The Proper Way to Execute Large Parties
A restaurant almost certainly must be able to execute large parties in its dining room in order to be successful. A single large party can turn an average day into a good one, and a good day into a great one. Of course, we learn quickly in this business that banging out a 40-top is much different than a two-top, times twenty.
So what, then, are the keys to successfully executing a large party over and over again?
Start with the right staff. Have your best people running your important banquets and large parties. Hire people who have worked with them before, and who have the maturity and composure to persevere when things start to go awry. Have your best servers and kitchen staffers groom other employees to run parties. Then, have a system that every employee is on board with, and run it into the ground. Repetition is the biggest factor in large party success stories.
Effective communication is essential when working large parties. There has to be communication between servers working a party, between the servers and kitchen, between the chef or sous and line cooks, and between all line cooks and kitchen support. As in all businesses, good communication starts at the top. If you and your key employees communicate well, your staff is more likely to follow suit.
Preparation is the hallmark of good restaurants. Preparation for a large party goes hand-in-hand with offering a limited or special menu. Operators and managers can effectively merchandise a limited menu to the head of a party in advance by pointing out the benefits to the guests. Those benefits include:
A uniform price
Shorter wait times for each course
Streamlined service that keeps the emphasis on the occasion/presentation
Fewer choices for guests to have to make
Limiting menu choices gives your kitchen far less to prepare for. For example, giving your guests in a 40-top two choices for dessert instead of your regular dessert menu lets your kitchen staff prepare and plate up in advance only the desserts your party will need.
It’s hard for a guest to disagree when the special menu is sold properly. It’s a good idea to give your special menu(s) a catchy name, and to print it out on Microsoft Publisher or some other software to make it look nice. Capturing a corporate logo and pasting it onto the menu is another simple personal touch.
Many restaurants employ a lead server for parties, and it’s a good idea. All communication between the front and back of the houses should go through the lead server and chef or sous. Another good idea is a consolidation sheet that gives the chef or sous an organized list of everything necessary for each course. Working to limit special orders is also helpful. You never want an employee to deliver a flat-out “no” (as much as they may want to at times). However, subtly steering a finicky guest toward a fully-composed entrée is helpful. Special orders can throw a wrench in the most professionally run kitchens.
Here are a few other important tips for large parties:
Sell wine, as opposed to liquor or beer. Sell it the day of the event, when it’s harder for your person-in-charge (PIC) to turn down. You don’t want your servers running to the bar for one domestic beer at a time. Instruct your servers to pour liberally. It’s the best way to raise your check during the event.
Make food ordering and service as simple as possible. Order sheets that let servers merely circle the correct option are a good idea.
Seat numbers are also very important with large parties. Nobody wants a server auctioning off food to a large group, and you don’t want your servers forgetting who had what item.
Make sure the servers working a large party are all on the same page, doing the same thing at once. As the operator, monitor the whole thing. Be able to see everything.
Have your chef or sous update the entire kitchen on the large party’s progress. Get advance notice for each course, so no employee is caught off-guard.
Finally, make sure the PIC knows you in advance. Let the head of the party tell you how great everything was they are rapping up. Be sure to call them back in a few days to make sure everything went well. Some restaurants offer a gift card for return visits during the follow-up call, and this is a good idea. Keep records of all large parties and don’t hesitate to hit them up for future occasions. Phone calls in October to groups who enjoyed a Christmas party the previous year are never a bad idea.
Immaculate banquet facilities that go empty for weeks at a time are the saddest thing I’ve seen in this business. If your restaurant is underachieving, boosting banquet sales is a great way to turn it around in a hurry. Just be sure you know how to execute them properly.