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Invest in the necessities
At Epstein’s Milk Street Café, about 80 percent of the eatery’s revenue arrives from off-site orders. The sturdy success, Epstein reminds, “has been built over time.”
Epstein has invested in the systems, infrastructure, and people to spur Milk Street’s catering success. He counts five full-time sales staffers in Boston and has hired four full-time sales personnel for Milk Street’s infant outlet in New York City. He’s also created a first-rate Web presence touting the operation’s catering abilities, supplied the technology to deliver e-mail confirmations, and purchased a fleet of nine delivery vans wrapped in the Milk Street logo.
“If you want to build a strong catering business, then you cannot skimp,” Epstein says.
Investing in key infrastructure and systems is equally critical in the private party arena.
Each Morton’s location has a dedicated sales and marketing manager charged with servicing the private group before and during the event—“A personal concierge, if you will,” Torres says—and pursuing prospective guests. The manager’s work is bolstered by e-mail and social networking campaigns from the corporate office.
The sales managers “are the force in going out and making a name for Morton’s,” Torres says. “They’re attending chamber meetings and working with charities to drive our name and our business.”
Save its original Chicago location, every Morton’s Steakhouse also features a private dining room, with some locations having up to six private spots. Private rooms include WiFi, an LCD projector, high-definition screens, and first-rate audio. The high-tech elements invite corporate and social business into Morton’s.
“If you’re not investing in the staff, the training, and the infrastructure, then any operation’s hard pressed to reach its goals,” Torres says.
A similar philosophy plays at Maggiano’s, the party-friendly Italian chain.
All of Maggiano’s 44 locations have a private event facility and, at the minimum, a dedicated banquet line in the kitchen to accommodate the influx of guests. Some locations even feature a banquet-only kitchen, an investment the Dallas-based company made to ensure efficiency and quality.
Much like Morton’s, Maggiano’s also employs dedicated banquet sales staff. While the sales managers pursue and service the private dining business, Maggiano’s also places an emphasis on helping each location’s management team understand the role and particulars of private dining.
“Such uniformity helps to make the guest experience what it needs to be,” says Maggiano’s senior manager of national banquet sales, Mary Machul.
Maggiano’s has further hitched itself to private dining with a heightened online presence. Once only relaying basic menu packets, Maggiano’s current website processes leads and provides informative metrics.
“From brides to business, people are looking online. We’ve outlined our capabilities and better positioned our restaurants to capture business,” Machul says.
Yet it’s not only the national players making the push.
At Mother’s Bistro and Bar, a 12-year-old establishment in Portland, Oregon, owner Lisa Schroeder has invested in high-quality AV components, including a 109-inch drop-down screen and surround-sound audio, as well as three distinct private dining spaces — the Velvet Lounge, Black and Gold Area, and The Nook — with capacities ranging from 30 to100.
“Having the defined private spaces and the amenities most certainly helps us attract business,” she says.
For those restaurants unable to devote a team member to private party and catering sales, leadership can tighten the operation’s connection to those with influence, such as convention center personnel and event planners. Meeting Professionals International, for instance, includes hundreds of event planners frequently in need of private dining spaces and catering services.