With so much competition, restaurants are always hunting for new ways to stay relevant and redefine themselves. You can’t rely on great food and atmosphere alone to keep seats full and staff slammed. One strategy to keep your restaurant humming is having a private dining program. These programs add another channel for cash flow, bring new customers to your restaurant, and will grow your restaurant’s reputation. So let’s dive into how to start and run a successful private dining program.
What’s the most unique thing about private dining? It’s in the name: PRIVACY! The private part of this dining program is essential. Parties that book a private dining experience do so because they want their own exclusive space to enjoy with their guests. Even if your restaurant space isn’t built with a private room, you can create a sense of privacy with some creativity.
The atmosphere of a private space should match the tone and personality of your restaurant as a whole. It’s great to think of your private dining (stylized as PD from here on out) room as a concentrated dose of your restaurant’s identity.
Play it up and have fun. If you have a seafood restaurant, decorate the walls of your PD room with ships wheels, anchors, paintings of harbors and other nautical ornaments. If you have more of a classical white table cloth vibe, play it up with Victorian adornments. The point is, make this room special and let it stand apart from the rest of your restaurant.
Cramped quarters are no fun for parties. Make sure that your table has enough space for diners to sit and move about comfortably. No one wants to be cornered against the wall and have to traverse a Tough Mudder obstacle course of chairs, people, and tables anytime they need to use the bathroom. Make sure people have enough personal space and move about accordingly.
Some restaurants don’t have the luxury of a private room. But you can create privacy by being a little creative. Think of it like your first dingy apartment or too-small first home and how you had to use furniture to divide rooms and create a sense of separate quarters out of consignment shop décor.
Utilize bookshelves, cabinets, stand alone shelves- anything big and bulky that will take up space and act as a divider. Shelving is great because you can add personality by stocking them with knick knacks, cookbooks, or other objects to enhance play up your restaurant’s personality.
Alcohol sales are good for business. Learn how to increase alcohol sales with Uncorkd’s guide How to Modernize Your Bar.
It’s often too difficult on your kitchen and bar to offer traditional service at events. Create event specific menus that hosts can select to simplify service. Offer packages with different price tiers to make them more profitable.
You have a lot of options with food packages. Some might mimic traditional service with individual plates for guests, others might be served family style, and casual parties might only include passed appetizers. Predetermining food packages will allow you to meet the needs of different events and streamline organizing and executing events.
Creating tiered beverage packages lets you maximize alcohol sales and meet the budget of hosts. Low tiered packages might only include select beer and wines, another may include mix drinks with select brands, while more expensive packages might include top shelf liquors.
Private Dining Staff
It’s important to consider the staff for your PD program. Who is going to manage this program? Coordinating stellar events that fuel word of mouth marketing takes a lot of work, and your reputation as an event space is impacted by each event you host.
Private Dining Manager
Restaurants with successful programs have a dedicated position for booking and planning events. This position may not be necessary for your program, especially at first. The decision depends on factors like the size of events you will host and how profitable the PD program is for your restaurant. When starting out, it may be easier to task someone already in management to handle this program. You can decide if it’s worth hiring a full time coordinator once the success of your program is evident.
Private Dining is a cash cow for good service staff. Parties are not only paying for rental space and food, but for great service, too. Check averages are usually higher for PD events, and servers and staff can earn good money through these events. It’s important to staff events with your best workers to ensure a high level of service.
PD also allows staff to stay busy and earning more money. Private dining can be a boon to your bottom line during slow seasons and weeknights, it will also keep your best staff happy which may help keep staff turnover down.
Promoting your private dining services is essential for its success. How else will people know to book parties with you if you don’t promote it as a service.
The first place to start promoting is on your website. Websites are crucial for restaurant marketing. Create a special section on your website for private dining and make sure to promote and link to it on your home page. Make sure it is easy to find information on your program and contact your PD manager and book a time with a calendar.
If you don’t have a newsletter for your restaurant, you should really think about it, because it is a great way to stay on customers minds and promote events. Utilizing your newsletter for your PD program is a great way to get the word out. Especially leading up to the holiday season.
Your Instagram and Facebook accounts are also great places to promote your new events space. Photos of the room, pictures of food on special menus, and images of parties in action offer great opportunities to get people excited about booking an event with you.
Soft Opening for Bloggers
Food blogging and foodie Instagram personalities have a lot of cache when it comes to spreading the word about whats hot and new in dining. When your private dining space is built out, your menus are designed and dishes ready to fire, it’s a great idea to host an event in your new space. Inviting bloggers and Instagram stars with strong followings is a great way to generate press and good will.
Yes, direct mail, the former strong hold of big catalog businesses and the smoke signal method of choice for Chinese take out and pizza places can be useful for promoting your private dining space. Take a look at your local chamber of commerce business listings and blast out promotional material to them, as well as to residents in your neighborhood and zip code. Adding a gift card or discount coupon to your mailer is a great way to get people to come into your restaurant and dine with you before booking a party.
Benefits of Private Dining Programs
Additional Revenue – Restaurants add a new channel to generate revenue. PD programs can be especially lucrative during the holiday season and increase business on week nights.
Happy Staff – Keeping good staff employed isn’t always easy for restaurants. Private dining earnings give your best staff a new way to earn money and stay happy.
Attracting New Customers – The host of an event might be familiar with your restaurant, but many of their guests might not be. This is a great way to impress new guests who might not have dined with you otherwise.