Ted Axelrod

Business dining has increased 5 percent year-over-year since 2011, as seen in restaurants such as Marea in New York City.

Business Diners Pay Dividends

High-end restaurants that typically ramp up their staffing and operations for weekend suppers and Sunday brunch may need to add a new segment to their strategies: Weekday business diners are the latest hot commodity. Spending on business dining rose 6 percent between the first quarters of 2013 and 2014, while overall dining sales in that period increased only 1.4 percent.

The data come from a recent study conducted by Concur, a business travel and management services firm, and reservation service Table8. The companies found business dining overall has averaged a 5 percent increase year-over-year since 2011, making this segment a key driver for restaurant revenue.

“Business dining, as I’ve observed in four or five of our top restaurants, is no longer conference-room dining,” says Ahmass Fakahany, a Table8 adviser and CEO and owner of the Altamarea Group, an owner of 11 global restaurant concepts. “It’s actually [about] having great food while you’re having your meeting, and creating an atmosphere that helps the business setting.

“When business diners come to our restaurants, they are trying to accomplish something—strengthen a relationship, close a deal, initiate a transaction, do something global—so the dining experience actually is a very important component of what they’re doing,” he adds. “I think we are very tuned in and will keep being tuned in to the service touch that’s needed.”

Other key findings of the survey were that in the 12-month period from August 2013 to 2014, professionals from the finance sector spent the most per check, and business dining is most active Tuesdays through Thursdays, peaking on Wednesdays.

Restaurants can cater to business diners in numerous ways. They can diversify their menus to accommodate different diets, provide personalized service to regular clients and associates, and spend money on proper acoustics that will facilitate intelligible conversations. Operators who understand and accommodate business customers who dine on a timetable also make the experience smoother and more enjoyable for guests.

Peter Goettner, CEO of Table8, says high-end restaurants are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of business diners. “I was a CEO 10 years ago for another company that I started, and I went to a lot of client dinners,” he says. “It was always a steakhouse and always fairly standard. I think these days, business folks are looking for a more interesting space.”

Table8 plans to launch a service to help travelers find the high-end restaurants that cater to business diners in major cities across the country. “If I’m the assistant to a senior executive at Morgan Stanley, I need a tool to help me find a place in Austin, Texas, or Chicago while he’s visiting there,” Goettner explains.

And while business diners are known for sticking to the numbers and financial-driven discussions, they’re also active on social media, like many other diners—something vital for operators to keep in mind.

About a year ago, one of our guests sat down and then said on Twitter that his chair was tight, so we went right up to him and switched the chair,” recalls Fakahany. “We have to be that responsive.”