaurant operators do very little to attract large parties and banquets. I’m not sure why this is. Operators may feel that their business isn’t suited for special occasions, or that satisfied customers will eventually bring large groups into the building.
The fact is that many diners are looking for specific enticements before making large party reservations. These enticements tend to include assurances that the restaurant knows how to handle large parties, and has plenty of experience doing so. There are many ways to demonstrate that the restaurant this type of expertise and skill.
Any restaurants that are struggling to attract large parties should strongly consider these strategies.
Banquet or large party menus are three- or four-course prix fixe menus that provide a cross-section of the regular lunch or dinner menu at scaled-back prices. They should include a salad, maybe soup, an entrée, and a light dessert. Many restaurants offer multiple party menus at different price points using various entrees and portion sizes.
Banquet menus should never be mandatory for guests. However, they should be strongly recommended for the convenience and benefit of guests, and to help run everything smoothly. These menus are a huge benefit to the kitchen, who can pare down preparation and expedite the entire process.
Online software products like Open Table and SeatMe give guests access to reservations based on table availability. However, they don’t always provide access to large party or private room availability. Any restaurant opening up an online reservation account should request slots or special requests for large parties.
This should be coupled by tables that expand or which can be pulled together to accommodate large groups. An online floor plan that can be viewed by guests makes scheduling large party reservations much more convenient. It is this convenience and sense that the party will be in good hands that tends to sway large party decision-making.
Providing rewards for large parties is a great way to attract customers who frequently make banquet reservations. It’s important to remember how many holiday party and corporate events planners need to rely on restaurants that excel with large parties.
A corporate rewards program requires a card or token that guests keep. This card should be loaded with credit, or an account should be added to in some way, based on the total of a bill or number of times visited with a group of a certain minimum size. There has to be a minimum standard for rewards and a substantial reward for guests (5% is a good starting point).
Managers should be incentivized (or just told) to add new loyalty program members. A roster of members who receive benefits for making large reservations is a great foundation for building this part of the business.
Private Dining Rooms
Of course, if you’re in an existing building or taking over one previously owned by another business, it can be hard to retrofit the dining room to provide private dining. But rooms that can be enclosed comfortably are essential for business meetings, corporate presentations, and important celebrations.
The private dining room should be multi-purpose, which allows it to be opened up and used for regular lunch or dinner service. This feature shouldn’t be overlooked in a casual environment, where banquet and private dining can still provide a substantial revenue opportunity.
Do Them Well
Everyone in this business for any length of time knows that word of mouth is the best form of advertising. This is true any time a restaurant is attempting to open up a new source of revenue, and it’s no different in this case. Restaurants that run large parties are able to quickly spread the word because of the size of the parties.
Most new reservations in many restaurants will come from diners who have attended other banquet services or who have heard or read good reviews. It is not always the case that great food and service will translate into future performance, but this is one area where the good results tend to impact the future. Develop your staff’s ability to provide great service to large parties and watch the business benefit.