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Underpromise and overdeliver
Consistent success and a positive reputation in the catering and private party space often rests on one simple idea: Do what you say you will. It’s a primitive concept rooted in customer service ethos.
Stick to what you do best and avoid falling into “sales” mode. If the restaurant cannot accommodate a sit-down dinner for 80 guests or a prime rib carving station, do not pledge such services.
“People trip when they step out of what they do well. Know your limitations,” Standlee says.
That said, work hard to accommodate requests that can be achieved. If the guest wants a long, communal table, reconfigure the room to make it happen. If the guest wants red roses on each table, call the florist. If the guest wants pink linens, track down pink linens. Restaurants can factor such specific requests into the price, but guests will appreciate the responsiveness and extra effort.
“Try to make it more about what they want than what you can do,” Schroeder says, convinced that first-rate service is the surest path to securing repeat business.
Communicate before, during, and after an event by returning phone calls and e-mails and sending a handwritten thank-you note once it’s over.
“These are the little touches that inspire confidence and compel guests to return,” Schroeder says.
Also, view each catering or private event as a potential recurring customer. Provide a kickback offer or thank-you gift to the individual who booked the event. All bounce-back offers, including those given during the holidays, should have a 2- to 3- month use window.
“Making it urgent will increase the likelihood they choose you again,” Standlee says.
Consider the entire operation
At Mother’s, Schroeder rarely books private events on Friday or Saturday, the busiest evenings in her dining room. She doesn’t need and cannot handle the extra business, which would unnecessarily tax the operation and staff.
“I only want our guests reporting positive experiences, and that happens when our restaurant is working within its means,” Schroeder says.
Reviewing traffic and sales figures, identify the soft times and steer inquiring guests to those quiet times or in-between hours. If a guest favors a certain day or time that is prime to the establishment, offer the guest an incentive to consider a friendlier slot for the restaurant.
After all, delivering on catering and private party expectations serves a long-term winning play.
With only 12 of its 77 restaurants open for lunch, hosting private events, particularly during off-peak hours, allows Morton’s to generate additional revenue and put the restaurants’ staff and physical assets to best use. Yet the benefits continue.
“We’re often introducing a number of first-time guests to Morton’s, creating future guests, and driving subsequent business into our dining room,” Torres says.
And oftentimes, a robust private dining business feeds success in the dining room as word-of-mouth buzz inspires future visits.
“When the banquets are rocking, the rest of the restaurant flows that much better,” Maggiano’s Machul says.